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Timeline: The mysteries of Sir John Franklin and his journeys

From 21st century forensic anthropologists to 19th century sea captains and British aristocrats, many have combed the oceanic maze of ice and rock for the lost expedition of Sir John Franklin, but the Arctic is immense, so the task is daunting. Through their collective efforts, we’ve been able to piece together much of what happened to Franklin’s ships once they ventured into the Canadian Arctic, but the biggest prize – the ships themselves – have so far eluded all.

In recent years the Canada’s government has allocated unprecedented resources to the search, deploying advanced sonar technology and autonomous underwater vehicles. The ships locations remain a mystery, but the systematic approach taken to the search since 2007 brings a find ever closer. Each year, searchers are able to eliminate areas of the ocean floor where the wreckage of the two ships is not, bringing them closer to where it is.

This summer's search will be the largest and most advanced yet, with cutting edge tools from the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Coast Guard supplementing the work done by Parks Canada’s elite underwater archaeological team. The challenge remains daunting, but searchers hopes have been renewed by the new resources. In the summer of 2014, the very nature of the game has changed.

The Royal Canadian Navy’s cutting edge Explorer AUV will even be able to explore terrain lying under multi-year ice in search of the Erebus and Terror. Advanced sonar technologies will allow searchers to see the sea floor in ultra high resolution. Parks Canada’s elite dive team is closing in on its target, and NGOs like the Arctic Research Foundation will be contributing their time and resources to searching for Franklin’s lost expedition.

The disappearance of the Franklin Expedition is one of the enduring mysteries of Canadian history. Explore Canadian Geographic's coverage over the years.

November 21, 2013
by Kathleen Clark

An underwater archaeologist with an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Franklin Expedition, Ryan Harris has been the lead diver on Parks Canada’s search for the Erebus and Terror for the past seven years. With the rest of the Underwater Archaeology Unit, Harris negotiates icy waters and perilous currents in determined pursuit of the lost ships that will enrich our collective knowledge of Canada’s history.


August 22, 2013
by Heather Yundt

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and RCGS CEO John Geiger aboard the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Gjoa Haven as it searches for the lost ships of the Franklin Expedition.


July/August 2013
by Mark Anderson

The lost ships of the Franklin Expedition remain hidden treasures and the hunt is set to continue this summer. Meet Ryan Harris, the person who’s leading the search, and likely to be the first who sets his eyes on the prize.


January/February 2013
by Anne Watson

A century after the start of the thrilling expedition that strengthened claims to Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic, the first Canadian Arctic Expedition remains a largely unknown part of the country’s history.


April 2011
by Brian Payton

Lost while searching for Franklin and his crew, the HMS Investigator’s wreck was discovered 157 years later.



David Gray researches an illegal trapping mission in the 1930s which claimed to have encountered living descendants of the Franklin Expedition

by Monique Roy-Sole

Paul vanPeenen retraces Franklin’s First Expedition, funded by the RCGS


November/December 2000
Sleuthing for Franklin’s crew

Sleuthing for Franklin’s crew, researchers are led to five unknown graves by Louis Kamookak, of Gjoa Haven, Nunavut

September/October 2001
March/April 1999

March/April 1995

The 1994 RCGS Expedition searching for clues on Franklin


December 1988/January 1989

Book reviews of The Arctic Grail and Frozen in Time


April/May 1988

Arctic explorer's 1825-26 wintering post on Great Bear Lake discovered


April/May 1978

The men of the Erebus and Terror


April 1968

A look back at 100 years of looking for the lost Franklin ships


March 1964

The tiny island's history in the searches for the lost Franklin ships


July 1962

Members of Canada’s Polar Continental Shelf Project were conducting scientific research when they came upon a cairn on Helena Island. Hidden inside the cairn were clues to the outcome of Sir John Franklin and his crews during the ill-fated 1845 expedition.


September 1958

From searching for the Northwest Passage to gaining wealth through the fur trade to mapping new territory, Canada’s history is filled with exploration. Writer F.J. Alcock examines many of Canada’s early explorers, including Sir John Franklin.


December 1945

On the 100-year anniversary of the expedition, Canadian Geographic Journal was there to honour the expedition and look back at the mystery behind the journey that ended in death and disaster.


November 1930

Canadian Geographic Journal was not yet a year old when it published its first article on the search for the Franklin Expedition's ships. L.T. Burwash penned the November 1930 piece after spending the previous spring traveling on and around King William Island, gathering testimony from local Inuit about the expedition and those who came to search for it.