Working together with Inuit in Gjoa Haven, Parks Canada resumes research on the wreck of HMS Erebus
Piliriqatigiingniq – the Inuit societal value or Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) of working together for a common cause – was put into practice by Parks Canada and Inuit in Gjoa Haven with the resumption of research on the wreck of HMS Erebus. The field work continues to provide insights into the conditions of the wreck and its surrounding environment, and further advances our understanding of the evolving story of the 1845 Franklin Expedition.
This year, working in close partnership with the Nattilik Heritage Society's Inuit Guardians from Gjoa Haven, Parks Canada's underwater archaeologists were able to return to the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site to conduct important archaeological work. This work included navigating a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) under the ice at the site of HMS Erebus in April and May and diving at the site in September.
In April and May 2022, Parks Canada's archaeologists and Guardians from Gjoa Haven travelled to establish an ice camp over the site of HMS Erebus to check on its physical condition and collect new imagery and survey data. The site inspection was particularly important given that the wreck had not been inspected in more than 2.5 years. The site inspection was successful and the Guardians played a key role in the logistics for the spring on-ice operations including transport, camp set-up, wildlife monitoring and participation in archaeological activities.
In September 2022, archaeological research operations and excavation resumed at HMS Erebus based from the RV David Thompson and support barge Qiniqtirjuaq. The team completed 56 individual dives over the course of 11 days. Among this year's accomplishments, Parks Canada's archaeologists gained a further understanding of condition changes to the wreck, began excavation of what could be the Second Lieutenant's cabin, continued the excavation of what is believed to be the Third Lieutenant's cabin, and completed excavation of part of the Captain's Steward's pantry. The excavation activities at the HMS Erebus included the careful recovery of 275 artifacts from the wreck. These artifacts are jointly owned by the Inuit Heritage Trust and the Government of Canada.
The 2022 fieldwork confirmed that physical changes to the wreck of HMS Erebus continue, most likely due to waves generated by wind storms. Parks Canada and site Guardians continue to monitor and study these changes, including the influence that climate change has on the site.
A showcase of previously unseen artifacts from the 2019 field season is available on Parks Canada's website and through the @PCArchaeology social media accounts. Additional updates from the 2022 field season will be provided in due course.
"Located in one of the planet's most unique and sensitive marine environments, the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror are some of the best-preserved wooden wrecks in the world. The important archaeological research onsite continues to advance our understanding of how changing climate conditions are impacting the region and helps us preserve and protect irreplaceable natural and cultural heritage."
The Honourable Steven Guilbeault,
Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada
"Inuit oral history led to the discovery of the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror and its legacy is being respected through the preservation of the co-owned artifacts that help tell the story of the 1845 Franklin Expedition. Inuit continue to be part of the story through collaboration and cooperation, much like the support the Guardians Program provides, ensuring the protection and presentation of the national historic site."
Chair, Franklin Interim Advisory Committee
- The Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site is the first collaboratively managed national historic site in Nunavut. HMS Terror was added to the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site in 2017, ensuring legal protection for the wreck site under the Canada National Parks Act. The wreck of HMS Erebus was added to the National Historic Sites of Canada Order in 2015.
- Formed in 2016, the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee, composed of community members and representatives from the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, Inuit Heritage Trust, Government of Nunavut, the heritage and tourism industry and Parks Canada, advises on the management of the wrecks until an Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement is finalized between Parks Canada and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association.
- Since 2017, a Guardian program has been in operation at the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site, involving Inuit from Gjoa Haven in the protection and monitoring of the Franklin wrecks and helping integrate Inuit knowledge into Parks Canada's operations and management of the national historic site.
- The wreck of HMS Terror was not visited in 2022 due to timing and logistical constraints.
- Since 2018, all newly discovered artifacts from HMS Erebus and HMS Terror are jointly-owned by the Government of Canada and Inuit. In April 2019, the Government of Canada and Inuit Heritage Trust signed a Memorandum of Understanding detailing how the two organizations will work together to protect, study, conserve and share the Franklin artifacts.
- In August 2019, Parks Canada released extraordinary, never-before-seen video footage of HMS Terror as part of one of the largest, most complex underwater archaeological undertakings in Canadian history. Building on the remarkable first-ever exploration of the interior of HMS Terror, Parks Canada's Underwater Archaeology Team, in collaboration with Inuit, recovered over 350 artifacts from HMS Erebus.
- In supporting the 2022 research season, the Government of Canada is delivering on the second year of a four-year commitment made in Budget 2021 to accelerate archaeological and conservation work at the Franklin Expedition sites.