A Chicago man's bid to search for Sir John Franklin's grave in the Arctic has been rejected by the Nunavut government, which ordered him to stop or else face possible jail time.

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Skulls of members of the Franklin expedition were discovered by William Skinner and Paddy Gibson in 1945 at King William Island in Nunavut. While remnants of Franklin's doomed 1845 Arctic expedition have been found, the British explorer's grave has yet to be located. (National Archives of Canada/Canadian Press)

Ron Carlson, a Chicago-based architect and pilot, planned a self-funded solo trip this summer to King William Island, where he would survey the area with thermal imaging cameras aboard his DeHaviland Beaver aircraft.

"It's just a personal passion," Carlson told CBC News.

Carlson said he has been drawn to all things Franklin, whose ill-fated 1845 expedition to chart the Northwest Passage has captivated historians for nearly 170 years.

Neither the British explorer's grave nor his two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, have been located to date.

Carlson said everything was in place for his trip by mid-May, except for an archeological licence from the Nunavut government.

While he waited for final confirmation from the territorial government, Carlson said he flew to the Nunavut hamlet of Gjoa Haven, which had already granted local approval for his search.

"How can you wait until mid- to late-June to get an approval and then say, 'OK, now I'm going to leave?'" he said.

One-page rejection letter

Carlson said he made it to King William Island on June 23, then he finally heard back from the territorial Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth (CLEY) on June 24.

"CLEY, in a one-page letter, said I was unqualified and rejected my application," he said.

Carlson acknowledged that he is not an archeologist, but he simply wanted to carry out "aerial scanning and reconaissance" over the island.

With an itch to explore, Carlson said he left his thermal imaging equipment behind in Gjoa Haven and flew to "Boat Place," a known Franklin site, on June 28.

"I indicated then that, 'Well, I'm a tourist and while I'm here, before I go home, I want to fly over there as a tourist like I did in '03, take some pictures, look around, and see the land," he said.

"But then I blogged it, that I went to Boat Place to look at it, and they threatened me with arrest, jail, fines, all of that."

Now back in the United States, Carlson said he believes his application was never really considered by the Nunavut government.

Department officials could not be reached for comment on Friday.

In 2009, the same department rejected a private group's application  to search for Franklin's lost ships.

Nunavut has supported the federal government's expeditions  to locate the Erebus and Terror. Archeologists with Parks Canada are set to search for the two ships next month in an area west of King William Island.