Searching for a ghost ship

The Erebus and Terror remote sensing search survey crew in 2008 - photo courtesy of Thierry Boyer

By Kassina Ryder - Northern News Services

The search for Sir John Franklin's lost ships is scheduled to proceed this summer, according to the project's senior archaeologist.

The search, which began in 2008, was called off last year because Parks Canada could not secure time on a coast guard or military ship, Ryan Harris, senior marine archaeologist with Parks Canada said.

"Essentially, we didn't have the ship time we needed to do the work," he said.

This year, researchers are scheduled to board a coast guard vessel in Kugluktuk on Aug. 10 and will spend the next three weeks scanning the Queen Maud Gulf using sonar equipment.

"We're hoping to cover as much of the sea floor as possible within our survey window and what I would like to find is a relatively intact ship that we can identify as either Erebus or Terror that will lead for very fruitful future investigations," Harris said.

In the 1850s, Inuit began telling explorers searching for the lost Franklin expedition about a ship they had seen while hunting bearded seal west of the Adelaide Peninsula. The ship had been abandoned and had no crew.

"There was a ship that was still floating for a few years, according to some stories," Gjoa Haven resident and historian Louie Kamookak said.

After being stuck in ice for two years, Sir John Franklin and his crew had abandoned their ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, off of King William Island in April, 1848. Franklin and his crew then disappeared. 

When search crews arrived and began looking for the 129 crew members, Inuit in the area told them about seeing one of the ships floating near the Adelaide Peninsula, approximately three kilometres away.

Inuit knew the area as Urulik, a place to hunt bearded seal.

"All of those searchers gleaned stories from the Inuit that suggested one of the ships made it to the area called Urulik," Harris said.


Sir John Franklin Erebus and Terror High Arctic Ottawa Inuit Ryan Harris Canadian Coast Guard