HMS Erebus and HMS Terror
Survey for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror - Search platform vessels in Arctic waters© Parks Canada
August 2011 Search Expedition to find Franklin’s ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror
Sir John Franklin’s two lost ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, are designated together as a national historic site of Canada - the only such ‘undiscovered’ national historic site – due to the importance of Franklin’s voyage and his ships to the history of Arctic navigation and exploration. The discovery of either or both wrecks, or their contents, will offer unprecedented information on the search for the Northwest Passage, the exploration of Canada’s North and the fate of Sir John Franklin. HMS Erebus, HMS Terror and their crew are also a testament to the history shared between Canada and Great Britain.
HMS Erebus and HMS Terror also have historical and cultural significance for local Inuit who speak of the ships in their oral history. The expedition team and Inuit have worked closely together in conducting research and planning for this search as it is believed that Inuit oral history and research could hold the key to the ultimate discovery of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.
The search for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror is made more challenging by the vastness of the Canadian Arctic and the harsh conditions that are frequently encountered in northern waters. It is also complicated by differing accounts of the fate of Franklin’s ships as preserved in Inuit traditional knowledge, and the many interpretations given to these accounts on the possible resting place of the wrecks. A number of attempts to locate HMS Erebus and HMS Terror have been unsuccessful to date but an increasing area of the seafloor has been systematically ruled out, thus narrowing the search.
This coming August, Parks Canada and its Underwater Archaeology Service (UAS) will lead a third archaeological expedition in Nunavut to search for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.
In 2008, the UAS initiated a three-year project in collaboration with the Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) with the support of the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) and Government of Nunavut. An initial expedition in 2008 achieved the survey of a 65 km-long approach corridor leading from the main navigation channel through largely uncharted waters to an archaeological target area near O’Reilly Island, located west of the Adelaide peninsula and where Inuit oral tradition situates one of the wrecks. In the second field season in 2010, this corridor provided safe navigation access for the support vessel and enabled the successful survey of approximately 180 sq km from two smaller survey launches.
The 2011 expedition will again prove to be a collaborative effort, with the inclusion of new organizations: University of Victoria’s Ocean Technology Laboratory (UVic) and Canadian Ice Service (CIS). This collaboration will bring a breadth of expertise and new information, adding to the growing body of research on the ships’ fate. The survey will once again be staged from the CCG ice-breaker Sir Wilfrid Laurier with archaeologists working alongside CHS hydrographers over the course of a 6-day dedicated effort.
In addition to technologies already deployed which included side-scan sonar and multi-beam bathymetry, the Parks Canada-led search for the Franklin vessels will enlist a deep-water, remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) provided by the University of Victoria. The ROV is not used for searching, but rather will be deployed to provide immediate authentication of a potential target. UVic has also provided an operator to support its deployment for the duration of the search. This ROV will allow for greater capacity compared to the one currently owned by Parks Canada.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed in August 1997 between Great Britain, as owner of the vessels, and Canada, as the nation in whose water they were lost. If and when they are found, the MOU assigns control over site investigation, excavation or recovery of either wrecks or their contents to Canada. Mandated to protect and present subjects of national significance, Parks Canada is the responsible federal agency for the search and subsequent preservation of the vessels.
The Government of Canada is the proud steward of Aulavik National Park of Canada as well as of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site of Canada, and is working with the Government of Nunavut and Qikiqtani Inuit Association towards the creation of a national marine conservation area in Lancaster Sound at the eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage.
Parks Canada is also working with the support of the Gjoa Haven Community and the Inuit Heritage Trust.