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The Modern Franklin Expedition – Chronology of the modern Franklin expeditions (specific to CHS’s involvement)


Hydrographer-in-Charge Jack Wilson, in cooperation with the Department of National Defence, the Geological Survey of Canada, Parks Canada and Eco Nova, deployed two CHS survey launches from Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier using towed side scan and single beam sonar.

2000 and 2001:

CHS Hydrographer-in-Charge Andrew Leyzack worked with researcher David Woodman during his privately funded expeditions in Wilmot and Crampton Bay. During this expedition, specialized thru-ice single beam sonar equipment and training were provided by CHS to support a winter survey using a magnetometer deployed from a snowmobile and komatik (a komatiq or qamutiik is a traditional Inuit sled type used frequently in the Arctic). Bathymetric data from both the winter expedition and the subsequent summer expedition from the RCMP cutter Nadon were reviewed by the CHS.


Parks Canada restarted the collaborative effort to search for the lost ships. Productive discussions between Hydrographer- in-Charge Andrew Leyzack and Senior Underwater Archaeologist Ryan Harris resulted in a new partnership between the government agencies. Other founding partners included the Government of Nunavut, the Canadian Ice Service, the Canadian Space Agency and Environment Canada’s E-Space program.


CHS added a side scan sonar system to one of the two CHS survey launches, Wood and Cormorant, which were actively being deployed from the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier for Arctic surveying. As part of the ongoing mission, the hydrographic launches were further tasked to survey and locate a passage route south-east through Wilmot and Crampton Bay to O’Reilly Island. The new information allowed CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier to safely access the southern search area, and provided Parks Canada with the necessary infrastructure support for their future expeditions.

From inside CSL Gannet CHS and Coast Guard partner to collect seabed data

CHS Hydrographer-in-charge of the project (2008 to 2012) Andrew Leyzack.


A new partnership was formed between Parks Canada and the Arctic Research Foundation, a new non-profit organization established by Canadian philanthropists Jim Balsillie and Tim MacDonald. Key challenges of the early Parks Canada-led expeditions were the limited field season and survey platform flexibility. As a result, the Arctic Research Foundation added the refit Newfoundland trawler Martin Bergmann. Outfitted with side scan sonar and complete with a crew, the Martin Bergmann was effectively added to the list of available assets.


In 2011, CHS introduced the Arctic Charting and Mapping Pilot Project, which specifically aimed to coordinate the multiple operations between the partners, while recognizing that Arctic charting and safe routings would provide the critical foundations upon which all other operations would depend. During 2011, the CHS survey launches Gannet and Kinglett were specifically fitted with multibeam sonar and towed side-scan systems to allow them to collect the necessary seabed data that could be employed by the partners to ensure safe movements in largely uncharted areas, detect archeologically-significant features and open up new passages into high priority search areas that had no pre-existing data. A partnership between CHS and the Department of Defence facilitated the introduction of LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) surveying technology, a technology that measures distances using lasers, to the mission. While limited to shallow depths, LiDAR was flown by aircraft over identified target areas to collect new seabed data along coastal and shallow zones, adding significantly to information in areas that would be otherwise difficult to access by boat. In addition, the Canadian Space Agency's involvement was also significantly enhanced as CHS partnered with the Agency to acquire additional satellite imagery to compare with LiDAR results, detect shallow water hazards and the work being advanced by the Government of Nunavut and Environment Canada's Arctic coastal mapping program (eSpace).


Throughout the following years, as Parks Canada coordinated the addition of more partners, CHS continued to coordinate the multi-partner operations via the expanded Arctic Charting and Mapping Pilot Project. CHS again provided personnel and launches equipped with multibeam sonar and supplied towed side-scan systems. Specifically, CHS equipped and manned the Arctic Research Foundation's R/V Martin Bergmann with a hydrographic sonar system and engaged in contracting with the Department of Defence for additional airborne bathymetric LiDAR surveys. To optimize results from the LiDAR program, CHS provided ground control support to the LiDAR missions, working closely with the Canadian Ice Services to better direct LiDAR operations with real-time analyses of sea and ice conditions. As well, CHS hydrographers worked closely with marine engineers from the University of Victoria to analyze data collected using an autonomous underwater vehicle fitted with interferometric side scan.

Each new partner addition provided enhanced means to augment Parks Canada search efforts, while many of the technologies also directly contributed towards Arctic seabed surveys and charting. In addition to enhanced operations, journalists from CBC and RDI also participated significantly in documenting the overall mission. While focusing primarily on Parks Canada's search for the lost ships of Sir John Franklin, journalists extended their interests to all aspects of the multi-partner mission on land and aboard ship. As such, logistical operations for the media were also supported by CHS as part of their overall coordination role.

University of Victoria’s autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) runs trials while CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier keeps watch.

Hydrographers work with Parks Canada and Coast Guard to deploy the side-scan sonar from hydrographic vessel Kinglett in 2012.


The 2014 Parks Canada-led expedition was billed as the largest expedition yet, with more assets and partners than ever before, all heading into the northern search area in Victoria Strait where the ships were believed to be originally beset. Partners included Fisheries and Oceans Canada (the Canadian Hydrographic Service and the Canadian Coast Guard), the Government of Nunavut, Environment Canada’s Canadian Ice Service, the Canadian Space Agency, and the privately funded Arctic Research Foundation. New to the project in 2014 were the Department of National Defence (Royal Canadian Navy and Defence Research and Development Canada, and private organizations including the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the W. Garfield Weston Foundation, Shell Canada, Lion TV, and One Ocean Expeditions.

In keeping with its long history, the sea ice and weather conditions remained largely uncooperative during the search window and the various ships were instead scattered to other locations or missions to maximize their utility during the short Arctic field season. Naval ship HMCS Kingston was re-tasked to the Eastern Arctic to undertake priority hydrographic surveys, CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier and RV Martin Bergmann moved southwards into the southern search area. Following an at-sea transfer of the RV Investigator to the Laurier, the passenger ship One Ocean Voyager headed into open waters to support sea trials for the Defence Research and Development Canada’s autonomous underwater vessel.

The chain of events began with a simple offer from CHS Hydrographer-in-Charge Scott Youngblut. In the spirit of collaboration, Youngblut offered the Nunavut archaeology team of Dr. Douglas Stenton and Dr. Robert Park the vacant seats on a helicopter flight over to one of the nearby islands where Youngblut needed to establish a kinematic GPS base station as a means to improve navigation accuracy for the surveys. While Youngblut would perform his work to support CHS operations, the archaeologists would use this time to survey the area for artifacts and ancestral Inuit sites. With several islands in the vicinity, Youngblut offered Stenton the opportunity to select the island of most interest. The specific island chosen remains undisclosed. Once ashore, while Youngblut set up the GPS station, the archaeologists conducted their own ground survey. A fourth member of the team, CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s helicopter pilot Andrew Stirling, remained with the archaeologists to watch for polar bears and assist with the ground surveys. Shortly after the Nunavut archaeologists began to document a nearby tent ring, Stirling detected a large, out-of-place item tucked behind a large rock. Following archaeological protocols, Stenton provided the first full in-situ examination of the object. The unmistakable broad arrow branding marks stamped into the iron confirmed the artifact as originating from a British naval ship. This artifact, the iron heel of a ship’s boat davit, would be the first major discovery specifically tied to the ships since Hobson’s discovery of the cairn note.

Using the blueprints of the original ships, the iron fitting was identified and confirmed by both archaeologist Jonathan Moore of Parks Canada and Captain Bill Noon of CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier as the heel of a davit from either HMS Erebus or HMS Terror. Following discussions with Youngblut, Senior Archaeologist Ryan Harris modified the Parks Canada planned marine survey. RV Investigator was deployed from CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier the following day with its new target search area. While on its second survey line of conducting this search, the side scan sonar of RV Investigator captured the unmistakable first images of a nearly intact British ship sitting upright on the seafloor.

Several days later, a subsequent inspection by Parks Canada’s team using its remotely operated vehicle (ROV) confirmed the wreck as one of Franklin’s, glimpsed for the first time after more than 166 years of searching. Days later, dive operations by the marine archaeologists would provide first-hand views of the Franklin ship captured by underwater camera and video systems. The find would further fully validate Inuit oral history of a ship having been seen in this general area. Canada’s Prime Minister announced the discovery on September 9, 2014.

Working around the diving operations, it fell to CHS to collect high resolution bathymetric data using multibeam sonar equipment: a cutting-edge technology that transmits hundreds of beams of sound several times per second through the water to help “paint” highly detailed images of the seabed. This technology is typically used to survey the shape and depth of the seabed and to detect all hazards to navigation. However, in this instance, the high-precision data collected from the CHS multibeam sonars were used to produce three-dimensional images and a digital fly-through of the shipwreck. This information was used by the marine archaeologists, along with other side scan sonar data and visual observations made during dive operations, to confirm the identification of the wreck as the lead vessel commanded by Sir John Franklin in the original 1845 expedition. The official announcement of the ship’s identity as HMS Erebus was made in the House of Commons on October 1, 2014.

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