Photo by Parks Canada

Newly found artifacts unravel the mystery of HMS Erebus, Canada’s most famous shipwreck

Share This Story!

In 1845, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror set sail from England in search of a northwest passage across the arctic to what’s now northern Canada—but the ships never arrived and never returned. For more than a 160 years, historians have wondered what happened to the ships, known as the Franklin Expedition, and what happened to the captain Sir John Franklin, and the expedition’s 129 crewmembers.

Then last year, something groundbreaking happened. Using a remotely operated underwater vehicle, Parks Canada discovered the shipwreck of the HMS Erebus. The wreckage was found in the Queen Maud Gulf between Victoria Island and mainland Nunavut.

Parks Canada’s underwater archaeologists and the Royal Canadian Navy used hot water to bore through two meters of sea ice to explore the wreckage this past April. The team brought back 15 artifacts, ranging in size from tunic buttons to a six-pound bronze cannon found on the deck of the ship. Other salvaged items included white-and-blue ceramic plates, a medicine bottle, and rusty hook and ring.

The six-pound cannon retrieved from the deck of the ship.

Parks Canada has led searches for the lost Franklin ships since 2008. The expedition relied equally on state of the art technology, like the remote-controlled vehicle, and 19th-century Inuit oral testimony. For years, experts meticulously covered hundreds of square kilometers of the Arctic seabed searching for clues.

Chief archaeologist Ryan Harris studies a hook block  retrieved from the HMS Erebus.

“The stunning artefacts from HMS Erebus are bringing this famed piece of history to life and will allow Canadians to connect with Canada’s Arctic past like never before,” said Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment, in a release.

“The continued research to uncover the mysteries of the Franklin Expedition will ensure this incredible story, the integral role that Inuit oral history played in locating the wreck, and the endless possibilities this find can bring to Canada’s North, continue to be celebrated and passed on to future generations.”

The location of the wreckage is now officially protected under the National Historic Sites of Canada Order – making it Parks Canada 168th national historic site.

As of right now, the final resting place of the HMS Terror still remains unknown.

The HMS Erebus is just one of Canada’s incredible shipwrecks. In Tobermory, Ontario, the 119-foot Sweepstakes schooner can be seen from the coast, and in the St. Lawrence River, the RMS Empress of Ireland ocean liner is a favourite spot among salvage divers looking for treasure.