Canada, Inuit mark joint ownership of Franklin Wrecks in Nunavut

Sonar picture of HMS Erebus as it rests at the bottom of the ocean. Photo: Parks Canada

For the very first time since the 1845 Franklin Expedition shipwrecks were discovered, Canadian and Inuit representatives joined British officials on September 9 at the final resting place of the HMS Erebus in the Arctic.

The Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, Catherine McKenna, coordinated the delegation, which included Inuit Guardians who, in cooperation with Parks Canada, are responsible for monitoring the national historic site, and British Deputy High Commissioner to Canada, David Reed.

Earlier this year, the United Kingdom gifted Canada all the undiscovered artifacts from the Franklin wreck sites. With this gift, the Franklin artifacts are owned by the Government of Canada and Inuit trough Parks Canada and Inuit Heritage Trust.

During the visit to Nunavut, Minister McKenna presented the transfer of deed from the UK to Canada to the Inuit Heritage Trust.

McKenna and Reed had the opportunity as part of the trip to mark the transfer of deed with local community members in Cambridge Bay and then in Gjoa Haven – the community nearest to the site of the wrecks.

The locations of the Franklin Expedition vessels had been a mystery for over 160 years after Sir John Franklin and his crew went missing in 1847-1848 while searching for a Northwest Passage.

Inuit are an integral part of the Franklin story. They were first-hand witnesses to the Franklin Expedition, and they helped contribute to the search for the lost vessels over the ensuing years. In 2014, Inuit knowledge helped the Government of Canada and other partners finally discover the wreck of the HMS Erebus. The location of the second ship was discovered in 2016 as part of this multilateral partnership.

The delegation also visited with Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team aboard the Agency’s newest research vessel, RV David Thompson.

Parks Canada’s ongoing investigation of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, in collaboration with Inuit, will be one of the largest and most complex underwater archaeological undertakings in Canadian history. Parks Canada experts anticipate that the thousands of artifacts remaining on the two shipwrecks – which may include written documents – will help further unravel the mystery of the Franklin Expedition.

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