Franklin expedition artifacts resting on the Arctic Ocean floor, more than 170 years after the ships Erebus and Terror sunk, have been recovered and temporarily displayed for Kitikmeot residents.

Charles Dagneau, a member of the Parks Canada Underwater Archeology Team, showcases artifacts to Annie Atighioyak, left, and Mary Avalak, among others, in Cambridge Bay earlier this month.
photo courtesy of Parks Canada

Nine items retrieved this summer from the ill-fated 1845 mission by British explorer Sir John Franklin were exhibited in Gjoa Haven and Cambridge Bay earlier this month. Among the artifacts were a ceramic pitcher and a copper alloy navigational tool known as an artificial horizon roof, both discovered in the officer’s cabin on the lower deck of Erebus. Pulley wheels, a nail, a pin and rigging from the upper deck were also retrieved.

Gjoa Haven’s Sammy Kogvik was one of the people who got a look at the Erebus artifacts on display.

“It’s very exciting for me. I saw some other stuff that I’d never seen before,” he said.

Kogvik is hopeful to one day behold the mast of the Terror again. He touched the upper portion of the Terror’s mast when he came across it near King William Island, several years before the ship’s wreckage was formally detected by researchers.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing that again,” said Kogvik.

The recently recovered items from the Erebus are all jointly owned by the Inuit Heritage Trust and the Government of Canada.

In the near term, the artifacts will be sent south to Parks Canada’s lab for study and conservation purposes. The Inuit Heritage Trust and Parks Canada are negotiating the long-term location of the items.

Sixty-five artifacts previously retrieved belong to the British government, which has gifted the remainder to Canada.

Thousands of objects, including written documents, are still housed in the two shipwrecks, Parks Canada experts estimate.

The dive team has not detected any skeletal remains of any of the crew and hasn’t yet accessed Franklin’s personal quarters, according to members of Parks Canada’s dive team.

Further exploration of the Erebus and the Terror will take place again next summer.

“The (Franklin Interim Advisory) committee looks forward to a legacy of new and exciting opportunities for employment and tourism for communities in Nunavut as our understanding of the Franklin Expedition and Inuit involvement in the story continues to evolve,” said Fred Pedersen, a Cambridge Bay member of the committee, which comprises the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, Inuit Heritage Trust, Government of Nunavut and the heritage and tourism industry.

This marked the first full summer season that the Inuit Guardians program, employing residents of Gjoa Haven, watched over the Erebus and Terror wreck sites.

The wreck of the Erebus was discovered in 2014. The Terror, with Kogvik’s key piece of information, was located in 2016. All 129 crew members aboard both ships died – some quickly, others over years – after getting trapped in the Arctic ice.

This pitcher or large jug was used for pouring liquids, such as water. It was discovered in one of the officers’ cabins, on the lower deck. photo courtesy of Parks Canada
One of three pulley wheels found together on the fore, starboard side of the upper deck of the HMS Erebus. These were used in some of the numerous wooden and metal pulley blocks used in running rigging. At least one of them is marked with a broad arrow. photo courtesy of Parks Canada
This copper alloy navigational tool, fitted with two glass panes, helped determined latitude when the horizon was obscured. It goes over a tray in which mercury would be poured, so as to act as a mirror. The object was discovered in an officer’s cabin, on the lower deck. photo courtesy of Parks Canada
A portion of the Erebus wreckage lying on the Arctic Ocean floor. Divers retrieved nine artifacts from the site this summer. photo courtesy of Parks Canada

Derek Neary

Derek Neary has been reporting on developments in the North for 18 years. When he's not writing for Nunavut News, he's working on Northern News Services' special publications such as Opportunities North,...

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