Canada finds ship from doomed 19th century Franklin expedition

Wed Sep 10, 2014 6:50am EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian explorers have found the wreck of one of two ships lost in the 1845 Franklin expedition to Canada's Northwest Passage, solving an enduring historical mystery and bolstering Canada's claim to the key Arctic trade route.

Sir John Franklin and his 128 crew in the British ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were seeking the fabled Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans when they became stuck in ice. The men all died and the ships vanished.

"I am delighted to announce that this year's Victoria Strait expedition has solved one of Canada's greatest mysteries, with the discovery of one of the two ships belonging to the Franklin Expedition," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement.

"Finding the first vessel will no doubt provide the momentum – or wind in our sails – necessary to locate its sister ship and find out even more about what happened to the Franklin Expedition's crew."

The mystery has gripped Canadians for generations, in part because of the crew's grisly fate. Tales handed down through the aboriginal Inuit people describe cannibalism among the desperate seamen.

Harper, who has visited the Arctic territory of Nunavut every year since taking power in 2006, said the discovery was an historic moment for Canada.

"Franklin’s ships are an important part of Canadian history given that his expeditions, which took place nearly 200 years ago, laid the foundations of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty," he said.

Global warming is rapidly melting the Arctic ice sheets, opening up the possibility that ships traveling between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans could use the Northwest Passage as a short cut.   Continued...

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper applauds after unveiling an image showing one of two ships from the lost Franklin expedition, in Ottawa September 9, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie