By Tristin Hopper - National Post
This summer, a torpedo-shaped robot will try to do what 160 years of navy expeditions, RCMP search parties and eagle-eyed Northern hunters could not.
In August, when the Arctic ice is thinnest, a small icebreaker filled with Parks Canada archaeologists will make its third attempt to find the Erebus and Terror, the long-lost vessels of the Franklin expedition, a doomed 1845 voyage to find the Northwest Passage.
While underwater searches in 2008 and 2010 relied largely on sonar, this year researchers will be bringing along an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle to “dramatically increase the size of the search area.”
“This is the year I hope we will solve one of the great mysteries in the history of Arctic exploration,” said federal environment minister Peter Kent in an announcement last week.
Ever since 128 well-trained English explorers disappeared seemingly off the face of the earth, the fate of the Franklin Expedition has been an obsession for generations of Arctic searchers.
In the latter half of the 19th century, the British sent 38 ships in search of Sir John Franklin, whom they considered a hero. His bust was mounted in Westminster Abbey, his statue was installed in Downtown London and his name was affixed to straits, districts and bays throughout the Canadian North.
The explorer’s name still adorns public schools in Calgary, Vancouver and Yellowknife.
Retired RCMP Constable Bill Pringle has his own theories about the final resting place of the Erebus and Terror. In 1974, while posted to what is now Taloyoak, Nunavut, Mr. Pringle was sent to King William Island with a team of 11 others to comb the land for Franklin-era relics.
The team dropped marked fuel cans into the water near where the Erebus and Terror were believed to have last been sighted. A few years later, one of the gas cans was discovered more than 100 kilometers away on the western edge of the Boothia Peninsula.
On nearby Matty Island, says Mr. Pringle, Inuit legend also tells of a mast that once stuck out of the water.
Mr. Pringle tried to marshall additional expeditions, but RCMP headquarters turned him down. In the attic of his Carcross, Yukon home, Mr. Pringle still keeps a heavily marked map detailing his lifetime of Franklin research.