'The excitement built in layers': researcher in Victoria to talk discovery of Franklin's ships
Capt. Bill Noon to speak in Victoria on Oct. 13 about thrill of Erebus discovery in 2014
A history buff, Capt. Bill Noon thought the 2014 expedition he was on to find Sir John Franklin's ships would end like the 40 or so others that had come before: in failure.
He thought wrong.
Noon, captaining the Canadian Coast Guard Icebreaker Sir Wilfred Laurier, was there when the HMS Erebus was discovered, the first of Franklin's ships to be found.
Noon is one of four participants of that 2014 expedition speaking at the B.C. Maritime Museum in Victoria for a panel discussion called "Mysteries of the HMS Erebus" on Oct. 13.
- Lost Franklin expedition ship found in the Arctic
- Franklin expedition ship found in Arctic ID'd as HMS Erebus
- Nunavut shipwreck confirmed as Sir John Franklin's HMS Terror
But before he told his story at the museum, he sat down with All Points West guest host David Lennam for an interview.
What kind of expectations did you have when you set out on your search in 2014?
I'd been doing it for a few years. Being a history buff, I sort of thought I'd be another in a long line of searchers. The shock of finding it was, literally, a shock. It was amazing.
A bunch of things changed the ability to search. There's the reduction of ice in the last 10 to 20 years. But the technology of using small boats, towing sidescan sonar and using multi-beam sounding, the new technologies are very, very effective for finding things on the bottom.
What was the role of Inuit knowledge in the search?
It was a lot, especially in the discovery of the Erebus. Capt. David Woodman wrote a book about 15 years ago called Unravelling the Franklin Mystery. He took all the early explorers' journals and their contact with the Inuit and decoded the Inuit history which really focused us in the area where Erebus was found, because there's no physical evidence that the ship was near there.
What was the first indication you'd found the ship?
We sent a shore party ashore, and one of our helicopter pilots, Andrew Sterling, now an amateur archaeologist, went for a walk and found a piece of the ship, the now-famous davit. It was really quite remarkable. We knew right away that was from one of the Royal Navy ships. The Erebus was found the next day from that little clue.
What was that moment like for you?
The excitement built in layers. The first was when Dr. Stenton brought the davit piece back. We sent the Parks Canada research vessel Investigator in, they came back to the ship later on, showed me the side-scan sonar images and it was remarkably dramatic, because it was obviously one of the ships, without question.
What kind of artifacts were discovered on the HMS Erebus?
The archaeology's going to take a long time. The first initial dives, they found the ship's bell; they found three cannons on the bottom, they've recovered one; I've seen photographs of cutlasses, swords, sextants. It's going to go for a long time, all the little stories that are hidden in both ships. The whole story is still to open up.
With files from CBC Radio One's All Points West
This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity. To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: 'The excitement built in layers': researcher in Victoria to talk discovery of Franklin's ships