Sunken Ships/Shipwrecks

SABLE ISLAND, a crescent-shaped sandbar 300 km east-southeast (160 nautical miles) of Halifax, is also infamous for its shipwrecks, and is known as "the Graveyard of the Atlantic," as its shifting sands have been the site of over 350 such incidents.
the <em>Algoma</em>
On 7 November 1885, en-route to Port Authur in a blinding snow storm, the Canadian Pacific Railway steamship Algoma ran aground on Greenstone Beach off Mott Island, Isle Royale. The ship immediately broke in two, killing 46 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-028750).
<em> Del Norte</em> Wreck
Remains of the sidewheel steamer Del Norte, which ran into Canoe Reef, north of Galiano Island in the Strait of Georgia, on the morning of 21 October 1868 (courtesy Underwater Archaeological Society of British Colombia).
the <em>Jeanie</em>
Wreck of the Jeanie, Hudson Bay, 1910 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-045278).\r\n
Searching for the wreck of the steamer Oscar, sunk by an explosion near Protection Island, BC, on January 15, 1913 (courtesy Underwater Archaeological Society of British Colombia).
Regina (Ship)
The Regina was one of 13 ships lost on Lake Superior during the tempest of 1913.
<em>Ericsson</em> Wreck
Archaeologist establishing a baseline and taking measurements at the site of the Ericsson wreck. The Ericsson was a 1852 steamship; it was driven by a storm onto the rocks of Barkley Sound off Vancouver Island in November 1892. The Ericsson was the world's first caloric engined ship. After the engines proved to be uneconomical, the ship was converted to a barque (courtesy Underwater Archaeological Society of British Colombia).
<em>Ericsson</em> Wreck Project
The crew of the Ericsson project analysing data from the underwater fieldwork (courtesy Underwater Archaeological Society of British Colombia).
<em>SS Iroquois</em> wreck
Plate from the SS Iroquois wreck near Sidney, BC, which capsized on 10 April 1911 (courtesy Underwater Archaeological Society of British Colombia).
<em>Ericsson</em> Wreck
Archaeologists recording their findings on one the wrecks located at the site of the Ericsson wreck, BC (courtesy Underwater Archaeological Society of British Colombia).
the <em>Storstad</em>
The collier ship Storstad suffered extensive damage to its bow after colling with the Empress of Ireland on 28 May 1914. An inquiry found its crew responsible for the disaster.
the <em>Empress of Ireland</>
The Empress of Ireland, a transatlantic liner owned by the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company, was claimed by one the worst nautical disaters in Canadian history when it collided with the Storstad in the St Lawrence River, killing 1012 of 1477 on board.
the <em>Princess May</em>
The wreck of the SS Princess May perched on a reef at low tide. The Canadian Pacific Railway hit the reef close to Sentinel Island in Alaska in 1910 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-095764).
<em> Robert Kerr</em> Wreck
Commemorative plaque of the Underwater Archaeological Society of BC at the Robert Kerr wreck, located in the Stuart Channel of the Gulf Islands. Built in Québec in 1866, the former barque converted to a coal hulk British bark was impaled by an uncharted reef while transporting coal on the night of 4 March 1911 (courtesy Underwater Archaeological Society of British Colombia).

Sunken Ships/Shipwrecks

As long as man has gone to sea, there have been shipwrecks. A frequent cause in earlier times was simply losing one's way and running aground; but the failure of man's technology when pitted against the unforgiving sea also accounts for some of history's most infamous shipwrecks. The best-known example of this was the sinking on its maiden voyage of the SS TITANIC, the greatest technological achievement of its day. It went to the bottom after a brief encounter with an iceberg on a foggy April night in 1912, 320 nautical miles (600 km) off Newfoundland, with a loss of over 1500 lives.

Spectacular Wrecks

Canada has also had its share of spectacular shipwrecks including, most notably, the Canadian Pacific passenger liner SS EMPRESS OF IRELAND, which sank in 14 minutes in the GULF OF ST LAWRENCE after a collision off Rimouski on 29 May 1914. Of the 1477 passengers and crew, 1014 perished, a death toll exceeded to that point only by the Titanic incident. However, both the passenger list and the ship itself lacked the glamour of the SS Titanic, and the incident was soon forgotten in a world about to be engulfed in war.

SABLE ISLAND, a crescent-shaped sandbar 300 km east-southeast (160 nautical miles) of Halifax, is also infamous for its shipwrecks, and is known as "the Graveyard of the Atlantic," as its shifting sands have been the site of over 350 such incidents.

The sudden loss in 1975 of the modern US bulk carrier Edmund Fitzgerald, which went down in LAKE SUPERIOR with all 29 crew members during a November storm, was a more recent Canadian tragedy, again reminding us that modern ships are not unsinkable. Fortunately, shipwrecks are now infrequent, though, as the size and complexity of ships increase, a single wreck (and the resulting pollution clean-up in the case of tankers or chemical carriers) can be very costly. Just over 250 ships were reported lost from all causes in 1992, but this was out of a world fleet of over 80 000 merchant ships over 100 t.

Marine Archaeologists

Shipwrecks have long held a special fascination for many, including a new breed of MARINE ARCHAEOLOGISTS. The easy availability of scuba-DIVING apparatus has caused an enormous resurgence of interest in shipwrecks over the past 2 decades but serious archaeologists worry about the damage that amateur explorers and treasure hunters can cause to older fragile wrecks. Nonetheless, archaeologists and hobby divers are now finding many wrecks of historic interest in Canadian waters.

The remains of the vessels of Admiral Walker's British fleet, which was sunk in 1711, have been found off of Scatari Island, NS, and near English Point in the ST LAWRENCE RIVER. In LAKE ONTARIO, the British warships Hamilton and Scourge, which sank in a fierce storm during the War of 1812, have been found in 1973 and are now being protected. And in arctic waters are the remains of the BREADALBANE, which sank while involved in the FRANKLIN SEARCH.

Flotsam and Derelicts

In addition to a complete vessel which has sunk, run aground or burned usually being referred to as a "shipwreck," the terms "flotsam,""jetsam" and "derelict" are still used on occasion. "Flotsam" refers to the material or goods left floating on the sea as a result of a wreck, while "jetsam" is material intentionally jettisoned in an attempt to lighten the load of a sinking vessel. "Derelict" refers to any property, whether vessel or cargo, abandoned at sea without hope or intention of recovery. The term "wreck" also includes any part of a ship or boat, its equipment or cargo. In Canada, the laws governing the treatment of shipwrecks and marine salvage are embodied in the Canada Shipping Act, administered by the CANADIAN COAST GUARD.


Interested in disasters?

Further Reading

  • J.P. Andrieux, Marine Disasters of Newfoundland and Labrador (1986); Robert D. Ballard and Rick Archbold, The Lost Ships of Robert Ballard (2005); Mark Bourrie, Ninety Fathoms Down: Canadian Stories of the Great Lakes (1995); Dorothy Dearborn, New Brunswick Sea Stories: Phantom Ships and Pirate's Gold, Shipwrecks and Iron Men (1998); John P. Eaten, Titanic: The Canadian Story (1998); Frank Galgay and Michael McCarthy, Shipwrecks of Newfoundland and Labrador (1987); Skip Gillham, Ships in Trouble: The Great Lakes, 1850-1930 (2003); Michael Goss, Lost at Sea: Ghost Ships and Other Mysteries (1994); Rick James and Jacques Marc, Historic Shipwrecks of the Sunshine Coast (2002);Keith Keller, Dangerous Waters: Wrecks and Rescues off the B.C. Coast (2002); Cris Kohl, Shipwreck Tales of the Great Lakes (2004); Frédéric Landry, Dernière course : aventures maritimes dans le Golfe Saint-Laurent (1989); Adrienne Mason, West Coast Adventures: Shipwrecks, Lighthouses, and Rescues along Canada's West Coast (2003); Robert C. Parsons, In Peril on the Sea: Shipwrecks of Nova Scotia (2000).

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