The Conservatives have released details about a proposed Franklin expedition research centre in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, but one of the partners they list in a news release says it was unaware of the details and caught off-guard by the announcement.

The facility would be a research and conservation site for the wreck of HMS Erebus and its artifacts. The announcement was first made by Conservative Leader Stephen Harper during his campaign visit to Iqaluit

"We were surprised to hear the news, and we were not directly consulted about our involvement on this one," says Eva Aariak, the president and chair of the Inuit Heritage Trust.

Louie Kamookak

'I think this centre is going to open some opportunities for the community,' says Louie Kamookak, a historian in Gjoa Haven who has been helping with the Franklin Expedition research.

Aariak says that if her organization had been consulted, it would have recommended working with an existing facility in Gjoa Haven, instead of creating a separate centre.

"I think there are other options that would work better," says Aariak, mentioning the Nattilik Heritage Centre, which opened in the community two years ago, "perhaps by looking at a bigger picture and [thinking] about expanding that facility instead."

Conservative MP for Nunavut and candidate Leona Aglukkaq says that, if re-elected, her government will provide more than $16 million over five years to build the Franklin Centre in Gjoa Haven.

"Inuit organizations and local community members made this historic discovery possible, and now we need to ensure it is preserved and promoted for the benefit of Nunavummiut and all Canadians," writes Aglukkaq in a news release.

Some residents in Gjoa Haven are optimistic about the project's ability to create jobs and stimulate the local economy.

"I think this centre is going to open some opportunities for the community, since we are pretty close to the Erebus site and all the sites that are related to the expedition," says Louie Kamookak a local historian in Gjoa Haven who has been helping with the Franklin research.

Franklin search

Nunavut’s Leona Aglukkaq says if re-elected the Conservative government will provide more than $16 million over five years to build the Franklin Centre in Gjoa Haven. (Parks Canada)

Kamookak says he has not been invited to a consultation about the new centre, but is excited about the proposed facility.  

Honouring 'somebody who's a failure'

Meanwhile, two other federal candidates in Nunavut question the announcement.

The NDP's Jack Anawak says a research centre is a good idea, but thinks more consultation with Inuit is needed on the facility and name.

"Honouring somebody who's a failure I don't think is a good idea," says Anawak, "I mean he failed at first at finding the Northwest passage, and secondly, failed at surviving in the North when he could have survived by using the expertise from the North."

Liberal candidate Hunter Tootoo agrees on the need for more consultation.

But he is skeptical that the project will ever get off the ground.

"It's not being built yet, it's just a campaign promise from a party that's in third place in the polls right now, so you know, it really doesn't mean anything," says Tootoo.

Sir John Franklin left England with 128 crew members in 1845 in hopes of discovering the Northwest Passage. The expedition included HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. Both ships got stuck in the ice in 1846 and were abandoned two years later off the west side of King William Island, according to Inuit accounts. Erebus was discovered late last summer. Researchers continue to study the shipwreck.