Why are people highlighting the search for the Terror?
That’s what I found myself wondering. The most exciting discoveries will almost certainly be made aboard the Erebus. Last September, with winter coming on, time ran out before Parks Canada divers could investigate that long-lost Franklin vessel. When they return this year, they will have time to look around.
Will they find any readable records? Journals, logbooks, letters? Even daguerrotypes (antique images) would be immensely valuable. Such documents could revolutionize our understanding of what happened to the Franklin expedition. For those interested in the history of Arctic exploration, they constitute the Holy Grail.
Second question: Will the divers find any dead bodies? Some Inuit claimed they boarded one of the ships and discovered the remains of a large man. John Franklin was a large man. He commanded the expedition from the Erebus. His remains have never been found.
So, what does the Erebus have to tell us? For this year’s search, that should logically be top priority. Finding the Terror has to be secondary. Inuit testimony suggests that it was crushed by ice and then sank. Chances are that it looks less like the still-extant Erebus than like a debris field.
Why, then, focus on locating the Terror? Wait, I think I see it.
Back in 1992, the Erebus and the Terror were designated National Historic Sites, wherever they might be located. The undeclared hope was that, when found, the ships could be upgraded into UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Such a designation would strengthen Canada’s hand with regard to controlling the waters of the Northwest Passage: you can’t have oil tankers sailing willy-nilly over a world-heritage site.
As a Canadian environmentalist (yes, we exist!), I support that position. But here is the rub: the location of the Erebus, off the Adelaide Peninsula, does not help matters. It is outside any potential shipping lane. So that would be why finding the Terror remains crucial. Most informed observers think it will be found in Victoria Strait off the west coast of King William Island. And, given the effects of climate change, that waterway does constitute a possible shipping lane.
Where does that leave us? Both objectives are high priority -- one to resolve a haunting mystery, the other to strengthen Canadian control over disputed waters. Bring on the summer melt!