OTTAWA, August 9, 2013 /Canada NewsWire/ - The Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Canada's Environment Minister and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, today announced that Parks Canada Underwater Archaeologists will return to Canada's Arctic to continue an expedition of international significance; the continuing search for the lost vessels HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, from the ill-fated Sir John Franklin voyage.
"Our government is pleased to pull together for a fifth season both existing and new Canadian partners and researchers to continue the search for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror," said Minister Aglukkaq. "Being from Nunavut, I am especially excited about this project, as it will collectively increase our understanding of early Arctic exploration and its impact on Canada's development as a nation, while showcasing the beauty and unique culture of the Arctic."
The search capacity this year will be the most comprehensive yet. Beginning around August 10th and continuing for almost 6 weeks - the longest amount of continuous time on the water to date - Parks Canada will be joined by a broad array of partners for a fifth season in search for the historic shipwrecks. This year, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and Defence Research & Development Canada (DRDC) will lend their expertise and enthusiasm to the project, which also includes the Arctic Research Foundation, the Government of Nunavut, Canadian Hydrographic Service, Canadian Coast Guard, the Canadian Ice Service, and Canadian Space Agency.
The Parks Canada-led survey team will conduct the underwater search from aboard the Arctic Research Foundation's Research Vessel Martin Bergmann for the full 6 weeks or so, and will be further supported during that time by the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier for an additional week. The team's traditional side-scan sonar surveying method will be boosted this year with the addition of a military-grade, side-scan sonar provided by DRDC, and by a new autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) and remotely-operated vehicle (ROV), recently acquired by Parks Canada.
As with all past surveys, the data acquired will be shared among partnering organizations, which contributes to important priorities like safe navigation and environmental knowledge of the Canadian Arctic.
"I am proud of the incredible commitment, research capability and momentum this team continues to harness from so many valuable partners each year," added Minister Aglukkaq. "Having already covered more than 800 km2, the team is narrowing their search on the world's most elusive shipwrecks, while systematically surveying Canada's vast and largely uncharted Arctic waters. Weather permitting, this year's search will significantly build upon the important scientific and archaeological understanding in this fascinating part of Canada's history, and geography."
History of the 1845 Franklin Expedition and his Lost Ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror
On May 19, 1845, the Royal Navy ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror departed Greenhithe, England on a much-heralded Arctic expedition in search of a Northwest Passage. Under the command of Sir John Franklin, with Captain Francis Rawdon Crozier second in command, the expedition's two ships set out with a total complement of 134 officers and men. HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were converted bomb vessels of 378 and 331 tons respectively and both had already seen prior service in polar exploration. They were stoutly-built and soundly reinforced for operation in the ice, equipped with novel auxiliary-steam screw propulsion systems, fitted expressly for the expedition, and lavishly provisioned for a voyage of up to three years expected duration. Sir John Franklin's orders were to traverse the passage and return to England without delay via the Pacific. The expedition was also expected to conduct a variety of zoological, botanical, magnetic and geological surveys.
The last Europeans to have contact with HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were the crews of two whaling vessels, the Enterprise and Prince of Wales. Conversation during this chance meeting in August 1845, between the expedition leaders and the Captains of the whaling ships, indicated that Franklin was waiting for an opportunity to cross Baffin Bay to Lancaster Sound. However, after entering the eastern Arctic Archipelago later that season and enjoying initial success, the promising expedition soon began to fatally unravel. Indeed, except for occasional encounters with the Inuit, the crews of the vessels would never be seen alive again.
The disappearance of the Franklin expedition set off a massive search effort in the Arctic and the broad circumstances of the expedition's fate were not revealed until 1859 when Lt. William Hobson of the steam yacht Fox, a vessel privately chartered by the indomitable Lady Jane Franklin, found a sombre message left in a cairn on Victory Point, King William Island.
The message revealed that both ships had become trapped in ice in late 1846 and had remained so for approximately one and half years. It indicated Franklin had died on June 11, 1847, while an additional 23 crew members had similarly perished under unknown circumstances. On April 22 1848, the 105 remaining survivors deserted the ships and recorded their intention to proceed on foot in the direction of Back's Fish River. None would survive; the entire complement of both ships perished and HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were lost to the ice. While the message revealed the general vicinity of the two vessels at the time of their abandonment, neither wreck location is presently known.
In 1992, the Government of Canada declared the missing wrecks to be a national historic site. This designation came about as a result of their association with Franklin's last expedition, and their role in the history of exploration of Canada's north and the development of Canada as a nation.