HMS Erebus discovery

The 2014 search to find Franklin's Lost ships got off to a less-than-promising start.

Difficult ice conditions prevented the search teams, led by Parks Canada, from moving north into the Victoria Strait, where Sir John Franklin's ships — HMS Erebus and HMS Terror — were originally beset in ice in 1846 and ultimately abandoned two years later. So the searchers bided their time further to the south in the Queen Maud Gulf, where previous hunts had been unsuccessful.

As they  waited for the ice to clear, two archeologists, Robert Park and Doug Stenton, took up a federal hydrographer on an offer to visit one of hundreds of low, gravelly islands in the area — their pick — while he set up a navigation beacon. They consulted their maps and climbed into a waiting helicopter.

It proved to be a fateful decision.

Shortly after touching down, the helicopter's pilot spotted a U-shaped piece of iron propped up against a rock. It turned out to be a Royal Navy davit, part of a mechanism used to lower lifeboats.  It effectively pointed the Parks Canada marine archeologists directly to the remains of Erebus a short distance away, submerged in about 11 meters of water.

But it wasn't only luck that guided Parks Canada and its partners to the nearly 170-year-old wreck.

ARF worked tirelessly behind the scenes for several years to help Parks Canada's marine archeologists find the Franklin ships. The organization helped assemble a broad partnership consisting of several federal government departments, the Government of Nunavut and members of the private sector.

 ARF also purchased and outfitted the RV Martin Bergmann to act as a dedicated platform for the Parks Canada-led team. The sturdy former fishing trawler covered about 80 per cent of the designated Franklin search areas over a period of several seasons. It was, in other words, a Franklin workhorse.

Subsequent dives on the Erebus—including through the ice in the spring of 2015—yielded a treasure trove of Franklin artifacts. They included ship’s brass bell, a brass “six pounder” cannon, ceramic plates and illuminators that were used to bring sunlight from the ship’s deck into the quarters below.

As would later be the case with Terror, the discovery of Erebus was a validation of Inuit local knowledge and oral history. It was also powerful reminder of just how much we, as Canadians, can accomplish when we decide to work together.


explore the discoveries

The HMS Terror

The Franklin mystery