Parks Canada Struggling with Erebus Artifacts Ownership

Nunuvut’s government is staking claim to artifacts from the HMS Erebus – one of two ships from the ill – fated Sir John Franklin expedition of 1845. Nunavut is refusing to issue Parks Canada dive permits unless Parks Canada relinquishes rights to artifacts found and retrieved from the seabed at the wreck sight of the Erebus in the waters of Victoria Strait, just off the coast of King William Island where it was discovered in September 2014. The Erebus is thought to be the ship on which Franklin perished during the ill fated expedition. The other lost ship, HMS Terror has yet to be found.

Parks Canada finally relented to the Nunavut request after realizing their divers could face arrest by the RCMP. Permission from Nunavut’s director of heritage must now be consulted before retrieving any artifacts from the site.

Franklin canon recovery 2015 underwater

One of the cannons from the HMS Erebu is lifted to the surface during last year’s artifact recovery mission in the Arctic. Thierry Boyer/Parks Canada photo.

In addition to Nunavut, other claimants to the Erebus’ artifacts include the Kitikmeot Inuit, who claim ownership under a land claims treaty, as well as the British, who, since the ships and expedition were of British origin, and based on an agreement drafted in 1997, possess rights to claim any artifacts of “outstanding significance” to their Royal Navy. The agreement between Canada and Britain recognize ownership of the wrecks and their contents by Britain, though it acknowledges Britain will ultimately gift ownership to Canada of everything, except gold, recovered from the wrecks.


Parks Canada diver surveys the HMS Erebus. Parks Canada photo.

“During the permit application process for the spring 2015 ice dive on HMS Erebus, the government of Nunavut included a condition that denied Parks Canada the authorization to recover artifacts from the wreck site,” says a briefing note for Leona Aglukkaq, who was then the environment minister.

The federal cabinet has subsequently declared the HMS Erebus wreck and surrounding waters a national historic site, which took precedence over Nunavut’s permit regulations. However the wreck of the Terror, Franklin’s second lost ship is presumed to be outside the historical site designation therefore creating the same issues and subject to Nunavut’s initial claim of jurisdiction for the HMS Erebus artifacts.

HMS Erebus Parks Canada photo

Diver inspects the hull of the HMS Erebus preserved by the Arctic waters. Parks Canada photo.

This summer Parks Canada will return to the Erebus wreck site to document artifacts and then continue nearby areas to the north to search for the elusive HMS Terror as well. Hopefully all the ownership and jurisdiction tug – of – wars will ease enough to allow divers to expedite the process before the artifacts are scattered.


A portion of the Erebus steering wheel found at the site. Parks Canada photo.

Erebus crewman's boot

A crewman’s boot in good condition was found at the site of the Erebus. Parks Canada photo.

Churchill Photos of the Week – HMS Erebus

Recent photos from the HMS Erebus wreck site in the Arctic. Sir john Franklin and his crew sailed two ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror into the high Arctic and lost their lives during the infamous 1845 expedition. HMS Erebus was found in September of 2014 and since then an amazing look into the past has captivated the world. The mystery of the HMS Terror continues while researchers search for that ship in the same vicinity.

CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Northern lights from the deck of the Park’s Canada research ship CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Park’s Canada photo.


erebus 9-15 3

HMS Erebus sitting in 11 Meters of water. Park’s Canada photo.

erebus 9-15

Park’s Canada researcher inspecting the hull of the HMS Erebus in 11 meters of water. Park’s Canada photo.

CCGS Sir Wilfred Laurier HMS Erebus

CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier heading to HMS Erebus site. Park’s Canada photo.

Crew boot HMS Erebus

Boot of HMS Erebus crew member. Parks Canada photo.

HMS Erebus Dive Just Scratches Surface

The winter dive on the HMS Erebus, Sir john Franklin’s long lost but now found ship, went well but is only “scratching the surface” according to senior researchers on the expedition.

Divers were literally scratching the surface of the sunken ship. Removing the kelp that covered the old wooden hull was the first task to be able to get a better look at the wreck in relation to the overall site. Rather than strip it all away from the entire ship they cut it off only along the port side of the 34-meter long wooden vessel.

Although the Erebus has not disclosed much information about its fate as of yet, clearing the hull and mapping the site has provided more of a story.

HMS Erebus diving operation

Jonathan Moore drilling the ice for a dive hole at Erebus Dive Camp. Parks Canada photo.

Parcs Canada senior underwater archeologist Ryan Harris says the artifacts recovered so far “can help capture what life was like inside Erebus, as well as perhaps on the still-missing second ship of the Franklin expedition, HMS Terror.” Brass buttons, a cannon and ceramic dinner plates have all been discovered and are currently on display with a dozen other items in Gatineau, Quebec.

Tunic buttons from HMS Erebus wreck

Brass buttons discovered can be narrowed down to only four crewmen. Parks Canada photo.

Erebus dinner plates

Ceramic dinner plates found at the Erebus wreck site. Parcs Canada photo.

In another mysterious and intriguing twist to the expedition, glass prisms were placed inside the upper deck which focused a very small amount light streaming through a skylight, and allowed that daylight to pass through, into the dark spaces below.

“It looks like something out of Jules Verne,” Harris says. “At this point in time, we’re absolutely just scratching the surface of what we might learn from this shipwreck,”

Erebus canon ice recovery Franklin expedition

A cannon from the HMS Erebus is pulled to the surface through one of the dive holes cut in two-meter thick ice. Jonathan Moore/ Parcs Canada photo.

Lost Franklin Expedition Discovery in Arctic-Churchill Roots

Diving on the site of the HMS Erebus shipwreck will resume this month in the high Arctic. Sir John Franklin’s ill fated voyage to find the northwest passage came to an end nearly 170 years ago as the Erebus was trapped in ice for two years off Prince William Island in Queen Maude Gulf near Nunavut.

Franklin expedition underwater inspection

A Parks Canada diver measures part of the Franklin expedition’s Erebus on Sept 18, 2014. Thierry Boyer/Parks Canada photo.

Franklin’s 1846 expedition had two ships; the HMS Erebus and  HMS Terror. No sign of either has been evident for nearly a century and a half. Seven months ago the Erebus was discovered by a group of private-public searchers lead by Parc’s Canada. Now the next chapter is unfolding.


HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, shown in the Illustrated London News published on May 24, 1845, left England that year under the command of Sir John Franklin and in the search of the Northwest Passage. Courtesy London News/Getty Images.

The irony of this continued expedition and salvage project is that the divers will be descending through two meters of ice to reach the bottom of the gulf. The same ice was responsible for crushing the wooden ship and sending it to the ocean floor a century and a half ago. The benefit here will be that the thick six foot layer of ice will eliminate surface waves and almost all water movement around the wreck therefore keeping any sediment and particulate from clouding the water. Clear visibility will enhance the efficiency of the divers time in the -2 C icy water.

These clear conditions will be most beneficial for the operation of the new 3D laser scanning apparatus archeologists will utilize to produce incredibly detailed images of the Erebus lying 11 meters below the surface. The main goal for this expedition is to create a comprehensive baseline recording or map of the wreck site before continuing on with possible salvage work.

Current dive site plans call for 14-hour dive days from 8 AM- 10 PM over a 10 day period. Divers outfitted with specialized dry suits will be able to dive for over an hour at a time. Two-person dive teams comprised of one Parcs Canada member and one navy member will be deployed in steady succession.

Aside from mapping the site, crews will also try to gain valuable insight by probing an extension camera into nooks and holes in the Erebus to get an inside look into the past.

Churchill has been the focus of countless exploratory expeditions from Europe over the centuries and now a discovery that has captivated the world has also touched this remote outpost on the Hudson Bay. The Anglican church in Churchill is home to a gift from Sir John Franklin’s widow in appreciation of all the efforts from countless men in searching for her husbands lost expedition throughout the north. It appears now that this ancient mystery has been solved.

Lady Franklin stained glass window in Churchill,MB.

Lady Franklin stained glass window. Karen Walker photo.

 Come to Churchill and see the Franklin stained glass window and the the mighty polar bear!


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