Why continue the search for Franklin?
Ages 14-16

MysteryQuest 44

Why continue to investigate the disappearance of the Franklin Expedition, even after the wrecks of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror have been found?

Author: David Bussell

Editor: Warren Woytuck, Ruth Sandwell

Series Editor: Roland Case


A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 14-16

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In 1845, the British Admiralty decided to attempt another Arctic expedition to find the elusive Northwest Passage. One of the goals of the expedition was to find a more efficient trade route between Europe and Asia. The expedition also had scientific research goals: Britain was keen to find out more about the new science of geo-magnetism, whose secrets might be found at the earth's magnetic north pole. The British Navy also directed the ships to continue their project of mapping the north. Captain Sir John Franklin was given two ships for the journey to the Arctic, the HMS Erebus and Terror, along with 128 men to serve as the crew. Despite their experience and preparations, and despite many search and rescue operations from Britain and the United States, Franklin and his men were never seen again.

The disappearance of Franklin`s Arctic Expedition immediately sparked one of the most extensive search efforts in world history. In 2008, the Canadian Federal Government launched the most recent attempt to find the ships. It funded a partnership between Parks Canada, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the Arctic Research Foundation, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Royal Canadian Navy and the government of Nunavut.

After six years, their search efforts paid off. On September 7, 2014 a research team on the Coast Guard icebreaker ship the Sir Wilfrid Laurier found the shipwreck of a ship later positively identified as the Erebus. On September 16, 2016 the HMS Terror was found off the south coast of King William Island. Response from Canada and around the world has been overwhelmingly positive.

But there are some who asked: why was the Canadian government still funding the search for this British Navy Expedition? Now that the wrecks of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror have been found, why are Parks Canada archaeologists and historians exploring the remains and conducting research in order to document the finds and try to understand exactly what happened to the Franklin Expedition?

This MysteryQuest invites you to critically investigate reasons for why research about the Franklin Expedition has continued since it disappeared.

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In this MysteryQuest, you are invited to explore current interest in the search for the Franklin Expedition. You will examine evidence related to five possible reasons for why the search/research continues. Next, you will assess and rank order the reasons. To conclude, you will select the two strongest reasons for why the search for the lost Franklin Expedition continues.

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STEP 1: Learn about the Franklin Expedition

Your first task is to learn more about the Franklin Expedition.

STEP 2: Explore possible reasons for searching for Franklin

Once you have some context for the event, your next task is to explore why people remain interested in finding the Franklin Expedition so long after its disappearance. There are at least five reasons for this interest:

1. Historical curiosity: historians wish to solve the lingering mystery of an important historical event in Canadian history and Nunavut history.
2. Scientific curiosity: the search for clues from the expedition provides an opportunity to develop and test new technologies in underwater exploration.
3. National sovereignty: increased activity in the North helps to strengthen Canada's claim and control over Arctic territory.
4. Resource protection: increased activity in the North may also protect commercial interest in valuable natural resources such as oil, minerals, marine life and fresh water.
5. National pride: politicians and others wish to support stories that nurture Canadian identity and appreciation of Inuit culture and ways of life.

Next, select at least one source from each of the four groups of sources found in Evidence in the case. Note the title of each source selected in the far left-hand column of the chart Exploring reasons for the search (Activity Sheet 1).

Read each of the selected sources carefully, looking for evidence related to the reasons for continuing the search. Note any evidence on the chart under the appropriate reason. For example, you might discover that one document suggests that it is important to continue searching for the expedition because of what the discovery would reveal about sea ice. This evidence could be noted under "scientific curiosity." Remember that it is possible for a source to include more than one of the reasons for continuing to search for the remains of the Franklin Expedition. Continue this for each of the sources that you selected.

STEP 3: Rank the reasons

Once you have gathered evidence for the reasons, your next task is to determine which reason for continuing the search for the Franklin Expedition has been the strongest. To help guide your ranking of the reasons, use the following criteria:

  • Direct benefits: which reason for continuing the search for the Franklin Expedition might provide the greatest direct benefit? Direct benefits might include more jobs and testing of scientific equipment. For example, you might discover evidence about the number of jobs created to operate the equipment needed to conduct the search.
  • Indirect benefits: which reason for continuing the search for the Franklin Expedition might provide the greatest indirect benefit? Indirect benefits might include satisfaction from solving the mystery, increased national pride, or greater awareness of Inuit life and northern issues. For example, you might discover that there is an increased awareness of northern Canada because of media coverage of the searches for the Franklin Expedition.

Thinking about the evidence and these criteria, use the "Rating the reasons" row of the chart to judge the strength of each reason. For example, if you believe that continuing the search for the expedition to satisfy scientific curiosity has relatively high direct and indirect benefits, you might circle "4" on the rating scale at the bottom of the "Scientific curiosity" column.

STEP 4: Select the strongest reasons

Your final task is to use the bottom of the chart to indicate which two reasons for continuing the search have been the strongest. After selecting the two strongest reasons, write a brief justification for your choices, being sure to use the evidence and criteria to guide your recommendation.

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The assessment rubric, Assessing the evidence and the rankings may be used to assess the evidence collected in Step 2, as well as the ranking of the reasons.

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Activity Sheet: Exploring reasons for the search
Assessment Rubric: Assessing the evidence and the rankings

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Background readings

The Mysteries of Franklin's Last Voyage
Northwest Passage
Franklin's Voyage from England to the Arctic

Group 1
Core documents
Who Owns the Arctic?

Sovereignty in the Arctic
Source: Kathryn Isted, "Sovereignty in the Arctic: An analysis of territorial disputes and environmental policy considerations," Journal of Transnational Law and Policy (2009), Vol. 18, No. 2.

The Law and Politics of Canadian Jurisdiction on Arctic Ocean Seabed
Source: M. Byers, "The law and politics of Canadian jurisdiction on Arctic ocean seabed," ArcticNet Annual Research compendium (2011-12), pp. 6-7.

Group 2
Twentieth Century Searches for Franklin
Interview with David Woodman

Group 3
The Mystery Continues
The Breaking Story
Summary of Parks Canada's search activities 2008-2014

Group 4
Climate change and Canadian sovereignty in the Northwest Passage
Source: Rob Huebert, "Climate change and Canadian sovereignty in the Northwest Passage," Canadian Arctic sovereignty and security: Historical perspectives (2011).

Interview with Ryan Harris and Jonathan Moore