Franklin Expedition focus of Old Mill Heritage Centre’s 2016 opening

The ghostly image of the long lost HMS Erebus emerges from the murk as a diver explores the wreak. photo by Parks Canada

BILLINGS—The fate of the Franklin Expedition is one of the most enduring mysteries of the 19th century and forms a key brick in the foundation of Canada’s claims to Arctic sovereignty—this year the Franklin Expedition is the focus of a new exhibit at the Old Mill Heritage Centre in Kagawong.

In 1845 experienced explorer Captain Sir John Franklin departed England with 128 hardy British sailors and two ships, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror, in search of the fabled Northwest Passage to the Orient. Both Captain Franklin, his men and his ships disappeared into the mists of time with all hands presumed lost.

The two ships had become icebound in the Victoria Strait near King William Island and in 1848, the first of several expeditions set out to rescue or recover the lost party. Tantalizing clues were found, including bodies of dead crewmen and artifacts, oral histories of local Inuit and in 1859 a note was found that provided much of the story of the lost expedition, but it wasn’t until 2014 that a Canadian expedition located the sunken remains of one of the ships, the HMS Erebus, discovered west of O’Reilly Island in the eastern portion of Queen Maud Gulf of the Arctic archipelago.

“We originally planned to do both the Franklin Expedition and the Griffon (the subject of last year’s exhibit),” said Old Mill Heritage Centre curator Rick Nelson. “But scheduling difficulties made it impossible to bring both speakers together on the same date.”

Mr. Nelson made a connection with Parks Canada’s Marty Magne, who will be coming to Manitoulin Island on August 11 for the museum’s annual History Day in Kagawong. “Through my contacts I had been dealing with on the lighthouse (in Kagawong), they put me in touch with the contact at Parks Canada,” he said.

“We are really excited about this year’s Franklin Expedition exhibit and all of the other great things we have on display at the museum,” said Mr. Nelson. “The ongoing mystery (the fate of the sister ship HMS Terror has yet to be determined) adds a fair bit to the story. Everybody loves a good mystery and this particular story plays an important role in both Canada’s maritime history and how things will go forward with our nation’s claims to the Arctic.”

The Old Mill Heritage Centre will be opening, as usual, on the May 24 weekend for weekends and seven days a week starting on June 1.