How Canada continues to commit historic wrongs in Sir John Franklin expedition
Canadians will have to travel overseas if they want to see the artifacts from the shipwrecks before 2018.
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Many weekends, the only thing that excites me more than antique farm equipment and brunch is underwater archeology.
It has all the romance and danger of the open sea, plus the tantalizing prospect of rewriting history or finding long-hidden treasure — it's everything an armchair adventurer could ask for. Twice this week I've settled down on the couch and engrossed myself in documentaries about Canada's search for the ill-fated HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, the last earthly vestiges of Sir John Franklin's failed expedition seeking the Northwest Passage.
What better way to escape the dreary cold of a Winnipeg December than to immerse myself in the story of 129 men who perished after years of suffering in the frigid, ice-packed dark of the High Arctic?
So it was with baited breath I awaited news of where the artifacts were to be placed on display. Would they come to Winnipeg? Or would they be sent to Ottawa? Perhaps a national tour for Canada's sesquicentennial next year? Maybe they would find a home in Nunavut?
No, no and no, as it turns out.
While the Canadian Government spent $2.8 million locating the HMS Erebus and thousands more to locate the HMS Terror — in addition to the $7.2 million allocated to advertising and promoting the search for the ships — Canadians will have to travel overseas if they want to see the artifacts before 2018.
As first reported by the CBC, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, will host the inaugural exhibition of artifacts from the Franklin ships. The Canadian Museum of History is one of the exhibit's sponsors.
Why you might ask? Well it's not because the ships are British in origin, but rather due to a vague memorandum of understanding signed in 1997, which recognized the UK's ownership of the wrecks and their contents with the caveat Britain would later assign ownership to Canada if the ships were actually located.
But ultimately it's not armchair historians like myself or even the average Canadian taxpayer who are getting the short end of the stick, it's the Inuit of Nunavut. Despite having a pre-existing Land Claim Agreement that covers the waters where the ships were found, the territory's claim to the artifacts and the ships has been denied.
It's a greater irony because not only did Parks Canada and the Arctic Research Foundation need Nunavut's permission to search for the wrecks, it was Inuit hunter and Arctic Ranger Sammy Kogvik who lead searchers to the HMS Terror. The ship was located in Terror Bay, right where Inuit oral history always said it was located.
If only there had been some subtle clue for researchers to go on.
And so while forging ahead to uncover our past, the governments of both Canada and Britain continue to commit historic wrongs. They have trounced onto indigenous territory, asked for the assistance of those that live there, and then trucked away the rewards.
Given the long history between First Nations, the Crown and Canada, it's not surprising the situation has unfolded the way it has, but it is disappointing. The discovery of the Erebus and Terror offered not just an opportunity to uncover the past, but to redirect the future.
Sadly, it was an opportunity that government shuttled.