The Nunavut man who led the Arctic Research Foundation to the wreck of HMS Terror says he never talked about the find six years ago, because he wasn't sure people would believe him.

It was the account that Gjoa Haven's Sammy Kogvik gave his "boss" — expedition leader Adrian Schimnowski — about the mast he saw sticking out of the water that led to the discovery of Sir John Franklin's ill-fated ship HMS Terror, found earlier this month in the aptly named Terror Bay.

"I didn't know if he would believe me," Kogvik, whose first language is Inuktitut, told CBC this week.

Kogvik says he was hunting and fishing with his buddy "Uncle James" in Terror Bay years ago, when he saw something "pretty strange."

HMS Terror wheel

A still from a video produced by the Arctic Research Foundation appears to show the wheel of HMS Terror. (Arctic Research Foundation)

"When I was getting off the snowmobile I looked to my left and saw something sticking out of the ice," he said.

The men decided to check it out.

"I told [Uncle James] it's one of those … might be one of those old ships that they've been looking for."

Kogvik says he pulled out his camera and had his friend take a photo of him and the mast.

"I gave it a bear hug, and both my legs around that mast."

But after Kogvik lost his camera, the men kept quiet about their find.

"I told Uncle James, don't tell anybody, because we don't have any proof … we didn't want to keep secret, but it might seem like lies to people, because we don't have any proof."

'I could not deny the story'

Kogvik joined the Arctic Research Foundation team on Sept. 2, the day before the Terror was found, and says they were originally heading west for Cambridge Bay.


Franklin's HMS Erebus was found in 2014, also with the help of Inuit oral history. (Parks Canada)

"I start thinking maybe I should tell my boss about this mast we found six, seven, eight years ago," Kogvik said.

He started by telling Schimnowski other things he knew about the area.

"I guess because I was listening, he started opening up and telling me a story about a mast," Schimnowski told CBC.

"The way Sammy was telling the story, the look in his eyes, the sound of his voice, he saw something and that was real.

"When I heard that and I saw that, it was like an arrow pointing to where the site would be. I could not deny the story."

That's when the Martin Bergmann research vessel took a detour to Terror Bay.

Inuit knew location for 'many, many years'

Schimnowski says it took just 2½ hours to locate the ship in the bay.

"My boss said, 'Sam, we found the ship!'" Kogvik recalled. "Everybody was yelling, too — happy."

Almost all of the hatches on HMS Terror were closed and all three masts were standing.

"It just followed Sammy's story," Schimnowski said.

Erebus and Terror wrecks found map

Terror Bay, where HMS Terror was found, sits on the south shore of Nunavut's King William Island. (CBC)

Kogvik says his account of the ship's location wasn't the first, though.

"Oh yeah, I heard a lot of stories about Terror, the ships, but I guess Parks Canada don't listen to people," Kogvik said. "They just ignore Inuit stories about the Terror ship."

Schimnowski said the crew had also heard stories about people on the land seeing the silhouette of a masted ship at sunset.

"The community knew about this for many, many years. It's hard for people to stop and actually listen ... especially people from the South."

He said he's learned that the Inuit know the land better than anyone else.

Community feast

"We are in the backyard of the Inuit, so we should listen and learn as much as we can."

The crew of the Martin Bergmann took part in a community feast in Gjoa Haven on Wednesday night to celebrate the find, complete with throat singing, drum dancing and square dancing. 

The community's mayor says they're planning another celebration in the future with all the partners involved in finding Franklin's lost ships, including the Nunavut government and Parks Canada.

With files from Loren McGinnis, Oo Kierstead