Arctic Research Foundation went off course to find HMS Terror, sought permit later

Parks Canada staff scrambled to obtain the proper permit for the Arctic Research Foundation — eight days after HMS Terror was found — because searching Terror Bay was never part of the original plan.

Parks Canada scrambled to obtain a permit more than a week after the Franklin ship was found

A 19th-century engraving depicts HMS Terror. Parks Canada staff scrambled to obtain the proper permit to search for the ship — eight days after the initial find. (Engraving by George Back)

Parks Canada staff scrambled to obtain the proper permit to search for HMS Terror — eight days after the initial discovery of the wreck — because searching Terror Bay was never part of the original plan. 

"As soon as Parks Canada was notified about the discovery of HMS Terror, the agency took immediate action to obtain an amended archeological permit from the government of Nunavut and then proceeded to validate the wreck site as per archaeological protocol," reads a statement sent to CBC News by Parks Canada spokeswoman Natalie Fay.

The Arctic Research Foundation's research vessel Martin Bergmann found the shipwreck in Terror Bay on Sept. 3 after an Inuk crew member shared a six-year-old secret about coming across what he thought was a mast belonging to the ship. Parks Canada was notified Sept. 11. 

Parks Canada confirms it did not assign the foundation to search in Terror Bay, an area Nunavut's director of heritage Doug Stenton said the foundation and Parks Canada did not have the permits to be in.

The events leading up to the discovery are now under review by the Nunavut government and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. 

A violation of Nunavut's archeological regulations can carry a summary conviction with either a fine or imprisonment.

Strained relationship

Parks Canada has led searches for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror since 2008. The 2014 discovery of Erebus was made public in a controlled announcement by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

This time, the Guardian in the U.K. broke the news just hours after the Prime Minister's Office had been notified by the Arctic Research Foundation.

A letter sent by the foundation's lawyers to Nunavut's director of heritage acknowledges a strained relationship with Parks Canada.

In it, the foundation said no communications strategy was in place during the recent mission to search for HMS Terror. 

But Parks Canada says otherwise.

"The current agreement, signed in 2015 for a five-year period, makes clear that Parks Canada is the lead on all underwater archeological activities directed at HMS Erebus and HMS Terror and that any activities will be conducted in accordance with all applicable heritage legislation, regulations and policies," Fay wrote.

"It also includes provisions relating to communications principles." 

Fay's statement also emphasizes the role of Inuit traditional knowledge. 

"While Parks Canada will continue to work with its partners to address issues requiring further attention, the agency believes that the role that Inuit and Inuit traditional knowledge have played throughout the history of the Franklin Expedition, including the role it played in the most recent discoveries, is a worthy focus."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?