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For almost 200 years, the fate of the Franklin Expedition has captured our imaginations. Sir John Franklin's story has inspired historians, singers and writers. But his search for the Northwest Passage is more than just a tragic story. It is also a key moment in our country's history.

With 40 per cent of our landmass in the North, and more than 160,000 kilometres of Arctic coastline, Canada is a Northern country. And it was Franklin's exploration of the North that helped lay the foundations of Canada's Arctic sovereignty.

Since then, expeditions sent to the Canadian Arctic in search of the lost Franklin Expedition have increased our knowledge of the North. But Franklin's ships remained elusive.

Story continues below advertisement

Until now. It was only this year, during the sixth Canadian-led search since 2008, that the first ship was discovered. And it was discovered by Canadians, using Canadian technology.

When Franklin set sail in 1845, the North was a largely unknown place to much of the world. The story of his exploration and discovery of Canada's North is also our story. Although much of it is still unknown to us, our understanding of the Arctic's geography and history has grown thanks to the researchers looking for the wrecks of Franklin's ships. We have mapped thousands of miles of Arctic seabed. We have recovered artifacts that shed new light on the search for the Northwest Passage. In doing so, we have strengthened Canadian sovereignty in the North.

So Canadians rightly celebrated this week's historic discovery with pride. In our celebrations we cannot forget those whose tireless efforts contributed to the discovery. In August I sailed the Northwest Passage with members of this year's Victoria Strait Expedition and saw first-hand their dedication to solving the mystery of Franklin's ships. In particular, Rear Admiral John Newton, the Royal Canadian Navy's Commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic and Joint Task Force Atlantic, Ryan Harris, senior underwater archaeologist with Parks Canada, Captain Bill Noon of the Canadian Coast Guard ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier, John Geiger, chief executive officer of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Jim Balsillie, co-founder of the Arctic Research Foundation, among many others deserve our gratitude and admiration for their contribution to this proud moment in our history.

While we pause to celebrate, we know our work is not done. Finding the first ship gives momentum to the search for the second. It also demonstrates Canada's ability to operate in the harsh and remote Canadian Arctic at a time when international interest in the Arctic region is growing.

The North has always been a priority for our government. Through our Northern Strategy we will continue to exercise our sovereignty over the Arctic. We will continue to invest in infrastructure, and in providing the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Coast Guard and the Canadian Rangers with the tools they need to protect and patrol the North. We will invest in social and economic development, as well as in environmental protection.

We have an obligation to continue this work. The North is central to our identity. It is imprinted on the imagination of Canadians. And the North will play an even greater role in Canada's future prosperity. I have said before that the land of the North is endless and so are the possibilities. Our biggest dreams are at our highest latitudes. And the Franklin Expedition discovery reminds us of what is possible.

Stephen Harper is the Prime Minister of Canada.

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