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Working Together with Inuit in Gjoa Haven, Parks Canada Resumes Research on the Wreck of HMS Erebus

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Piliriqatigiingniq – the Inuit societal value or Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) of working together for a common cause – was put into practice by Parks Canada and Inuit in Gjoa Haven with the resumption of research on the wreck of HMS Erebus. The field work continues to provide insights into the conditions of the wreck and its surrounding environment, and further advances our understanding of the evolving story of the 1845 Franklin Expedition.

This year, working in close partnership with the Nattilik Heritage Society’s Inuit Guardians from Gjoa Haven, Parks Canada’s underwater archaeologists were able to return to the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site to conduct important archaeological work. This work included navigating a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) under the ice at the site of HMS Erebus in April and May and diving at the site in September.

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In April and May 2022, Parks Canada’s archaeologists and Guardians from Gjoa Haven travelled to establish an ice camp over the site of HMS Erebus to check on its physical condition and collect new imagery and survey data. The site inspection was particularly important given that the wreck had not been inspected in more than 2.5 years. The site inspection was successful and the Guardians played a key role in the logistics for the spring on-ice operations including transport, camp set-up, wildlife monitoring and participation in archaeological activities.

Deep Trekker ROV in the diving hole at the HMS Erebus site, April 2022. Credit: Aimie Néron, Parks Canada

In September 2022, archaeological research operations and excavation resumed at HMS Erebus based from the RV David Thompson and support barge Qiniqtirjuaq. The team completed 56 individual dives over the course of 11 days. Among this year’s accomplishments, Parks Canada’s archaeologists gained a further understanding of condition changes to the wreck, began excavation of what could be the Second Lieutenant’s cabin, continued the excavation of what is believed to be the Third Lieutenant’s cabin, and completed excavation of part of the Captain’s Steward’s pantry. The excavation activities at the HMS Erebus included the careful recovery of 275 artifacts from the wreck. These artifacts are jointly owned by the Inuit Heritage Trust and the Government of Canada. 

The 2022 fieldwork confirmed that physical changes to the wreck of HMS Erebus continue, most likely due to waves generated by wind storms. Parks Canada and site Guardians continue to monitor and study these changes, including the influence that climate change has on the site.

A showcase of previously unseen artifacts from the 2019 field season is available on Parks Canada’s website and through the @PCArchaeology social media accounts. Additional updates from the 2022 field season will be provided in due course.

Learn more at: Government of Canada Website

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