Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Franklin Search: Navy Won't Support Parks Canada Request

This latest news courtesy of the Globe and Mail:

Navy won't aid in finding Franklin expedition

Parks Canada says high-profile quest for 19th-century wrecks, lost in search for Northwest Passage, may be scuttled without support

The Canadian navy has turned down a request from Parks Canada to help search this summer for the Arctic's Holy Grail - the lost ships of the doomed 19th-century Franklin expedition.

"Unfortunately, we can't support the mission," said Major Paul Doucette, a Halifax-based navy spokesman.

Confidential government documents obtained by The Globe and Mail under access-to-information laws show that the federal agency asked the navy for support in the final two years of its high-profile, three-year quest to locate the missing ships.

While Parks Canada received assistance from the Canadian Coast Guard during last year's outing, government officials wanted another ship to help.

The lack of ship support may put Parks Canada's planned search this summer in jeopardy, said agency spokeswoman Fiona Currie.

She said the coast guard may not be heading to the area where the agency's archeologists want to conduct field work this year.

The missing ships, HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, were part of an 1845 British expedition led by Sir John Franklin that was trying to locate the fabled Northwest Passage to Asia.

The British navy vessels and their crews disappeared around 1848, and have become two of the world's most sought-after shipwrecks. Graves of some of the crew and wreckage from the expedition are all that have been recovered.

Major Doucette said the navy plans to have ships sailing in the Arctic this summer, but none as far west as O'Reilly Island, where Parks Canada has been concentrating its search. O'Reilly Island is in the central Arctic's Queen Maud Gulf.

In the past, the Canadian navy has been used to look for the lost British expedition, including in 1967, when dozens of soldiers were dispatched north to participate in a Canada centennial undertaking dubbed Project Franklin.

The soldiers conducted air, land and sea searches, including sending divers into the frigid waters surrounding O'Reilly Island.

Major Doucette said it's too early to know whether the navy would be able to participate in the third and final year of Parks Canada's search, scheduled for 2010.


  1. The search is already dependent on the activities of the icebreaker operating in KWI area. Trolling the area with a dedicated search vessel would be ideal.

    When is the last time anyone searched the Starvation Cove area? 1981?

  2. Hi Chris,

    Yes, I'd heard that there was already some question as to whether the Canadian coast guard could spare an icebreaker for the period Grenier had wanted. I see it as one other reason why governments, generally, are ill-suited to pursue such missions; one hand seems not to know or care what the other is doing, a state of affairs that would never come about with a dedicated vessel and private funding!

    For Starvation Cove, I don't know of any more recent searches. Conditions there are such that, even back when Ebierbing led Schwatka to the site, what little remained had sunk into the coastal muck. On the other hand, muck is a great preservative!

  3. Hi Guys,

    I was at SC in the summer of 1997, it is a totally unremarkable spot with absolutely nothing on the surface to mark the passing of any of Franklin's men (we had hours to search). There was a small modern cairn there and the bored camera crew spent hours trying to coax a small lemming out from under the cairn while we waited for our helicopter pickup. All I remember is that there were LOTS of caribou droppings and tracks, nicely supporting my theory that the marchers were heading here for hunting rather than escape.