Government of Canada releases remarkable images of the wreck of HMS Terror

News release

Largest, most complex underwater archeological undertaking in Canadian history reveals new perspective on Franklin Expedition


August 28, 2019                           Gjoa Haven, Nunavut               Parks Canada Agency

Parks Canada and Inuit are working in partnership to explore the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror ― the fabled ships of the 1845 Franklin Expedition that set-sail from England in search of a Northwest Passage across what is now Canada's Arctic.  

During Gjoa Haven’s annual Umiyaqtutt Festival (meaning “shipwreck” in Inuktitut), the Government of Canada released extraordinary, never-before-seen images and video footage of HMS Terror as part of one of the largest, most complex underwater archaeological undertakings in Canadian history. School children and the community of Gjoa Haven were the first to view the images.

On August 7, 2019, Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team left Cambridge Bay for site of HMS Terror aboard Parks Canada’s new research vessel, the RV David Thompson. This year, Parks Canada’s research on HMS Terror focused on 3D structural mapping and exploring the interior of the wreck using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). The results of this ground-breaking underwater archeology is now being shared with the public.

Over seven days, under exceptional weather conditions, the interior spaces of the wreck of HMS Terror were scientifically and systematically explored for the first time. Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team conducted seven ROV dives and explored 20 cabins/compartments on the ship, in search of uncovering a better understanding of the fate of the Franklin expedition. The team obtained clear images of over 90 per cent of the lower deck of the ship, which includes the living quarters of the crew.

Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team reports that HMS Terror has been well-preserved by the cold deep water of Terror Bay and layers of protective sediment. In fact, sedimentation provides the best conditions for preservation as it allows for an environment with less oxygen (anaerobic), which helps preserve organics, like paper.

In the officers’ cabins, Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team discovered beds and desks in place, in addition to shelves with some items on them. Other findings include: shelves with plates and glass bottles (tumblers and stemware glasses) in what is believed to have been the officers’ mess pantry and rows of shelves with plates, bowls, and glasses – all intact – in the forward area where the accommodations for the common sailors would have been located.

The Captain's cabin is the best preserved space of the entire lower deck. Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team discovered that a significant amount of sediment has seeped through the stern gallery windows, covering a good portion of the artifacts and likely preserving what lies beneath. The Captain’s desk, map cabinets with drawers closed, boxes that most likely contain scientific instruments, a complete tripod (similar to a surveyor’s tripod) and a pair of thermometers were identified. The only space on the lower deck that remains inaccessible is the Captain’s sleeping quarters, behind the only closed door on this deck.    

Parks Canada expects that there is a high probability of finding written documents that have been sealed within these areas of HMS Terror because the environment would be preserving them in a near perfect state. With a water temperature of 0 degrees Celsius or lower and an internal environment with no natural light, artifacts have been essentially frozen-in-time for approximately 170 years. As a result of a recent agreement, all artifacts recovered as part of future research, including potentially ground-breaking discoveries, will be co-owned by the Government of Canada and Inuit.

Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team will analyze the images and video footage of HMS Terror over the coming months. This new information will contribute to a better understanding of Inuit and historical accounts of the Franklin Expedition and help establish an elaborate picture of the living quarters of the crew on the lower deck of the ship that will eventually enable Parks Canada to retrace the stories of specific individuals on the ship.

The Government of Canada recognizes the invaluable role of Inuit, the Government of Nunavut, and all partners, in the discoveries of the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

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Quotes

“The discovery of the extraordinary preservation of HMS Terror by Parks Canada’s world-class Underwater Archeology Team is a game changer in understanding the fate of the Franklin expedition. Today, the mysteries of the Franklin Expedition are being revealed in new and fascinating ways. These images from HMS Terror will capture the imagination of all Canadians, including youth and newcomers, and people from around the world. The support, guidance, and knowledge of Inuit have led us to these amazing discoveries and the Government of Canada looks forward to continuing to work in partnership with Inuit in managing the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site.”

The Honourable Catherine McKenna,
Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada

“As Chair of the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee, I was very excited to see the almost pristine condition of HMS Terror. We now have a much better picture of the world-class treasure that lies just off the coast of King William Island. I congratulate the team from Parks Canada, including their Inuit Archeology Assistant from Gjoa Haven, on the work they have done to capture and share these amazing images and look forward to continuing our work in collaboratively managing this very special national historic site, the first of its kind in Nunavut.”

Fred Pedersen,
Chair, Franklin Interim Advisory Committee

“The Inuit Heritage Trust is very pleased with the recent discoveries on HMS Terror. As joint owners of the artifacts, we share Parks Canada’s excitement over the amazing potential to unlock more of this mystery which, combined with Inuit traditional knowledge, will help paint a more complete story of the Franklin Expedition and its fate.”

Pamela Gross,
President, Inuit Heritage Trust

“The new footage of HMS Terror is truly extraordinary. The excellent condition of the ship will, I hope, mean that there will soon be answers to so many questions about the fate of the Franklin Expedition, shrouded in mystery since 1845. I offer my huge congratulations to the fantastic underwater archaeology team from Parks Canada and their partners in the Inuit Heritage Trust, and look forward to learning of new discoveries as their work on the Terror and Erebus continues.”

Susan Le Jeune d’Allegeershecque
British High Commissioner to Canada

“The condition in which we found Captain Crozier’s cabin greatly surpasses our expectations. Not only are the furniture and cabinets in place, drawers are closed and many are buried in silt, encapsulating objects and documents in the best possible conditions for their survival. Each drawer and other enclosed space will be a treasure trove of unprecedented information on the fate of the Franklin Expedition.”


Marc-André Bernier,
Manager of Underwater Archaeology, Parks Canada

“The impression we witnessed when exploring the HMS Terror is of a ship only recently deserted by its crew, seemingly forgotten by the passage of time – regardless of the fact that it was approximately 170 years ago that the Terror sank unceremoniously to the bottom of the bay where it now rests.”

Ryan Harris,
Project Director and ROV pilot, Parks Canada

Quick facts

  • The Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site is the first cooperatively managed national historic site in Nunavut. HMS Terror was added to the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site in 2017, ensuring legal protection for the wreck site under the Canada National Parks Act. The wreck of HMS Erebus was added to the National Historic Sites of Canada Order in 2015.

  • Formed in 2016, the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee, comprised of community members and representatives from the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, Inuit Heritage Trust, Government of Nunavut and the heritage and tourism industry, advises on the management of the wrecks until an Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement is finalized between Parks Canada and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association.

  • ·Since 2017, a Guardian program has been in operation at the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site, involving Inuit from Gjoa Haven in the protection and monitoring of the Franklin wrecks and helping integrate Inuit knowledge into Parks Canada’s operations and management of the national historic site.

  • Since 2018, all newly discovered artifacts from HMS Erebus and HMS Terror are jointly-owned by the Government of Canada and Inuit. In April 2019, the Government of Canada and Inuit Heritage Trust signed a Memorandum of Understanding detailing how the two organizations will work together to protect, study, conserve and share the Franklin artifacts. 

  • The sites of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror are not open to the public at this time and a permit is required to enter the protected areas. With the exception of traditional Inuit harvesting activities protected under the Nunavut Agreement, entry without proper permission is an offense punishable under the Canada National Parks Act; however, Parks Canada and the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee are working to develop visitor experience activities that support the long-term protection of both wreck sites.

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Associated links

Contacts

Sabrina Kim
Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change
819-938-9413
sabrina.kim2@canada.ca

Media Relations
Parks Canada Agency
855-862-1812
pc.medias-media.pc@canada.ca

William Beveridge
Inuit Heritage Trust
wbeveridge@ihti.ca


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