Government of Canada and Inuit Heritage Trust unveil new artifacts from wreck of the Franklin Expedition

News release

February 20, 2020                                     Ottawa, Ontario                                             Parks Canada Agency

In one of the largest, most complex underwater archeological undertakings in Canadian history, Parks Canada and Inuit are working in collaboration to explore the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror ― the storied ships of the 1845 Franklin Expedition that set-sail from England in search of a Northwest passage across what is now Canada's Arctic and Nunavut.

Today, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, along with Pamela Gross, President of Inuit Heritage Trust, and Stanley Anablak, President of Kitikmeot Inuit Association, unveiled newly discovered jointly-owned artifacts from HMS Erebus at Parks Canada’s Conservation Laboratories in Ottawa.

Building on the remarkable first-ever exploration of the interior of HMS Terror, Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team in collaboration with Inuit recovered over 350 artifacts from HMS Erebus, including epaulettes from a lieutenant’s uniform and ceramic dishes. One notable highlight of the archaeological dive was the recovery of a number of items believed to belong to Edmund Hoar, the captain’s steward, including sealing wax with a finger print. The Archaeology Team recovered other items such as a hairbrush with a satinwood handle and boar or porcupine bristles, as well as a pencil case.

Over three weeks in the fall of 2019, Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team completed a total of 93 dives on HMS Erebus, spending approximately 110 hours underwater. Using a variety of methods, including both traditional and new and innovative approaches, sediment was carefully removed from buried artifacts, exposing them for mapping, photography and recovery. The recovered artifacts are currently undergoing preliminary analysis – a process that includes identifying the physical characteristics of each object as well as scaled illustrations, x-rays and studio photography – at Parks Canada’s Conservation Laboratories.

The Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site is the first cooperatively managed national historic site in Nunavut. Inuit made significant contributions to the 2019 research mission. This included the position of Jonathan Puqiqnak, an Inuk from Gjoa Haven with Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team as an Archaeological Assistant that included responsibilities for cataloguing and recording artifacts recovered from HMS Erebus. Furthermore, an Inuit Guardians program, involving Inuit from Gjoa Haven, has been in place since 2017 and leads the protection and monitoring of the Franklin wrecks during the open-water season, in addition to helping integrate Inuit knowledge into Parks Canada’s operations.

The findings from HMS Erebus during the 2019 Franklin research mission will contribute to a better understanding of historical and Inuit accounts of the Franklin Expedition and help establish a clearer picture of the living quarters of the crew on the lower deck of the ship. When coupled with the incredible discoveries from HMS Terror, Parks Canada and its Inuit partners are poised to unravel more of the mysteries of the Franklin story, including the interactions between the Franklin crew and Inuit.

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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“This has been an extraordinary year for archaeological research at the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site. Congratulations to everyone involved. The Government of Canada is proud to be working collaboratively with Inuit partners to manage and explore these historic sites, and we look forward to more amazing discoveries in future years.”

The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson,

Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada

“The Franklin Interim Advisory Committee is pleased with the wealth of discoveries and insights unearthed this year at the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site. Inuit will continue to play an important role in exploration and management of this site as we work towards a completed Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement. The volume of artifacts discovered in 2019 will assist greatly in presenting the story of the Franklin Expedition, and the Inuit lands surrounding the wrecks, to Canadians and the world.”

Fred Pedersen,

Chair, Franklin Interim Advisory Committee

“As joint owners of Franklin artifacts, the Inuit Heritage Trust is pleased to continue its work with the Government of Canada to ensure that our growing archaeological collection is protected and shared with Inuit, Canadians and the world. The sheer volume of discoveries this year at HMS Erebus is an exciting development in our ongoing work at the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site. As more stories of the Franklin Expedition and its association with Inuit are revealed through these latest discoveries, the Trust will continue to incorporate Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit in the preservation, presentation and management of these artifacts with our partners in Parks Canada.”

William Beveridge,

Executive Director Inuit Heritage Trust

“The Kitikmeot Inuit Association is very pleased with the success of this year’s research mission and the visit to the wreck site of HMS Erebus by Adventure Canada. While we continue to wait for the completion of the Inuit Impact Benefit Agreement, the Kitikmeot Inuit Association and Parks Canada, with the advice of the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee, continue to collaborate very closely in managing one of the most unique national historic sites in Canada.”

Stanley Anablak,

President of Kitikmeot Inuit Association

“This summer's highly successful field operations on the wreck of HMS Erebus included the much anticipated start of site excavation work – the realization of years of intensive logistical preparation. Excavation has very quickly confirmed the expected density of artifacts that remain on board. As we delve into specific cabin spaces, the artifacts reveal increasingly personalised glimpses of the individuals that once made up the crew.”

Ryan Harris,

Project Director, Parks Canada

Quick facts

  • In August 2019, Parks Canada released extraordinary, never-before-seen video footage of HMS Terror as part of one of the largest, most complex underwater archaeological undertakings in Canadian history.

  • Since 2018, all newly discovered Franklin artifacts are jointly-owned by the Government of Canada and Inuit.

  • 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 Franklin wrecks until an Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement is finalized between Parks Canada and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association.

  • In partnership with Parks Canada, the Adventure Canada cruise ship Ocean Endeavour completed the first successful visit by tourists to the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site. Passengers had an opportunity to witness first-hand the work of Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team and to learn about Inuit life in the Netsilik area from interactions with the Inuit Guardians.

  • The wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror are not open to the public 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.

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Moira Kelly
Press Secretary      
Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Media Relations
Parks Canada Agency

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