Parks Canada has retrieved a bronze bell from the wreck of HMS Erebus, one of two ships lost during Sir John Franklin's doomed expedition in search of the Northwest Passage.
The bell was found resting on the upper deck of the ship, surrounded by underwater plant life but in good condition. An arrow, used to signify property of the British Royal Navy, is still visible on the exterior along with 1845 – the year the Franklin expedition began.
It is the first artifact to be pulled from the sunken ship since its discovery in the Queen Maud Gulf, west of O'Reilly Island, earlier this fall. HMS Erebus is the famed vessel on which Sir John Franklin sailed during his historic 19th-century voyage.
Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq unveiled the bell in Ottawa on Thursday, calling the Franklin expedition a "founding block of Canada's sovereignty" in the Arctic.
The bell, which is covered in a green patina, was found during a series of dives in September. Marc-André Bernier, head of underwater archeology with Parks Canada, said divers wrapped the artifact carefully before bringing it to the surface to protect it from any damage.
Carpenters on board the Coast Guard ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier built a crate filled with bubble wrap to transport the artifact to a lab in Ottawa, he said.
The bell is being kept in a fresh-water container and will need to be carefully cleaned with chemicals to remove all traces of sea salt from its surface, a process that could take 18 months to complete.
The crew members on HMS Erebus and HMS Terror perished after their vessels went missing. It's believed the ships became locked in sea ice and eventually sank when their wooden hulls were damaged.
The Conservative government has backed annual searches for the two ships, in part to demonstrate Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic. Parks Canada expects to resume its exploration of the wreck next year, after the winter sea ice breaks up.
Mr. Bernier said Parks Canada's priority in the weeks after finding the ship was not to collect artifacts but to gain as much information as possible to help plan for future exploration. "However, we did see a lot of artifacts and that helps us in planning for next steps," he said.
Other artifacts that were visible around the ship include pulley blocks, rope and two brass cannons, Mr. Bernier said. He added that divers have not come across any gold so far and are not expecting to find any beyond what may be with crew members' personal effects.
While it's possible to lift shipwrecks out of the water and restore them, doing so would be difficult and highly expensive. Mr. Bernier said it was too soon to say whether the government would attempt to move HMS Erebus.