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HMS Terror discovery

On Sept. 3, 2016, the RV Martin Bergmann and its crew made history by locating HMS Terror - one of two ships that went missing during Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845 Northwest Passage expedition, which led to the deaths of all 129 men. The find immediately reverberated around the world, coming just two years after ARF and its partners, led by Parks Canada, found Terror’s sister ship, HMS Erebus, in the Eastern Queen Maud Gulf. 

Yet, from ARF’s perspective, even more important than Terror’s discovery is how it took place. The nearly two century-old wreck wasn't found by spending millions on the latest technologies. Rather, it was revealed through the deep relationships ARF built with local communities over the previous five years - a powerful testament to the effectiveness of ARF’s cooperative and collaborative approach.

It all started with a tip from local Gjoa Haven resident Sammy Kogvik, who had been brought aboard the Bergmann to act as a guide during the 2016 search. He told Schimnowski a story about a fishing trip years earlier in Terror Bay, where he came across a heavy wooden pole sticking out of the ice. Though Franklin experts had dismissed similar Inuit stories, Schimnowski knew better and immediately set course for the southwest coast of King William Island and began retracing Kogvik’s steps. They had almost given up the impromptu hunt when the unmistakable signature of a sunken ship crawled across the Bergmann’s sonar monitors. It would later prove to be Terror - in near-pristine condition on the seafloor. 

The find is already re-writing history books. The wooden sailing ship was discovered about 100 km south of where the ship was beset in ice for two consecutive winters and ultimately abandoned. That suggests some of Franklin’s surviving men may have re-crewed the ship  the ship and attempted to sail south to safety before ultimately giving up and marching overland. None would make it out alive.

Discover the HMS Erebus

The Franklin Mystery

 
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In 1845, Sir John Franklin set sail from England with two ships in search of a Northwest Passage across what is now Canada's Arctic.

 
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History

The seeds that would become ARF were planted in 2009. Jim Balsillie, then co-CEO of smartphone pioneer Research in Motion (now BlackBerry), was flying in helicopter over King William Island when he spotted foreign vessels searching for the lost ships of Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated Northwest Passage expedition, which departed England in 1845 and never returned. It didn’t sit right. Balsillie believed Canadians should be the ones to make such an important discovery. After all, this was their backyard. 

Balsillie later learned Parks Canada had, one year earlier, began a search for the two missing vessels—HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. But the effort was hampered by a shoestring budget. Using his Ottawa connections, he encouraged the Prime Minister’s Office to put more resources into the project, arguing it was a rare chance to expand Canada’s Arctic capabilities and demonstrate its sovereignty. In 2011, Balsillie and fellow Waterloo, ON-area businessman Tim MacDonald founded ARF to assist with the effort. Its first order of business was to procure a dedicated research vessel that Parks Canada archaeologists could use to survey thousands of kilometers of Arctic waterways. The ship, a refurbished Newfoundland fishing trawler, was named the Martin Bergmann after a close friend and former director of the Polar Continental Shelf Program. “Marty” Bergmann died in a 2011 plane crash in Resolute.

 

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Over the next three seasons, the Bergmann’s crew surveyed nearly 90 per cent of Franklin search areas with its towed sonar array, or the equivalent of TK square km. In 2014, the partnership ARF formed hit paydirt when a [coast guard] helicopter pilot spotted an iron davit on a flat, rocky island in the eastern Queen Maud Gulf. It pointed Parks Canada archaeologists almost directly to HMS Erebus, submerged beneath 11 meters of water. Two years later, ARF—and the Bergmann— proved lightening can strike twice when the crew, acting on a tip from Sammy Kogvik, a local Gjoa Haven resident and Canadian Ranger, found HMS Terror at the bottom of Terror Bay. 

But ARF is—and always was— about more than Franklin. From the beginning, Balsillie and MacDonald saw the Franklin hunt as a key way to generate broader public interest in Arctic issues, from poverty to climate change, and to encourage more community-focused development in the region. ARF may be best known for finding Franklin’s lost ships, in other words, but it’s real work is only just beginning.

 
 

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HMS Erebus

The Franklin Mystery

 
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