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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