HMS Investigator and McClure's Cache
Parks Canada 2010 Arctic expedition base camp, located on the shores of Mercy Bay in Aulavik National Park.
© Parks Canada
Archaeological Work at Banks Island, Northwest Territories
July 10-25, 2011
Underwater Investigation of the HMS Investigator Wreck in Mercy Bay and Terrestrial Investigations of McClure’s Cache and an Ancient Paleoeskimo Site in Aulavik National Park
Last July 2010, Parks Canada led a project at Aulavik National Park (NP) on Banks Island, Northwest Territories which included both terrestrial and marine archaeological surveys. The work resulted in locating HMS Investigator in Mercy Bay offshore from the park boundary, while onshore the graves of three crew members, McClure’s Cache and related land sites were documented. The terrestrial team also briefly studied a nearby archaeological site south of McClure’s Cache that was determined to be larger and older than first estimated, dating back to the Paleoeskimo period and likely between 2400-2700 years old.
This July 2011, Parks Canada will return to Aulavik National Park for about three weeks to conduct a follow-up project that will see underwater archaeologists dive the wreck of HMS Investigator in Mercy Bay for the first time to document, film and assess what survives of the ship. Terrestrial archaeologists will complete the documentation of the cache site and the Paleoeskimo site, both located within park boundaries.
Aulavik National Park is located on Banks Island. McClure's Cache and the Paleoeskimo site are both found within the boundaries of the national park. HMS Investigator is resting approximately 11 metres from the surface of Mercy Bay just off-shore of Aulavik National Park. Sachs Harbour is the only community on the island. Inuvik is the largest town in the western Arctic and is considered a gateway to the region. It also houses Parks Canada's Western Arctic Field Unit offices.
© Parks Canada
The joint archaeological project aims to better define HMS Investigator’s place in the history of polar exploration and its role in the discovery of the Northwest Passage. This fascinating historical event also holds special significance for the Inuvialuit of the western Arctic as for several decades, Inuit travelled annually to Mercy Bay to salvage much valued metal, wood and other items from the abandoned site. The vessel and land sites promise to offer unprecedented information on the early exploration of Canada’s North and the search for the Northwest Passage – a critical piece of our shared history and the early contact between Inuit and Europeans in this region.
Parks Canada has been directly involved in inventorying and documenting archaeological sites throughout Canada’s Arctic Archipelago, and is making important contributions to our understanding of the early inhabitants of this land. The Paleoeskimo site has the potential to change what we know about the first inhabitants of Banks Island over two millennia ago. Few Paleoeskimo sites of this age are known in the high western Arctic and rarer still is evidence of structures like those believed to be present at this site.
In 2010, Parks Canada and University of Western Ontario archaeologists also discovered the resting place of three British crew members who died while searching for the Northwest Passage. Parks Canada is treating these graves with the highest respect, in collaboration with the Government of Great Britain, and the sites are protected within Aulavik National Park. There are no plans to excavate the graves at this time.
Aulavik National Park was created in 1992 and provided for in the 1984 Western Arctic Inuvialuit comprehensive land claim agreement. Parks Canada and the Inuvialuit cooperatively manage the national park to protect and present its Arctic lowlands ecosystems and 3500-year old cultural heritage. As the closest community to the park, Sachs Harbour is also the only community on Banks Island.
Parks Canada's historians and archaeologists conserve the cultural resources of Canada's national parks and historic sites, and conduct research projects across the country in an effort to learn more about our historic heritage for presentation of these stories to the public.