Discovery of infamous Franklin expedition presentation

Canadian Coast Guard Ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s Commanding Officer Bill Noon (left),  and Parks Canada’s Ryan Harris (second from left), show the side-scan sonar image of the wreck to Marc-André Bernier (third from left), Jonathan Moore (fourth from left), and Chief Officer Rich Marriott (at far right). Photo by Theresa Nichols, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Canadian Coast Guard Ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s Commanding Officer Bill Noon (left), and Parks Canada’s Ryan Harris (second from left), show the side-scan sonar image of the wreck to Marc-André Bernier (third from left), Jonathan Moore (fourth from left), and Chief Officer Rich Marriott (at far right). Photo by Theresa Nichols, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

Four prominent players in the ground-breaking discovery of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition of 1846 are setting sail for the Victoria’s Maritime Museum this week to tell their story.

Bill Noon, captain of the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) Ship Sir Wilfred Laurier, under Parks Canada’s lead, played a key role in the August 2014 discovery of HMS Erebus, Sir John Franklin’s ship, and recently helped to identify Franklin’s second vessel HMS Terror off the coast of King William Island. He will be part of the presentation “Mysteries of HMS Erebus” at Victoria’s Maritime Museum, Oct. 13 at 7:30 p.m.

Noon, a 35-year CCG veteran, describes himself as a life-long maritime history buff. He compared his involvement in the discoveries as “winning the history lotto.” He rates the initial Erebus discovery, the focus of the presentation, as incredible.

“For me it was an exciting and defining moment in both my life and career,” said Noon, who recalls the moment in 2014 when he was informed by Parks Canada officials about the discovery of Erebus. “I’ll never forget the moment in my captain’s quarter’s when they showed me the side-scan sonar imagery from the ocean floor. It may just look like a computer enhanced image but for me it was a super-dramatic, ground breaking image because that was the moment we finally had actual proof of one of the lost vessels.”

The presentation will be hosted by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Paul Watson.

The evening also includes Parks Canada lead archeologist and diver Ryan Harris, and renowned author David C. Woodman who wrote “Unravelling the Franklin Mystery”.

Noon says their discussion will shed much-needed light on the search for a Northwest passage, the importance of their finding, and its far-reaching historical significance.

“The search expeditions for Franklin are actually what opened up the waters of northern Canada and has been the story of charting ever since,” he says.

The Royal Navy’s Franklin Expedition set sail from Greenhithe, Kent, May 19, 1845, to search for the Northwest Passage. The flagship HMS Erebus and HMS Terror became trapped in ice in 1846 with most of the crew perishing after trying to set out for an overland trek to Fort Resolution, a Hudson’s Bay outpost located 970 kilometres to the southwest.

The fate of the crew was revealed during more than 20 rescue expeditions from 1848 to 1866 and in a roundabout way the ill-fated expedition eventually achieved its mission.

For nearly 170 years people debated the location of the vessels. Their eventual discovery demonstrated the accuracy and importance of local Inuit oral histories, which correctly pointed the location of Erebus. This is a topic Woodman will expand on during the discussion.

The discovery of the vessels is also being hailed by government officials because of the level of collaboration that occurred between Parks Canada, Canadian Hydrographic Service, Canadian Ice Service, Canadian Coast Guard, and the Royal Canadian Navy.

The collaboration was several years in the making.

Parks Canada approached the Canadian Hydrographic Service and discussed, since they were charting the ocean floor for shipping-lane information, why not look for lost vessels at the same time? This lead to the searches beginning in 2008.  The rest is “history” says Noon.

“In all my years of working for the Federal Government I have never witnessed another moment where intergovernmental agencies worked so seamlessly. The level of cooperation was beyond phenomenal,” said Noon, adding this type of cooperation was highly critical in an Arctic environment where weather, distance and communication are vitally important.

Tickets to the event are $60 for non-museum members and $50 for members and can be purchased by calling 250-385-4222.

Franklin Expedition’s HMS Erebus and HMS Terror by Canadian marine artist  John M. Horton. Credit John Horton

Franklin Expedition’s HMS Erebus and HMS Terror by Canadian marine artist John M. Horton. Credit John Horton

Sonar pictures of the historic Franklin shipwreck as it rests at the bottom of the ocean. Photo © Parks Canada

Sonar pictures of the historic Franklin shipwreck as it rests at the bottom of the ocean. Photo © Parks Canada

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