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Shipwrecks and lost treasures sought off Haida Gwaii

Parks Canada archeology team departs for month-long underwater search

The Lady Washington is depicted in an artwork at SGang Gwaay, in the waters of Gwaii Haanas, while trading with the Haida for sea otter pelts in 1791. The Ino would have been the same rig and tonnage as this vessel and carried a crew of around 22. (Parks Canada/Courtesy Gordon Miller)

Underwater archaeologists are launching a search for lost ships and forgotten cultural treasures in the waters around the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve.

A four-member Parks Canada team is assembling Monday, and it plans to use targeted diving, remote sensing, and an underwater vehicle to explore the sea floor for three weeks.

Jonathan Moore, a senior archaeologist with Parks Canada, said his group is hoping to locate at least two historic shipwrecks dating back to first contact between Europeans and the Haida Nation in the late 18th century.

"So we have two vessels that we know were, well we believe were captured and sunk. One was the Ino, which was, we believe, sunk in 1794, and another called the Resolution, which was also sunk in 1794," he said.

"These are two vessels engaged in the early maritime fur trade. So these are European vessels coming up to trade for sea otter pelts," Moore said.

Historic fish weir

A 2,500-year-old wood and stone fish weir. The underwater archaeologists in Gwaii Haanas this month will be looking for similar structures along with historic shipwrecks. (Parks Canada)

The team is also searching for another ship that was in the area in 1851 during a search for gold.

The waters of Haida Gwaii also witnessed thousands of years of Haida Nation history unfold, and the team will also be searching for submerged harbours, fish weirs and middens. 

They are working with the Gwaii Haanas cultural resource management adviser and are hopeful that shared knowledge will help the team locate and interpret the uses and significance of different sites and finds.

Moore says that although there has been considerable archaeological work done in the Haida Gwaii area on land, this will be the first time a team will search underwater -- and it will be a difficult task.

Weather conditions can often turn stormy, and waters can get rough.

"And so there's a lot of anticipation, there's a lot of hope, there's a lot of hard work, really, to do the best we possibly can, to get the most we possibly can," Moore said.

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With files from the CBC's Marissa Harvey

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