Nunavut government officials are defending their decision not to give a Chicago man an archeological permit to search for Sir John Franklin's grave in the Arctic.


Nunavut heritage director Doug Stenton says the territory is not overly trying to protect high-profile undiscovered archeological sites. (CBC)

Ron Carlson, a Chicago-based architect, pilot and Franklin history buff, had wanted to fly over King William Island with his DeHavilland Beaver aircraft and use thermal imaging equipment to look for the British explorer's grave.

But Carlson told CBC News this week that his application for a territorial archeological permit was rejected  just as he had arrived in Nunavut late last month.

The territory's Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth, which is responsible for issuing the permit, ruled that Carlson was not qualified.

Doug Stenton, the department's heritage director, said many people want their name associated with Franklin, whose doomed 1845 voyage and disappearance in the Northwest Passage has fascinated historians for almost 170 years.

"We feel for that reason that it's very important that these sites are investigated by individuals who have the proper experience, the proper qualifications, training," Stenton told CBC News on Tuesday.

12,000 archeological sites

Nunavut is home to about 12,000 known archeological sites, and Stenton said his department needs to ensure the people who study those sites have the expertise and tools required to do the job.


Skulls of members of the Franklin expedition were discovered by William Skinner and Paddy Gibson in 1945 at King William Island in Nunavut. (National Archives of Canada/Canadian Press)

"We take that responsibility very seriously, and we review and consider every application on its own merits," Stenton said.

Carlson is not the only potential Franklin searcher to have been denied a territorial permit. In 2009, Stenton's department rejected a private group's application to locate Franklin's lost ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

Nunavut has supported the Canadian government's expeditions to locate Franklin's ships. Archeologists with Parks Canada are set to search in an area west of King William Island next month.

Carlson said he feels the Nunavut government never seriously considered his application and is intentionally blocking private searchers from accessing Franklin sites.

But Stenton insisted that it's not a case of overly protecting high-profile undiscovered archeological sites.

"I can't think of any reason why a well-resourced, competent, professional team wouldn't get a permit," he said.

Author and historian Ken McGoogan, who has written four books on Arctic exploration, said he does not think there was any conspiracy on the Nunavut government's part to keep Franklin searchers out.

"I am torn with regard to the story of Carlson," McGoogan said.

"Obviously, the government has a major role to play in making sure the sights are undisturbed. But he was only going to be flying over, so I think a compromise could have been worked out."