A Parks Canada dive team will spend up to two weeks this month recovering artifacts from the Franklin shipwreck HMS Erebus, near Gjoa Haven.

Debris is scattered on the ocean floor around the wreck of the Erebus. Parks Canada will undertake an ambitious underwater archeology project at the site of the Erebus this month.
photo courtesy of Parks Canada

The divers will work their way through the accessible areas of the ship’s lower deck, which housed the crew in the mid-1840s, before the vessel became locked in Arctic Ocean ice and later sank, leaving everyone aboard the Erebus and its sister ship, the HMS Terror, to perish in the harsh climate.

Dependent on weather and ice conditions, the dive team may also visit the wreck of the Terror to take pictures and scans and shoot video of that site. As well, a remotely-operated underwater miniature vehicle will explore the ship’s interior, according to Parks Canada.

Catherine McKenna, minister of Environment and Climate Change and minister responsible for Parks Canada, will visit the the Erebus wreck site along with Inuit partners and David Reed, British deputy high commissioner to Canada. McKenna will be in Cambridge Bay on Thursday evening and in Gjoa Haven on Sunday to outline joint ownership of Franklin wreck artifacts with the Inuit Heritage Trust. Although the ships belonged to Britain, the British government has gifted the undiscovered artifacts to Canada.

Inuit guardians have been on location at both wreck sites to watch over the areas, which are designated as national historic sites. There are plans to have the Inuit guardians educate visitors to the Erebus and Terror about Franklin expedition history, provide background on Inuit culture and tell of how climate change is affecting the Arctic. Although a permit is currently required to access the Erebus and Terror sites, Parks Canada and the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee are developing tourist initiatives.

“Inuit have been an essential part of the Franklin story. Now, the discovery and exploration of the wrecks is opening up exciting opportunities for employment and tourism and for Inuit and Nunavut communities to share their knowledge and experience with the world,” said Fred Pedersen, chair of the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee. “(The committee) looks forward to seeing what artifacts are retrieved from HMS Erebus this year and working with Parks Canada to continue to share the important role of Inuit in this fascinating history.”

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