Nova Scotia

Franklin expedition, exploration gets cross-Canada exhibit

Parks Canada is launching a new cross-Canada exhibit featuring stories about HMS Erebus, one of the lost ships of the 1845 Franklin expedition.

History and stories of HMS Erebus to be displayed in museums across Canada

The detached ship's bell of HMS Erebus, found on the deck next to the windlass (a kind of winch positioned near the bow), was the first item extracted from the wreck. It is now in a Parks Canada lab, where salt is slowly being extracted so the bell can be preserved. (Parks Canada)

Imagine the Stanley Cup was only awarded once over a century ago — but went missing soon after. Then imagine being the one that finds it deep in cold Arctic waters 170 years later. 

That's how a colleague of underwater archeologist Thierry Boyer described the feeling of finding HMS Erebus, one of the long-lost ships of the Franklin expedition that set sail in 1845, only to become icebound in Canada's Arctic. 

"This was something big. We'd been searching for it for over six years," Boyer told reporters and students at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax Wednesday. 

Boyer joined other Parks Canada staff and the Royal Canadian Navy in launching a new cross-Canada exhibit featuring stories about HMS Erebus, found on the sea floor west of O'Reilly Island in Nunavut in 2014. 

The Halifax museum is one of 10 in Canada with "small, spiffy exhibits," according to director of the Nova Scotia Museum, Stephanie Smith.

"For the past 10 years, the institutions have been thinking about how do we want to represent this wonderful story. Both the historical side of the story and the contemporary story," she said. 

The Franklin exhibit at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax may be small, but some of the artifacts it displays will change as newly-restored ones become available. (Robert Short/CBC)

'We're really excited'

Commander Peter Cook of the Royal Canadian Navy also presented. He was an instrumental planner in the navy's portion of the search for Franklin's ships. The navy provided help with logistics, manpower and ship co-ordination, and worked closely with Canadian Hydrographic Services. 

"For the last four years, we've provided crew members to the Martin Bergmann [a former fishing trawler used in the project], as they've done the underwater searching that resulted in the discovery of Erebus," Cook said.  

This cross-Canada project is a new take on the travelling exhibit. Instead of sending artifacts and display cases on a road trip, what's included in the small exhibits will be changed as new details are learned and artifacts are restored. 

"We're really excited about the outcome," Smith said. 

Thierry Boyer is an underwater archaeologist. He was on one of the vessels searching the Arctic for the long-lost ships of the Franklin expedition. (CBC)

What's being preserved

Following the presentations, Parks Canada hosted a video conference. Two Parks Canada experts stood in front of a screen showing video of what's going on behind the scenes at their lab. 

They also showed off some of the artifacts in the process of being preserved, which include:

  • Fragrance bottle
  • Plates
  • Wooden grip of a British Royal Navy and its copper-alloy guard
  • Section of the ship's wheel 
  • First object excavated from HMS Erebus: the bell, on which the date 1845 can still be seen 
  • Leg of a table​
  • A leather shoe
  • Bronze cannon featuring a King George III cypher, as well as three six-pound cannon balls

You can watch the full 40-minute presentation here.

This is what HMS Erebus looked like when it was discovered at the sea floor in Nunavut waters. (Robert Short/CBC)

With files from Brett Ruskin, Robert Short


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