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Parks Canada displays the bell from Sir John Franklin's HMS Erebus expedition on Nov. 6, 2014 in Ottawa.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Britain announced Monday that it will gift to Canada the shipwrecks from a historic expedition to find the Northwest Passage, ending a disagreement over who would keep the wrecks and their artifacts.

HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, two British naval vessels that were lost during Sir John Franklin's failed expedition through the Northwest Passage in the 1840s, were found in 2014 and 2016 respectively.

After the discovery of both ships, the two governments started negotiating which artifacts from the discovery would go to which country.

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Inuit communities also became involved, saying they should be part of discussions because of a treaty claim to archeological findings in their territory.

But on Monday, Britain's Ministry of Defence announced that the sunken wrecks will be given to Canada to reflect the two countries' bilateral relationship.

"This exceptional arrangement will recognize the historical significance of the Franklin expedition to the people of Canada," said U.K. Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, in a press release. "[It] will ensure that these wrecks and artifacts are conserved for future generations."

Parks Canada, which will take ownership of the shipwrecks, said it is "exceptionally pleased" with the gift, in a statement Monday.

Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the minister responsible for Parks Canada, also thanked Britain, saying the next step will be to work on co-ownership of the artifacts with the Inuit people.

"We will continue to work with our Inuit partners on the protection and presentation of the two wreck sites and artifacts for generations to come," said Ms. McKenna.

"I look forward to further developing our valuable relationship with Inuit of Nunavut as we share the incredible story of the Franklin Expedition and the role of Inuit in this story with Canadians and the world."

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Efforts to search for the shipwrecks were launched in 2008 to better understand the final days of the ill-fated expedition.

The Canadian and U.K. governments both said that traditional Inuit knowledge and stories played a large part in eventually locating the wrecks.

HMS Erebus and HMS Terror set out in 1845 to try to find the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, through the Canadian Arctic. The ships were abandoned by their crews after they became stuck in ice. All 129 British sailors and officers died when they attempted to trek overland to the south after leaving the ships behind.

The U.K. government's decision to gift the shipwrecks to Canada comes alongside a proposal to update a 1997 agreement between the two countries, which gives custody of the Royal Navy wrecks to the Canadian government, but gives ownership to Britain.

The proposal means that Britain is willing to give ownership to the Canadian government, as long as it gets to retain a small sample of artifacts from the wrecks.

The U.K.'s Ministry of Defence said that it expects the transfer of ownership to Canada to be completed in the coming weeks.

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