Ryan Harris felt a first rush of “absolute jubilation” when the sonar image of a ship popped up onto his monitor. As a senior underwater archaeologist with Parks Canada, Harris had spent the past six field seasons searching for a Franklin ship. Now, at last, he was looking at one of them. Harris and his fellow divers soon determined that the ship was the Erebus. During a panel discussion earlier tonight on the Franklin expedition, an event that drew more than 600 people to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, Harris said he was equally exhilarated when he got into the water and began investigating the find.
With winter closing in, Harris and his team had two days. They managed to do seven two-person dives of 60 to 70 minutes each. After that, because the water was just 2 or 3 degrees, “we began to get chilled and lose coordination.” Next year, when the team returns, they will probably use “hard hat air supply,” or a diving helmet with an air hose running to the surface. This will enable divers to stay down longer.
Louie Kamookak, a leading Inuit Franklin expert, put in an appearance via videotape from Gjoa Haven on King William Island in Nunavut. He was delighted with the find, especially because it vindicated Inuit oral history. He also admitted that, as a Franklin searcher, he has not focused mainly on the ships: “You can’t go and look down in the water and see a ship.” Rather, he has been looking for Franklin’s grave. “I believe he is buried on the island.”
Archaeologist Doug Stenton, director of heritage for the Nunavut government, mentioned the importance of the early expeditions led by Charles Francis Hall and Frederick Schwatka. And British naval historian Andrew Lambert stressed that Franklin was part of a long quest to understand the Earth’s magnetic field.
The event kicked off a three-year Franklin Outreach Project led by the ROM and Parks Canada, which will feature exhibitions and lectures across the country. A replica of the bell taken from the Erebus, created by Edward Burtynsky using 3-D printing technology, was unveiled, and will be displayed at the ROM until mid-March, 2015.