This article is over 5 years old and may contain outdated information.


The hunt for the Franklin Expedition shipwrecks

Parks Canada’s Ryan Harris searches for wreckage

  • Aug 21, 2014
  • 328 words
  • 2 minutes
Marine archeologist Ryan Harris Expand Image

Imagine scouring the turbulent, sub-zero waters of the Arctic Ocean floor in search of wreckage that’s more than a century old. Tough work, right? For Ryan Harris, a marine archeologist with Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Service, it’s just another day on the job, one that will continue this summer as he helps lead the search for Sir John Franklin’s lost ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

Now in its sixth year, the quest to find the ships, which disappeared 166 years ago during Sir John Franklin’s final and ill-fated 1845 expedition into the Canadian Arctic, will continue this summer.

For about four weeks starting in mid August, a Parks Canada team and a team of public and private partners will survey the northern depths of the Victoria Strait, the large body of water to the west of King William Island.

“If the weather cooperates and the ice doesn’t get in the way,” says Harris, “we hope that we might cover as much as 1,400 square kilometres.”

The searchers will use sonar to scan large blocks of the sea floor, and if something is detected, Harris and his team will evaluate the find. If it seems promising, he and the other divers will plunge below the surface to investigate further.

“After years of staring at the sonar screen and watching the sea floor scroll by hour after hour, I can only imagine the exhilaration of actually seeing something,” says Harris. 

Harris says there’s a possibility that the ships could be intact — if the ice hasn’t reached them, that is. “If the ships are located in shallow water, there’s the potential for ice keels to rake over the wreck site, split it apart and smear it over the sea floor.”

But, Harris adds, the search team has already surveyed most of the shallow areas. “As we search farther north, the water gets deeper, which increases the odds of a wreck surviving, hopefully in remarkable condition.”


Are you passionate about Canadian geography?

You can support Canadian Geographic in 3 ways:

Related Content

Canadian Hydrographic Survey launch, CSL Gannett


2014 Victoria Strait Expedition

This year's search is about much more than underwater archaeology. The Victoria Strait Expedition will contribute to northern science and communities.

  • 1205 words
  • 5 minutes


Excerpt from Searching for Franklin: New Answers to the Great Arctic Mystery

Arctic historian Ken McGoogan takes an in-depth, contemporary perspective on the legacy of Sir John Franklin, offering a new explanation of the famous Northern mystery

  • 2400 words
  • 10 minutes
The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition flag flies above the One Ocean Voyager


Victoria Strait Expedition begins

First official day of the 2014 search for Sir John Franklin’s lost ships

  • 1092 words
  • 5 minutes

People & Culture

RCGS hosts evening of fascinating Franklin discussion

On April 12, Franklin enthusiasts had a rare opportunity to come together in the same room as The Royal Canadian Geographical Society presented their 2016 Can Geo Talks

  • 833 words
  • 4 minutes