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Parks Canada 2010 Arctic Surveys

2010 Arctic Expedition Results

HMS Investigator and McClure's Cache

Parks Canada locates historic vessel HMS Investigator

Archaeologists also find the grave sites of three crew members.

On July 21st Parks Canada embarked on a 10-day archaeological survey in Aulavik National Park to locate the HMS Investigator wreck and document and map the land sites associated with Captain Robert McClure's expedition. Among the known terrestrial features were remains of the cache that contained the equipment and provisions off-loaded from the ship and stored on shore. Among other possible remains associated with HMS Investigator were the graves of three sailors who died before the crew abandoned the ship. The first days of the project delivered a number of discoveries including the shipwreck of HMS Investigator, the three grave sites, and new information on the cache site.

Shipwreck Site

The shipwreck of HMS Investigator was located by Parks Canada archaeologists in the first moments of the search. Upon the arrival of the project team, ice had been pushed back inside Mercy Bay and the side-scan search had to be delayed. Fortunately, part of the bay where the ship had been abandoned became free of ice and the search began. Less than half an hour after the search was initiated, the image of the wreck appeared on the sonar screen. Shortly after, the ice covered the site once more, keeping the team from gathering more images.

The Honorable Jim Prentice Minister Prentice on his way to meet Parks Canada's archaeological team in the Canadian Arctic
© Parks Canada

The first analysis of the side-scan images indicate that the structure of the ship lies on the bottom in relatively shallow water and is in good condition particularly considering the depth. The bottom of the vessel appears buried in sediment, and the structure rises to the upper deck, but the rigging and the bulwarks (side walls above the upper deck) have collapsed, likely damaged by the ice.

The next steps will be to gather more information with the side-scan sonar to understand the extent of the site and the debris field, and to document the wreck with a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV), a small submersible robot equipped with cameras. Parks Canada archaeologists will try to evaluate what is left of the wreck, how well it is preserved, and what are the environmental conditions impacting the wreck.

The Grave Sites

Three grave sites have been located by archaeologists from Parks Canada and the University of Western Ontario using a magnetometer that detects the presence of metal below the surface. The strong magnetometer targets are associated with three earth mounts that correspond well in their shape to burials. The location of the sites is consistent with historical accounts. A new translation of one document by Hans Roman of Memorial University from the original German text proved to be significant in the search strategy.

The graves are located approximately 60 metres from a large coal mound associated with the site. They are the resting place of the three sailors (two able seamen and the gunner's mate) who all died of scurvy in Mercy Bay in April of 1853. These graves are the final resting place of men who lost their lives looking for the North-West Passage.