National Historic Importance of the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror

Over one hundred and fifty years ago two Royal Navy ships went missing in the icy waters of Canada’s Arctic, only to be recently discovered resting on the ocean floor near King William Island.

Today the two vessels – the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror – are being commemorated as national historic sites with a plaque unveiling ceremony held at the Umiyaqtutt Festival in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, by Parks Canada and members of the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee.

By unveiling these plaques, we are commemorating not only historic sites, but the people and places of the North, and the Inuit collaboration that helped us understand the history of the Franklin expedition.

The locations of the vessels had been a mystery for over 150 years, after Sir John Franklin and his crew went missing in 1846 while searching for a Northwest Passage. Over time, Inuit traditional stories helped European searchers better understand the fate of the Franklin ships; and that same traditional knowledge – or Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit – combined with the technology of modern searchers, finally uncovered the sunken vessels in 2014 and 2016.

Both boats were found underwater largely intact. In the HMS Erebus, a stunning array of artifacts was found – like brass cannons, a cast-bronze bell, and even the handle of a sword.

It’s important to protect and commemorate these sites of history, and Parks Canada is working with the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee to develop an Inuit Guardians Program for the two vessels. As of September 1st 2017, Inuit Guardians are posted at both wreck sites during periods with little ice to monitor the sites, report any unauthorized vessel traffic, and help Parks Canada ensure their protection.

But the landscape around the vessels also needs protection.

Today, the impacts of climate change are increasingly visible in the North. The melting of sea ice is affecting the way Inuit hunt and fish, and the flooding of low-lying areas is threatening their homes and communities. Eventually, the Guardians will play a key role in hosting visitors to the wreck sites to not only share the Franklin story, but to tell the story of climate change and the threat it poses to Inuit communities and their traditional way of life.

The discoveries of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror showed the world that modern science and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit can solve enormous challenges. Now, with the threat of climate change advancing, they will again have to be marshalled to an even greater degree.

From September 2-10, the first annual Shipwreck Festival will take place in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut. Focused on the theme of “Encounters along the Northwest Passage”, the week long celebration will showcase anniversary milestones of the discoveries of the Franklin expedition research missions, as well as the important role Inuit knowledge and community involvement played in the finding of the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

Image courtesy of Daily Mail

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