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Stephen Harper drops in on Franklin Expedition scientists

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The Canadian Press

Thursday, August 22, 2013, 4:51 PM -

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister dropped in on scientists and coast guard officers hunting for the wreckage of the lost Franklin Expedition.

The effort to locate two 19th-century British exploration ships, which disappeared without a trace looking for the Northwest Passage, has captured the imagination of scholars and adventurers for more than 100 years.

"Why do Canadians remain interested in this? Obviously, it's part of our heritage, part of the history that makes Canada, Canada," Harper said aboard the coast guard icebreaker Sir Wilfrid Laurier, anchored off this remote Arctic hamlet.

"I also think it's because the modern age abhors a mystery."

Subsequent searches for Sir John Franklin's HMS Terror and HMS Erebus ended up mapping much of the northern archipelago that Ottawa claims as Canadian territory, he added.

Optimism in running high among researchers because of the addition of military-grade, side-scan sonar and unmanned underwater vehicles, which are better able to probe the frigid, silent waters around Nunavut's King William Island.

The exploration ships — the most advanced of their time — were lost in 1847 with all 129 crew members. Finding them has become a point of national pride, as well as a chance to demonstrate Canada's sovereignty over the region.

Earlier Wednesday, Harper patrolled with members of the Canadian Rangers along the edge of the island after taking part in some target practice on the Arctic tundra the day before.

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