The Vancouver Maritime Museum’s Across the Top of the WorldThe Quest for the Northwest Passage exhibition chronicles the centuries long search for the famous route through the Canadian Arctic. 

From the first voyage of Martin Frobisher in 1576, subsequent expeditions by land and sea probed the Arctic and its shores, charting and mapping what would become Canada. Famous names such as Henry Hudson made many attempts to find a viable trading route through this northern archipelago in hopes of reaching Asia. For hundreds of years search continued with small advancements made through the Arctic.  

The climax of this great quest was the ill-fated expedition of Sir John Franklin in 1845. Outfitted with the latest in marine technology, Britain was confident that HMS Erebus and Terror would be successful. In fact, this voyage became the most unsuccessful in the history of the search for the Northwest Passage when every one of the 129-man expedition died by 1848. 

Determination from Britain to discover the fate of Franklin and his crew led to the launch of dozens of expeditions into the Arctic. These searches found traces of the expedition and some of the crew who perished, but no sign of Franklin or the two ships.  

The mystery of the ships was solved in 2014 when a search team led by Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology branch discovered HMS Erebus; two years later, the same expedition team found HMS Terror. Not only did this solve a 170-year-old mystery, but also highlighted the importance of Inuit Oral History as part of the search.  

With the two ships now located, Parks Canada archaeologists are hard at work analyzing the finds and piecing together the story of the expedition’s demise.