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

North Island College issues brief statement on bomb threat

Threat forced college to close all campuses for one day

Premier wades into fishery closure debate

John Horgan questions the federal government’s approach

Horse riders resurrect public riding ring near Port Alberni

Open house planned for July 22 so public can check out Beaver Creek facility

Living with obsessive compulsive disorder

The Big Read: Vancouver Island mom calls for more mental health services as son battles OCD

Bomb threat closes North Island College campuses

“Out of an abundance of caution, all campuses are being evacuated.”

France doubles up Croatia 4-2 to win World Cup

Played in Moscow Russia, latest Fifa World Cup marks the highest scoring final since 1966

B.C. VIEWS: Making private health care illegal again

Adrian Dix battles to maintain Cuba-style medical monopoly

Almost every part of Canada’s largest national park deteriorating: federal study

Drawing on decades of research — the report lists 50 pages of citations

Activists protest outside Kinder Morgan terminal in kayaks, canoes

Tsleil-Waututh elder Ta’ah Amy George led the water ceremony from a traditional Coast Salish canoe

Canadian soccer fans brace for World Cup final between France, Croatia

First ever final for the Croatians, while it’s France’s third, going into match as betting favourite

B.C. Lions claw their way back to score 20-17 victory over Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Bombers, who beat the Lions 41-19 last week in Edmonton, fell to 2-3 with the loss

High winds, lack of rain suggest no breaks in sight for B.C. wildfire season

There were 11 new wildfires across the province over 24 hours, BC Wildfire Service officials say

UPDATE: Motorcyclist dies as fire, crash happen at same time on Vancouver Island highway

Young male motorcycle rider collides with one vehicle, then struck by another in Nanaimo

Former B.C. flight attendant protests sexual harassment outside YVR, asked to leave

Mandalena Lewis said she was handing out pamphlets outside YVR terminal when asked to leave

Most Read