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Britain to give Canada the shipwrecks of explorer John Franklin

A hook block recovered from the HMS Erebus is shown on display at the Museum of History, Wednesday, May 13, 2015 in Gatineau, Que. Britain will give Canada the shipwrecks of British explorer John Franklin, who tried to chart the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic in 1845. The Ministry Of Defence said in a statement it would transfer the ownership of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror to Parks Canada, but retain a small sample of artifacts.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
October 24, 2017 - 6:00 AM

OTTAWA - Canada is thanking Great Britain for the gift of two shipwrecks once commanded by John Franklin that lie at the heart of one of this country's most compelling Arctic myths.

"I would like to thank the government of the United Kingdom for their intent to gift the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror to Canada, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said in a release.

"Now, we will continue to work with our Inuit partners on the protection and presentation of the two wreck sites and artifacts for generations to come."

Britain announced Monday that ownership of the ships will be transferred to Parks Canada. Britain will retain a small sample of artifacts.

"This exceptional arrangement will recognize the historical significance of the Franklin expedition to the people of Canada, and will ensure that these wrecks and artifacts are conserved for future generations," said British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.

Under international law, warships remain the property of the country they sailed under. Before they disappeared beneath the ice in the waters of the Northwest Passage, Franklin's Erebus and Terror were both commissioned ships in the Royal Navy.

The ships, which were located in 2014 and 2016, are now designated Canadian historic sites under the jurisdiction of Environment Canada.

Caitlin Workman, McKenna's press secretary, said the ships were part of discussions between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and British Prime Minister Theresa May in September.

"It's good that this is happening so quickly after (May) visited here," Workman said Monday.

Final transfer of ownership is expected to be completed over the coming weeks.

Workman said the British decision will have an impact on the work of the Franklin interim advisory committee. That group of federal, territorial and Inuit officials is considering how the two sites and their artifacts will be conserved and exhibited.

"We're still talking with them," said Workman. "We still very much have a goal of co-ownership of these artifacts."

Committee chairman Fred Pedersen said the gift will keep the Franklin story at home.

"We look forward to working with Parks Canada on the future management of the wrecks of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site and helping to protect and present these wrecks and artifacts to tell the story where these events took place," he said in a release.

Nunavut's land claim gives the territory control over archeological finds on its lands.

After extensive preparatory work this past field season, Parks Canada is preparing to mount a major excavation of the Erebus next summer. Although there are no plans to refloat the wreck, divers expect to carefully document and remove whatever they can of Franklin's flagship.

The site is largely intact beneath the waves and is expected to be a trove of historical gold.

Franklin set out in 1845 with his two ships and 128 men to try to find the Northwest Passage.

His ships disappeared, but the resulting search helped open the Canadian Arctic. The story of the failed expedition has inspired generations of Canadian poets, songwriters and novelists.

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow him on Twitter at @row1960

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had McKenna's first name spelled incorrectly

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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