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The Underwater Archaeology Search for Franklin's Lost Vessels: HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site

Victoria Strait Expedition


Parks Canada

Parks Canada will play a leading role in the Victoria Strait Expedition, securing the archaeological research permit from the Government of Nunavut and coordinating the search for Franklin's lost ships. The search effort will last up to six weeks and focus on two areas: Wilmot and Crampton Bay, and Victoria Strait. Four ships will serve as platforms: the Arctic Research Foundation's Martin Bergmann; Canadian Coast Guard's Sir Wilfrid Laurier; the Royal Canadian Navy's HMCS Kingston and One Ocean Expedition's One Ocean Voyager. New this year will also be DRDC's state-of-the-art autonomous underwater vehicle (Arctic Explorer), which was developed in collaboration with private-sector partners.

Parks Canada will also provide an abundance of equipment, including:

  • Two Klein towed-side scan sonars, along with the winches, computers and personnel needed to operate them;
  • An Iver3 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) equipped with side-scan sonar;
  • A Falcon deep-water remotely operated vehicle (ROV); and
  • A ten-metre research vessel to tow a side-scan sonar or deploy an AUV.
About Parks Canada

Parks Canada protects and manages nationally significant examples of this country's natural and cultural heritage, and fosters public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment in ways that ensure their ecological and commemorative integrity for present and future generations. As an international leader in underwater archaeology, Parks Canada is well positioned to showcase how new technologies can help locate and analyze shipwrecks to bring part of the story of the Franklin Expedition to life. In 1992, Canada designated the location of Franklin's ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, as a national historic site.

Royal Canadian Navy

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) will provide HMCS Kingston and its crew to support the Victoria Strait Expedition. Naval ships regularly patrol Arctic waters. Each summer for more than a decade, RCN has worked directly with the Canadian Hydrographic Service to collect bathymetric data about the northern seabed. Under a memorandum of understanding in place for the past two years, the Canadian Hydrographic Service has provided and operated a sonar device on a naval ship for two weeks each summer. This year, HMCS Kingston, a Kingston-class maritime coastal defence vessel, will serve as one of the four main platforms for the Victoria Strait Expedition's search effort and scientific research efforts.

About the Royal Canadian Navy

The Royal Canadian Navy plays a lead role in protecting the safety and security of Canada's coasts and marine waterways, including those in the Arctic. The RCN routinely deploys its ships in Canada's northern waters on fisheries and sovereignty patrols and, when authorized, assists other government departments in enforcing national and international law.

A longer navigation season in the Arctic will bring with it an increase in maritime activity, including shipping traffic and tourism. With this activity comes increased risk of marine incident, environmental accident and criminal activity. The RCN conducts exercises and operations in the North to help ensure that it will have the capabilities necessary to respond to future safety and security challenges as they may arise. Under the direction of the Joint Task Force North headquartered in Yellowknife, the Navy regularly participates with the Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force in support of its northern operations.

Operation QIMMIQ

Operation QIMMIQ is an integral part of fulfilling Joint Task Force North's (JTFN) ongoing surveillance and defence responsibilities in Canada's Arctic region. Participation in Operation QIMMIQ is HMCS Kingston's primary assignment during the summer of 2014. The objective of the operation is to maintain sovereignty of JTFN's area of responsibility as mandated by the Government of Canada's Northern Strategy by gathering surveillance information and providing a Canadian presence in remote arctic regions. In addition to supporting Canada's Arctic presence, Operation QIMMIQ also supports the mutual defence and bilateral agreements between the Royal Canadian Air Force and our allies internationally through maritime, land and aerospace domains.

Canadian Coast Guard

The Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) will support the Victoria Strait Expedition by providing CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier, an 83-metre Arctic Class 2 icebreaker equipped with a MBB Bo 105 helicopter. CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier is a high-endurance multi-tasked vessel and will serve as a key operational platform throughout the Expedition.

Each summer, the Sir Wilfrid Laurier directly supports the Arctic icebreaking program to promote the safe movement of maritime traffic through or around ice-covered waters. In addition, the vessel and its crew maintain shipping channels, along with hundreds of aids to navigation, conduct maritime search and rescue operations, and monitor or lead pollution-response actions.

About the Canadian Coast Guard

The Canadian Coast Guard, a Special Operating Agency of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, owns and operates the Government of Canada's civilian fleet, and provides key maritime services to Canadians.

CCG programs and services help to:

  • protect the marine environment;
  • support economic growth;
  • ensure public safety on the water; and
  • assert Canada's sovereignty.

Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC)

Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) will support the Victoria Strait Expedition by providing the Arctic Explorer, an autonomous underwater vehicle equipped with a state-of-the-art sonar system. More than seven metres in length, the Arctic Explorer is a long-endurance vehicle that produces high-resolution images of the seafloor over a much greater range than previous sonar systems. The deployment of the Arctic Explorer will showcase Canada's innovative and world-leading technologies.

Manufactured by International Submarine Engineering Ltd, of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, under a joint-development agreement with Natural Resources Canada, the Arctic Explorer completed under-ice surveys in support of Canada's UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) submission. This year, the vehicle is equipped with an AquaPix Synthetic Aperture Sonar, designed and manufactured by Kraken Sonar Systems Inc, of St. John's Newfoundland and Labrador, and an acoustic homing system manufactured by Omnitech Incorporated of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

While in the Arctic, DRDC will also undertake several experiments to assess and understand the impact that low water temperatures have on the performance of various types of imaging sonars. Data from the experiments will be used to validate existing sonar models, and to inform the Royal Canadian Navy's decisions about future sonar acquisitions.

About Defence Research and Development Canada

DRDC is the national leader in defence and security science and technology. As an agency of Canada's Department of National Defence (DND), DRDC provides DND, the Canadian Armed Forces and other government departments, as well as the public safety and national security communities, the knowledge and technological advantage needed to defend and protect Canada's interests at home and abroad.

DRDC first operated in the Arctic during the early 1950s, when Defence Research Board scientists established research camps and programs and made discoveries that underpin our current understanding of glaciers and ice movement, navigation and Arctic clothing. For more information on DRDC, visit

Canadian Hydrographic Service

The Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) will support the Victoria Strait Expedition by providing two survey launches, vessels that are equipped with the latest in multi-beam sonar technology, as well as multi-beam systems that will be installed on HMCS Kingston and CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Working closely with the Canadian Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Navy, CHS hydrographers will collect and interpret the data from these four multi-beam systems, along with data collected by other expedition vessels, to help modernize the nautical charts in the area.

A similar project in 2012 resulted in the surveying of a new, more efficient navigational corridor between King William Island and the Royal Geographical Society Islands—a corridor that reduces the sailing time around King William Island by up to seven hours.

The waters targeted in this year's Expedition have not been surveyed to modern standards. In addition to collecting bathymetric data, tidal data will be collected throughout the expedition.

CHS's expertise in seabed mapping leads to a natural partnership that supports Parks Canada and other expedition partners in their efforts to locate the lost ships at the bottom of the Northwest Passage.

About the Canadian Hydrographic Service

The Canadian Hydrographic Service, a branch of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, is the authority that surveys and charts Canada's key marine navigation routes out to the edge of the continental shelf. CHS nautical charts are key navigational tools that help mariners navigate safely in our waters.  Other CHS products, such as tide tables and Sailing Directions provide critical supporting information for mariners. The primary clients of Canadian Hydrographic Service products, data and services are commercial vessel operators, recreational boaters, the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Coast Guard.

Established in 1883, the Canadian Hydrographic Service conducted its first Arctic survey in 1910. As Arctic marine traffic increases, CHS' modern data on seabed topography and navigational hazards becomes increasingly important for marine safety and environmental protection.

Canadian Space Agency

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) will support the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition with high-resolution images captured by satellite. RADARSAT-2, the primary source of images, is equipped with a powerful synthetic-aperture radar system capable of collecting data day and night, regardless of cloud cover, haze or smoke. In Canada's Arctic, the system provides accurate, current information about sea ice type and extent, coastal features and shoreline delineation. Key users of CSA's arctic data include Environment Canada's Canadian Ice Services and e-Space program, the Canadian Coast Guard, Canadian Hydrographic Service and the Royal Canadian Navy.

About the Canadian Space Agency

The mandate of the Canadian Space Agency is to promote the peaceful use and development of space, to advance the knowledge of space through science and to ensure that space science and technology provide social and economic benefits for Canadians. The CSA is committed to leading the development and application of space knowledge for the benefit of Canadians and humanity.

Canadian Ice Service

Environment Canada's Canadian Ice Service (CIS) will support the Victoria Strait Expedition with information about historical, current and anticipated ice conditions based on real-time and archived satellite imagery and aerial reconnaissance as appropriate. Along with daily updates and forecasts, CIS has also provided information about historical ice conditions in the area where the Franklin Expedition abandoned—and presumably lost—their ships. An analysis of archived satellite imagery from RADARSAT-1 (Canada's first remote-sensing satellite), RADARSAT-2 and other space-based sensors, along with historical records, has helped to understand the movement and characteristics of sea ice in the search area. A comprehensive analysis of the sea ice in the region has made it possible to reassess the interpretation of the historical evidence about the possible location of the ships.

About the Canadian Ice Service

A division of Environment Canada's Meteorological Service, CIS is the leading authority on ice in Canada's navigable waters and one of the largest users of information generated by the Canadian Space Agency's RADARSAT-2. Ice in its many forms covers much of Canada's waters at various times of the year, affecting many aspects of life, including:

  • Marine and freshwater transportation
  • Commercial fishing
  • Offshore resource development
  • The hunting and fishing patterns of Aboriginal peoples
  • Tourism and recreation
  • Local weather patterns and long-term climate

Key clients of the CIS include the Canadian Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Navy, as well as commercial shippers transiting the Arctic. Products such as ice charts, ice forecast outlooks and ice pressure warnings are available at no cost to help maximize safety for all northern mariners.

Government of Nunavut

The Government of Nunavut (GN), Department of Culture and Heritage, will again lead terrestrial surveys and excavations on King William Island, complementing the Victoria Strait Expedition's search for the wrecks of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. This year's activities will include new site surveys, mapping and excavation in Terror Bay, Erebus Bay and at Victory Point. A top priority in 2014 is the reburial of human skeletal remains recovered for analysis in 2013 from two known Franklin sites in Erebus Bay.

By engaging with interested beneficiaries in Gjoa Haven, the GN is actively working to help increase the long-term benefits of this expedition for Nunavummiut. This includes new information and resources about Nunavut's complex history made available as education initiatives, for exhibition and interpretation purposes. GN involvement also contributes to the management of Nunavut's archaeological resources through identification, documentation and analysis, which has long-term benefits such as ecotourism and economic development.

The archaeological record of the Franklin Expedition on King William Island is one of the most studied, but least documented. Since 2008, the GN has led the surveys and investigations of terrestrial archaeological sites to obtain up-to-date information about the condition of sites documented decades ago, and to search for new information about the Franklin Expedition. This work has provided important data about the condition of key Franklin sites and has added nearly 40 Inuit archaeological sites to the inventory as well as hundreds of artifacts to Nunavut's collections. This work also provided the GN with information needed to make informed decisions about the management of these resources, which are of increasing interest to the tourism sector.

About the Government of Nunavut's Archaeology Program

The Department of Culture and Heritage is the GN department responsible for the administration and management of Nunavut's archaeological resources. These resources consist of approximately 11,000 documented archaeological sites that cover a period of nearly 4,500 years of human history in Nunavut. The department's Archaeology Program administers the archaeology permitting process for Nunavut and conducts archaeological research that supports its resource management mandate. The program develops policies, establishes technical standards and guidelines, and creates, analyzes and disseminates information about archaeological research. Close working relationships are maintained with the Inuit Heritage Trust, with communities, and with other territorial and federal government agencies.

Arctic Research Foundation

Arctic Research Foundation (ARF) will provide and outfit the R/V Martin Bergmann, its 64-foot shallow-draft research vessel, for use by Parks Canada's Underwater Archaeology Service for a total of six weeks during the summer of 2014. Among other projects, the vessel will support the survey and search effort related to the lost Franklin ships.

By overwintering the R/V Martin Bergmann in Cambridge Bay, the vessel is available to support missions in Arctic waters for much longer than other ships that must travel to the area each summer. This extended window of opportunity enables ARF to contribute to additional projects, such as serving Northern communities. This year, ARF will be working with local artists to build and outfit a new art studio in Cambridge Bay, and the vessel will be used to transport heavy soapstone from quarries that are too remote to access by other means. Local artists, along with geologists from the Government of Nunavut, will guide these efforts.

ARF will also support several research projects this summer. The R/V Martin Bergmann will contribute to a project led by Queen's University to study the feasibility of an Inuit-operated commercial fishery based in Gjoa Haven, for instance. The project, known as the Queen Maud Gulf Exploratory Fisheries Program, promises to generate new knowledge about fish populations in the region, along with the impacts of current subsistence-fishing practices and a potential commercial fishery. The vessel will also support the Oceans Tracking Network consortium, headquartered at Dalhousie University. The program involves deploying acoustic telemetry technologies to track the movement and migrations of fish and marine mammals in the Northwest Passage.

Finally, the R/V Martin Bergmann will support scientific programming at the Canadian High Arctic Research Station, which will be built in Cambridge Bay. This year, the vessel will serve as a platform for an ongoing project led by the University of Manitoba's Centre for Earth Observation Science to study early spring ice processes and the importance of ice and timing of spring melt to the Arctic food web.

About the Arctic Research Foundation

The Arctic Research Foundation (ARF) is a Canadian private charitable foundation established in 2011 to support long-term sustainability in the Arctic through innovation in knowledge and research capacity. ARF specializes in the mobilization and use of shallow-draft near-coastal research vessels in the Arctic. The summer of 2014 marks ARF's third season of ocean-based research and logistical support.

Led by a team of experts drawn mostly from Canada's business community, ARF brings private-sector experience and perspectives to the Victoria Strait Expedition. ARF is one of a handful of private partners working with the Government of Canada to create a better understanding of the Arctic environment and the people who live there.

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS) will play a lead role in connecting the Victoria Strait Project to Canadians and geography enthusiasts from around the world. As Canada's center for exploration, and leading proponent for geoliteracy in the country, the RCGS will inform and educate Canadians about this year's expedition, how it creates new opportunity to solve the great Canadian mystery, and how the search for Franklin's lost ships have impacted our shared Northern heritage and history.

To accomplish this, RCGS will build and manage a rich, interactive website, complete with maps, information on all the partners and logistical challenges, captains' logs and more. RCGS will also leverage its communications properties, including Canadian Geographic and Géographica, to help chart the course of the expedition, and share results with its broad readership body. Further, through its national education program, Canadian Geographic Education, the RCGS will leverage its network of over 11,000 educators, by creating trilingual (English, French, Inuktituk) educational material and classroom activities about the expedition, the history of the Franklin search, and Canada's more broad Arctic history, to be shared in classrooms from coast-to-coast-to-coast.

The early commitment of The W. Garfield Weston Foundation was the catalyst for RCGS participation in this summer's search. With their support, the Society has partnered with One Ocean Expeditions to provide an Arctic-rated vessel (One Ocean Voyageur) to support the many projects underway by all partners. It will enable experts, researchers, dignitaries, representatives of Inuit communities, and others to be in the search area for a 10-day period during the field season. It also enable the RCGS to analyze and communicate the important links between the original Franklin expedition, the modern search efforts led by Parks Canada, and a host of issues currently facing the Canadian Arctic.

Further, with the Support of Shell Canada and the Arctic Research Foundation, the RCGS will develop and disseminate an enhanced educational program to Canadian schools, so that educators and students can develop a stronger knowledge base and engagement with the Arctic and how it has shaped Canadian history.

About the Royal Canadian Geographic Society

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society was founded in 1929 with the important mandate of making Canada better known to Canadians and to the world.  Under the patronage of the Governor General, the Society has, for 85 years, led the charge towards fostering a deeper appreciation of Canada's natural, cultural and social heritage.

While best known for its iconic publication, Canadian Geographic smagazine, the Society also actively develops additional publications, such as Geographica and Canadian Geographic Travel, supports Canadian research expeditions, and funds geographical research.  In addition, its geographical education program, Canadian Geographic Education, is the largest education program of its kind in Canada, actively supporting over 11,000 member educators from coast-to-coast-to-coast.

The W. Garfield Weston Foundation

The W. Garfield Weston Foundation is currently one of the largest private supporters of northern research in Canada and a proud partner in the Victoria Strait Expedition. Foundation funding of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society will support frontline research and educational materials to bring stories of the Arctic to Canadians across the country.

The Foundation's innovative programs generate awareness and passion for northern issues. By providing prestigious awards and fellowships to leading Canadian researchers, the Foundation expands relevant knowledge and brings attention to important discoveries.

The Victoria Strait Expedition represents a valuable opportunity to shine a light on the North, raising understanding of its importance and the critical work being accomplished there. This important collaborative search effort is a gateway for increased awareness, understanding, and attention to issues facing Canada's North.

About The W. Garfield Weston Foundation

Willard Garfield Weston, his wife Reta and their children established the Foundation in the 1950s with a donation of shares in George Weston Limited. Today, the family business employs more than 150,000 people, making it Canada's largest private employer. Along with its original bakery division—Weston Foods—the business' food retailing and baking companies include Loblaw Companies Limited. The success of these companies, the dedication of their employees and the loyalty of their customers ultimately enable the Foundation to fulfill its charitable mandate.

The Founders believed that as the funds were generated through the hard work and success of Canadian businesses, the grants should be given in Canada for the benefit of Canadians. For three generations, The W. Garfield Weston Foundation has maintained a family tradition of supporting charitable organizations across Canada. Today the Foundation directs the majority of its funds to projects in the fields of land conservation, education and scientific research in Canada's North. In addition, it provides funds to further Canada's research in neuroscience.

One Ocean Expeditions

For the Victoria Strait Survey project, One Ocean Expeditions will provide the One Ocean Voyager to serve as a platform for 10 days within the search area, and also contribute to the Royal Canadian Geographical Society's commitment to share Canada's Arctic History. The One Ocean Voyager, a European built ship designed for scientific research in the Polar Regions (Lloyds Register 1A, Canadian Type B), measures 117 metres in length and has a capacity of approximately 170 passengers and crew. The ship will chart a course through the Northwest Passage as the launch platform for survey equipment owned and operated by Defence Research and Development Canada and carry vital Parks Canada equipment to the survey area. In addition, the One Ocean Voyage will carry scientists, sponsors, and participating dignitaries during the Victoria Strait expedition.

About One Ocean Expeditions

A private Canadian tour operator founded in 2007, One Ocean Expeditions operates a dozen Arctic and more than twenty Antarctic expedition cruises each year. For trips into Canada's Arctic, One Ocean Expeditions supplements the vessel's scientific capacity with sea kayaks and Zodiac® inflatable boats and provides a team of experienced guides, educators and naturalists taking groups of up to 95 passengers at a time on once-in-a-lifetime journeys through the North. The trips are point-to-point; passengers fly into communities with landing strips, such as Resolute Bay, and are then ferried to the ship. One Ocean Expeditions voyages make multiple stops and generate significant revenues for local communities and businesses. In addition to an internship program with the Nunavut Arctic College, voyages also support Northern Communities through donations and community outreach programs.

One Ocean Expeditions is owned and directed by three members of the College of Fellows of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.

Shell Canada

Shell Canada is proud to be supporting The Royal Canadian Geographical Society in its development of educational tools and products that will help bring the learnings from the Victoria Straight Expedition to students and educators from across the country.

About Royal Dutch Shell

Royal Dutch Shell plc is incorporated in England and Wales, has its headquarters in The Hague and is listed on the London, Amsterdam, and New York stock exchanges. Shell companies have operations in more than 90 countries and territories with businesses including oil and gas exploration and production; production and marketing of liquefied natural gas and gas to liquids; manufacturing, marketing and shipping of oil products and chemicals and renewable energy projects. For further information, visit

About Shell Canada

Shell Canada Ltd has been operating in Canada since 1911 and employs approximately 8,000 people across the country. A leading manufacturer, distributor and marketer of refined petroleum products, Shell produces natural gas, natural gas liquids and bitumen, and is Canada's largest producer of sulphur. The energy we supply helps support economic growth and development. At our operations we aim to address social concerns and work to benefit local communities. Human ingenuity and advanced technologies are vital to help meet future global energy demands. At Shell we recognize that no single company can develop all of these alone. We work closely with industry partners and experts outside our industry to spark new ideas and share knowledge that helps drive developments forward.