UK gifts Franklin Wrecks to Canada

The UK has officially gifted the historic Franklin Wrecks to the Canadian government and Inuit community. 

HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, whose locations had been a mystery for over 150 years, are said to be two of the most archaeologically important shipwrecks in the world.

Ownership of the two shipwrecks was formally transferred to the Canadian government with the signing of a Deed of Gift at a ceremony held on April 26. With this transfer, Inuit of Nunavut, who played a key role in their discovery, will also become joint owners of the wrecks and artefacts.

The gifting is a historic milestone in the long-standing cooperation between the UK and Canada on the issue.

“The story behind these vessels is both fascinating and incredibly important to the history of both our nations. The UK joined forces with the Canadian government and Inuit population to search for these ships for 172 years and I’m delighted they will now be protected for future generations,” Gavin Williamson, UK Defence Secretary, said.

The two ships, under the command of Rear-Admiral Sir John Franklin, set sail from England in 1845 on an ill-fated voyage through the Canadian Arctic to find the Northwest Passage. During the treacherous journey, the ships became trapped in thick sea ice. The crews abandoned the ships to trek overland to safety, but tragically none survived.

Despite many attempts to locate the wrecks, they proved elusive for over 172 years. In 1997, the UK and Canadian governments signed an agreement giving custody and control of the wrecks and their contents to Canada, while still remaining property of the UK.

Over time, Inuit traditional stories helped European searchers better understand the fate of the Franklin ships. That same traditional knowledge, combined with the technology of modern searchers, finally uncovered the sunken vessels near King William Island in 2014 and 2016.

Photo: Parks Canada

Artifacts from the wrecks will be available for display at museums in both countries.

Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna said:

“I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the United Kingdom for this exceptional gift of the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror and all yet-to-be discovered artifacts. Moving forward, we will work with the Inuit Heritage Trust to ensure these historic treasures are protected, and that the intriguing and expanding story of the Franklin Expedition continues to be shared with Canada and the world,” Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, commented.