The debate between Canada and Britain over ownership of Franklin expedition artifacts has ended with a conciliatory gesture by the British.

Gjoa Haven’s Louie Kamookak used Inuit oral history to help give insight into the location of the Franklin ship HMS Erebus. photo courtesy of Parks Canada

The Government of the United Kingdom announced last week that it will relinquish ownership of the wrecked Franklin ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, in the Queen Maud Gulf, to Canada.

“I was happy to hear that it was going to be given over to Canada,” said Gjoa Haven Mayor Joanni Sallerina. “I’m more excited because it’s on King William Island.”

The Franklin ships, which set out from Britain in 1845 before getting trapped in the Arctic ice and sinking, are a boost to tourism, particularly among a growing number of cruise liners.

“We’re excited about that,” said Sallerina, who noted that the community’s heritage centre will double in size by 2020 to display the recovered Franklin artifacts. “We’re hoping that will boost the tourists and we hope to expand tourism in the community.”

There may be additional opportunities to capitalize on the Franklin wrecks once an Inuit Impact Benefits Agreement is negotiated between Parks Canada and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, Sallerina noted.

In a statement, the federal government acknowledged the critical role of Inuit in locating the wrecks of the Erebus in 2014 and the Terror in 2016.

“The Government of Canada recognizes the invaluable contributions of Inuit of Nunavut, the Government of Nunavut, and all partners in the search and discovery of the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. Most importantly, the discoveries would not have been possible without the support, guidance, advice and traditional and modern knowledge shared so generously by Inuit of Nunavut,” the statement reads.

Fred Pedersen, chair of the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee, added, “This exceptional gift (of the Franklin vessels) will allow for the joint ownership of the artifacts by Inuit and Canada, as stipulated in the Nunavut Agreement. We look forward to working with Parks Canada on the future management of the wrecks of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site and helping to protect and present these wrecks and artifacts to tell the story where these events took place.”

Parks Canada conducted dives at both vessel wreck sites earlier this year and plans more underwater exploration next year.

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