Parks Canada’s underwater archaeologists complete seasonal research at Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site
Fascinating artifacts were collected, and thousands of high-quality images were taken during the twelve-day research period
January 22, 2024 Gatineau, Quebec Parks Canada
As the 2023 summer season came to an end, Parks Canada concluded its archaeological research at the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site in Nunavut.
The research team conducted sixty-eight dives during a twelve-day period to continue investigating and documenting the wreck of HMS Erebus. Carefully excavated artifacts were retrieved to help piece together more information about the 1845 Franklin Expedition, including naval technology, scientific work, and life aboard the vessel.
Parks Canada underwater archaeologists found items related to navigation, science, and leisure in an officer’s cabin, believed to be that of Second Lieutenant Henry Dundas Le Vesconte. These items included a parallel rule, an intact thermometer, a leather book cover, and a fishing rod with a brass reel.
Other items such as a leather shoe or boot bottom, storage jars, and a sealed pharmaceutical bottle were found in an area believed to represent the Captain’s Steward’s pantry. Excavation continued in a cabin believed to be that of Third Lieutenant James Fairholme, in which a collection of unidentified fossils was uncovered that supplements similar fossil finds from the 2022 season.
The team began excavating a seamen’s chest in the forecastle area, where most of the crew lived, that held numerous artifacts including pistols, military items, footwear, medicinal bottles, and coins. Recovered artifacts will be studied in Ottawa and undergo conservation treatment before many are returned for display at the Nattilik Heritage Centre in Gjoa Haven (Uqsuqtuuq), Nunavut. The archaeologists also captured thousands of high-resolution digital photos, that will be used to produce highly accurate three-dimensional models to better understand how the site is changing over time.
Research activities at the site of HMS Erebus concluded on September 18 and the team, on the Research Vessel David Thompson and with Qiniqtiryuaq (excavation support barge), returned to Gjoa Haven on September 20. The research team was then able to make a short visit to the wreck of HMS Terror to conduct remote sensing recording, using the ship’s multi-beam echosounder and sub-bottom profiler. This included surveying of the wreck to capture a snapshot of its condition and widening the mapping of a vessel access corridor into this mostly uncharted bay.
Parks Canada held an event at the Nattilik Heritage Centre on September 21 to share some of the 2023 discoveries with the community. Parks Canada continues to work in close collaboration with the Nattilik Heritage Society and its Wrecks Guardian Program on a variety of initiatives, including active site surveillance during the summer and ongoing terrestrial archaeological research with Inuit Heritage Trust.
The Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site is co-managed by Parks Canada and the Nattilik Heritage Society.
“The Franklin expedition remains one of the most popular mysteries from the nineteenth century. However, thanks to the important work of Parks Canada and Inuit partners, pieces of this mysterious puzzle are being retrieved allowing us to better understand the fascinating events of this incredible expedition.”
The Honourable Steven Guilbeault
Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada
"After yet another fruitful field season at the Franklin Wrecks, the Nattilik Heritage Society, the Guardian Program, and the Parks Canada team deserve great recognition from Inuit Heritage Trust. We are happy to see Louis Kamookak's work continuing to develop and the role of Inuit in the project continue to grow.”
Executive Director, Inuit Heritage Trust
“The Kitikmeot Inuit Association is pleased that the underwater archaeology team had a successful and safe season at the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site. With the recent signing of the Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement, we are looking forward to Inuit and Parks Canada working together to learn about the artifacts and share the stories that they tell."
President, Kitikmeot Inuit Association
"The Nattilik Heritage Society wishes to acknowledge the Wrecks Guardian Program for their dedicated work with us, the Inuit Heritage Trust and Parks Canada. Summer of 2023 was a successful season for the Wrecks Guardian Program, and we look forward to collaboratively working in the next phases of the sites."
Vice-President, Nattilik Heritage Society
“This was another successful research season for the Parks Canada Underwater Archaeology Team. Retrieving artifacts from the wrecks and taking high-quality imagery provides insight for the entire world as to what life was like for the crews aboard these ships during this expedition.”
President and CEO, Parks Canada
Parks Canada is one of the principal cultural resource management organizations in Canada and is the Government of Canada lead for matters and programs related to built and archaeological heritage.
Collaborating with numerous Indigenous groups across Canada, Parks Canada and Indigenous peoples are partners in conserving natural and cultural heritage and sharing the stories of these treasured places, including the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.
The Nattilik Heritage Society administers the Wrecks Guardian Program and the Nattilik Heritage Centre Expansion project to house a new exhibition in 2025.
Recovered artifacts from the Franklin Expedition are co-owned by Parks Canada and the Inuit Heritage Trust.
Following the historic gift of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror wrecks to Canada by the United Kingdom in 2018, Parks Canada will transfer a sample of HMS Erebus artifacts to the National Museum of the Royal Navy starting in 2024. These artifacts, including a ship’s bell and a cannon, were retained by the United Kingdom as a representative sample.
On March 2, 2023, the Government of Canada and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association signed a $23 million Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement for the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site. The agreement sets out a new model for a cooperative relationship and supports economic development opportunities for Inuit in Gjoa Haven and Cambridge Bay.
Stantec, a global leader in sustainable design and engineering, recently provided hydrological and storm modeling to Parks Canada. This research will help Parks Canada understand climate change-related threats to the wrecks of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, and what mitigation measures may be needed.
Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change
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