Lost “Franklin Expedition” Ship Found

The Chief of Parks Canada's underwater archeology unit, Marc-Andre Bernier, works with Coast Guard leading seaman Keith Graham on the exploration of the  Franklin Expedition wreck.
The Chief of Parks Canada’s underwater archeology unit, Marc-Andre Bernier, works with Coast Guard leading seaman Keith Graham on the exploration of the Franklin Expedition wreck. Image: Toronto Star, Paul Watson.

A team of Canadian scientists and archaeologists has found the wreckage of a ship that was lost in Canada’s Arctic almost 170 years ago.

The ship was part of an expedition led by Sir John Franklin, an English explorer, in 1845. Franklin was trying to find the Northwest Passage – a route through the Arctic Ocean that would allow ships to travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.

Franklin left England with two ships – the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror – in May 1845. He had 128 men and provisions to last three years.

When the ships did not return to England at the expected time, search parties were sent out to look for them. In 1859, one of these rescue expeditions found a cairn that had been built on King William Island, north of what is now Nunavut. A cairn is a stack of stones built to mark an important place.

Inside the cairn they found a message from Franklin’s crew. The message said that the ships had become frozen in the ice in 1846, and had remained there for a year and a half.

The message also said that Franklin and 23 crew members had died there. In April 1848 the remaining crew members left the ship, planning to walk to safety. But none of the crew survived and the ships were never found.

Since then, there have been dozens of unsuccessful searches for the missing ships, including many by the Canadian government. Searching in the Arctic is difficult because there is only a short period of time in August and September when weather and ice conditions are suitable.

This year’s search team, called the Victoria Strait Expedition, was the biggest yet. It was made up of four ships and people from several different organizations, including Parks Canada, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the Canadian Coast Guard.

In early September, a group from the expedition flew by helicopter to a small island in the Queen Maud Gulf, away from the main search area, so they could place a GPS unit there. While they were there, the helicopter pilot found an artifact that turned out to be an iron fitting from one of Franklin’s ships.

The searchers decided to investigate the area more closely. They used a robotic underwater vehicle to search the water around the island. On September 7, it found the wreckage of a ship in 11 metres of water and took sonar images of it. (Sonar imaging uses sound waves bouncing off a surface to create a digital image.)

The expedition says the wreck is one of Franklin’s ships, but they aren’t sure which one it is.

On September 18, after several days of bad weather, divers were able to go down to the wreck for the first time. They have not announced yet what they found there, but they did release a video of the wreckage.

One of the divers was Parks Canada senior underwater archaeologist Ryan Harris. He said the potential for information to be learned from the wreck is “staggering,” and it could take several years to explore it.

But underwater exploration has been called off for this year because of increasing sea ice.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper held a press conference to announce that the ship had been located. He said the Victoria Strait Expedition “has solved one of Canada’s greatest mysteries.”

The Prime Minister has been very interested in the search, and even spent some time with the expedition as part of his annual northern tour in August.

Harper said the ships are an important part of Canada’s history because Franklin’s expedition helped to establish Canada’s claim to Arctic sovereignty.

Sovereignty means the authority to govern or rule over an area. Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic will became even more important if oil and gas reserves are found there, or if melting sea ice makes it easier for ships to travel there.

Related sites
Underwater video of the wreckage from Parks Canada.

Canadian Encyclopedia entry on Sir John Franklin and the expedition.

Canadian Geographic articles on the Franklin Expedition and searches.

Retracing Franklin’s Last Voyage – interactive map from CBC.

This article on CBC’s website is about a man who continues to search for Franklin’s grave.

By Kathleen Tilly and Joyce Grant

Writing/Discussion Prompt
This article in the National Post is about Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s interest in the Franklin find. Read it and compare it to the way Harper is mentioned in today’s TKN article. How would you describe the National Post article in terms of the way it mentions the prime minister in this situation?

Reading Prompt: Variety of Texts
This article is an informational text because it includes facts and details about the discovery of the ship.

This story is very interesting and it could be told in many other ways. For example, it could be written as a historical fiction, a mystery, a graphic novel or a poem. Pick two of these text types and creates titles for them.

Language Feature: Adverbs and Adjectives 
Take a look at the underwater video from Parks Canada (above), showing what the search team found. Would you have known what it was? Describe what you see in the video, using adverbs and adjectives.