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In Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada’s NEW exhibit, “Shipwrecks,” we explore the ill-fated Franklin expedition and showcase replica artifacts and the specialized equipment Parks Canada’s archaeologists used to recover them.

Franklin Expedition Piece Image
In an attempt to find the Northwest Passage linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans across what is now Canada’s Arctic, British explorer Sir John Franklin and 128 crewmembers set sail in 1845 aboard the ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

The ships were hardy, originally built as Royal Navy bomb vessels. The threat from pack ice and icebergs was all too real and the sturdy construction of the bomb vessels made them ideal for polar exploration. But that didn’t guarantee anyone’s safety.

The Franklin expedition left England in 1845 and was last seen by Inuit on King William Island in Nunavut, Canada. They never returned to England. Searches for the crew, HMS Erebus, and HMS Terror came up empty for nearly 170 years, but helped map the Canadian Arctic and, over time, the Northwest Passage was finally charted.

In 2014, a new expedition set forth. With the help of Inuit oral history and modern technology, the underwater wreck site of HMS Erebus was finally found, followed by HMS Terror two years later. The shipwrecks are now National Historic Sites jointly managed by Inuit and Parks Canada—the first of its kind in Nunavut.

Find out more about the Franklin expedition, the search to find the ships, and what was left behind in our new “Shipwrecks” exhibit at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada.

Blue Willow Dinner Plate

What appears to be dinnerware reserved for fine dining was actually the plates used daily by the crew of HMS Erebus. They are made of whiteware and meant to look like Chinese porcelain. This pattern is known as “blue willow,” and was common during the 19th century.

Franklin Expedition plate image

Tin and Message

One of the most important written records relating to the lost Franklin expedition was discovered inside a tin container, stored in a stone pile, or cairn, on King William Island. It was found by a search party led by Leopold McClintock in 1859.

It is a series of notes written on a standard document that all Royal Navy ships carried at the time. It details the abandonment of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror on April 22, 1848, and confirms the death of Sir John Franklin. The original is housed at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, U.K.

Dive Mitts

These three-finger dive mitts were once worn by an underwater archaeologist at Parks Canada. They are made from 7mm neoprene.

The underwater archeologists use dive mitts when they dive and take notes and do their work. The three-finger style is a compromise between the dexterity of a glove and the warmth of a mitt.

image of Franklin Expedition
Image of Franklin Expedition

Dry Suit

This dive suit was once worn by an underwater archeologist at Parks Canada. This dry suit is 9 mm neoprene and would primarily be used in cold water diving locations. Unlike a wet suit, which allows water to enter the suit to be warmed though body temperature, a dry suit ensures that no water enters inside the suit when submersed in water and is essential when diving the frigid temperatures of the Arctic.

Underwater Camera Shell

This camera shell was used by Parks Canada underwater archaeologists to take pictures and videos of shipwrecks, artifacts, and marine biology. This shell was used with a Nikon D4 a high end DLSR camera.

Replica artifacts and archaeological equipment on loan courtesy of Parks Canada.

We hope to “sea” you soon so that you can check out our NEW Shipwrecks exhibit and learn more about the iconic Franklin expedition for yourself!

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