Canada spent millions of dollars to recover artifacts from HMS Erebus, the sunken wreck from the 1845 Franklin expedition to the Arctic that was finally located in 2014 — but it still doesn’t own the collection almost three years later.
And most of those objects, now restored at taxpayers’ expense, are leaving Canada next month for their first public exhibition — in Britain, which remains the legal owner of the HMS Erebus treasures.
Parks Canada says yearlong negotiations with the British government have yet to produce a deal to transfer ownership rights to Canada.
“Discussions with the government of the United Kingdom on the transfer of the Franklin artifacts are ongoing,” Parks Canada spokeswoman Meaghan Bradley said this week.
Ownership talks began in earnest in May 2016 with officials of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, in Portsmouth, England, based on a 1997 Canada-U.K. memorandum of understanding (MOU).
That MOU, signed before HMS Erebus was discovered and before its sunken sister ship, HMS Terror, was located in 2016, says Britain owns everything. But it also stipulates that the British government agrees to transfer ownership to Canada of all recovered objects, except those significant to the Royal Navy, as well as any gold. (No gold has yet been discovered.)
It’s unclear why the talks are taking so long. Bradley calls them “relatively unique discussions,” adding that Parks Canada “hopes to have the transfer completed as soon as possible.”
The delay has left Inuit groups, who also claim ownership rights, in the lurch.
“We’re not really kept in the loop,” said Ralph Kownak of the Inuit Heritage Trust in Iqaluit, Nunavut. “Who owns it is still a…