The Lady Washington, a ship similar to the Ino, pictured traditing pelts with the Haida at SGang Gwaay in 1791 (Photo: Parks Canada/Courtesy Gordon Miller)
In 1794, a pair of European trading ships — the Ino and the Resolution — were captured by the Haida, and sunk in the waters around Haida Gwaii in what today is British Columbia.
Now an expedition launched by Parks Canada this week is seeking out those 18th-century shipwrecks, which date back to the first contact between Europeans and Haida people, as well as a gold prospecting ship that went down in 1851.
"These are two vessels engaged in the early maritime fur trade," Jonathan Moore, a senior archaeologist with Parks Canada, told CBC News. "So these are European vessels coming up to trade for sea otter pelts."
Although the period of first contact dates to the late 1700s, the area was first inhabited much earlier, about 12,500 years ago. So in addition to the ships, the team will be looking for remnants of that early habitation, much of which has been submerged for thousands of years due to rising sea levels.
“Should we find some signature sites, they could really give us insight into some of the early events in the history of the area that we just don’t know about," Moore told the Globe and Mail.
The underwater archeologists will use a variety of tools and techniques for the three-week survey: diving, sonar, magnetometers for metal detection and an autonomous underwater vehicle.
"Haida Gwaii and the surrounding waters are blanketed with Haida history," said Peter Lantin, president of Haida Nation, in a news release (Parks Canada is working in association with the Nation on the search). “Locating a vessel and other cultural material from the time of contact will provide valuable insight for those times but also give us pause to consider our relationships today.”