Britain gives long-lost Franklin expedition ships to Canada, Inuit

Deeds to HMS Erebus and HMS Terror signed over to Canada and Inuit Heritage Trust

A hook block recovered from the HMS Erebus is shown on display at the Museum of History in 2015 in Gatineau, Que. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Canada and the Inuit are now officially co-owners of the two long-lost ships from the Franklin expedition.

The deeds to HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, along with all their remaining contents, were signed over to Canada and the Inuit Heritage Trust after nearly two years of negotiations with the British government over which artifacts Britain would retain.

“This is a really extraordinary announcement,” Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said during Thursday’s signing ceremony with British High Commissioner Susan le Jeune D’Allegeershecque.

Britain retains ownership of 65 artifacts already discovered — both on land prior to the discovery of either shipwreck, as well as onboard Erebus itself after it was found in September 2014.

READ MORE: Canadian research vessel to explore 19th Century shipwrecks

Parks Canada archeologists, guided by Inuit experts, located Erebus in relatively shallow water off the coast of King William Island in Nunavut in September 2014. HMS Terror was found in waters off a different part of the island almost exactly two years later.

In May 1845, Sir John Franklin and his crew left England on an exploratory and scientific mission through the Arctic. They disappeared sometime in 1846 after the ships became trapped in the ice, their fate and the locations of the ships becoming one of Canada’s most enduring historical mysteries.

Because they were commissioned Royal Navy ships, they and their contents belonged to the U.K. under international law. But in 1997, long before the ships were actually found, Britain agreed ownership would eventually be transferred to Canada. Negotiations to do so officially began in May 2016 but hit some road blocks that necessitated high-level intervention last summer.

In her first week on the job as the new British high commissioner in Canada last August, le Jeune D’Allegeershecque had a meeting with McKenna in Ottawa.

“She asked me if I could get it sorted out and we’ve done it,” le Jeune D’Allegeershecque said Thursday.

She said informal agreement was reached when Prime Minister Theresa May met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa in September. Britain announced in October it would transfer ownership of all but a handful of artifacts to Canada and the Inuit. Still it took many more months for the final arrangements to be made, culminating Thursday in the signing ceremony at the Canadian Museum of History.

The museum is currently hosting a special exhibit on the Franklin expedition with many of the 65 artifacts Britain is keeping, including the ship’s bell from HMS Erebus, the ship’s wheel, some bowls and dinner plates, and even a handful of lead shot from navy guns.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Haida Gwaii seabird conservation highlighted at international congress

Bird Studies Canada’s David Bradley is co-convening a symposium on biosecurity for island species

‘Beauty amongst such tragedy:’ B.C. photographer captures nature’s trifecta

David Luggi’s photo from a beach in Fraser Lake shows Shovel Lake wildfire, Big Dipper and an aurora

Ferry sailing delayed after divers check Northern Adventure

Divers called in to check propeller shaft, sailing to Haida Gwaii now 140 minutes behind

Haida Gwaii fishery staff gear up for marine mammal rescues

Haida fishery guardians and DFO fishery officers better equipped to rescue marine mammals

Social media, digital photography allow millennials to flock to birdwatching

More young people are flocking to birdwatching than ever, aided by social media, digital photography

‘Takes more courage to fail’: B.C. ultra-marathon swimmer reflects on cancelled try at record

Susan Simmons halted her swim from Victoria to Port Angeles and back because of hypothermia

Animals moved from B.C. Interior shelters to make way for pets displaced by wildfires

The Maple Ridge SPCA houses animals to make space for pets evacuated from B.C.’s burning interior.

$21.5 million medical pot plant to be built in B.C.

The facility is to be built in Princeton

Spokane man enlists 500,000+ box fans to blow wildfire smoke back to B.C.

Spokane man Caleb Moon says he’s had enough with smoky skies from B.C.’s forest fires blanketing his city

Feds agree to look at easing jury secrecy as part of review

At issue is a law that forbids jurors from talking about closed-door deliberations

Forest fuel work needed to slow wildfires, B.C. premier says

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan joins John Horgan for tour

Liberals unveil poverty plan with lofty goals, but no new spending

Government’s goal is to lift 2.1 million people out of poverty by 2030

PHOTOS: Prickly porcupine rescued after hitchhiking down Coquihalla Highway

BC Conservation Officer Service members were able to grab the porcupine and move it to safety

Most Read