"I figured it might be one of the boats they've been looking for."

Sammy Kogvik, Canadian Ranger and Gjoa Haven resident



HMS Terror discovery

On Sept. 3, 2016, the R/V 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, leading to the death of all 129 sailors. 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 200-year-old wreck wasn't found by using state-of-the-art techniques or 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.

 Sammy Kogvik

Sammy Kogvik

It all started with a tip from local Gjoa Haven resident and proud Canadian Ranger 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. Although Franklin experts had dismissed similar Inuit stories, Schimnowski knew better and immediately set course for the southwest coast of King William Island, where he 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 rewriting history books. Terror was discovered about 100 km south of where the wooden sailing ship was beset in ice for two consecutive winters and ultimately abandoned. That suggests some of Franklin’s surviving men, contrary to current theories, may have re-crewed the ship and attempted to sail south to safety before ultimately succumbing to hunger and the elements.

The Franklin Mystery


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.



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 a 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 with Balsillie, who believed Canadians should be the ones to make such an important discovery. After all, this was their backyard. 

Balsillie later learned that 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, Ontario-area businessman Tim MacDonald founded ARF to assist with the effort. ARF's first order of business was to procure a dedicated research vessel that Parks Canada archaeologists could use to survey thousands of kilometres of Arctic waterways. The ship, a refurbished Newfoundland fishing trawler, was named after Martin Bergmann, a close friend and former director of the Polar Continental Shelf Program. “Marty” Bergmann died in a 2011 plane crash in Resolute, Nunavut.


Over the next three seasons, the Bergmann’s crew surveyed nearly 80 percent of Franklin's search areas with its towed sonar array, or the equivalent of TK sq. km. In 2014, the partnership ARF formed paid off when a Canadian 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 metres of water. Two years later, ARF — and the Bergmann — proved lightning 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 search 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, but its real work is only just beginning.


The Franklin Mystery