Ontario has a long, fascinating history of shipwrecks. But it is rarely recognized

Article content continued And Prince Edward County, jutting out into Lake Ontario, lines up with a series of islands and shoals stretching all the way to the New York shore. “They represent a barrier with gaps,” he says. “Any ship that loses power, loses sails, loses something might just squeeze […]

Article content continued

And Prince Edward County, jutting out into Lake Ontario, lines up with a series of islands and shoals stretching all the way to the New York shore.

“They represent a barrier with gaps,” he says. “Any ship that loses power, loses sails, loses something might just squeeze through a gap by sheer good luck,” or be wrecked. “We have got the highest concentration of shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, by far.”

OTTAWA -- Once the greatest warship to ever sail the Great Lakes, HMS St. Lawrence was larger than Horatio Nelson's legendary HMS Victory, and bigger than anything else in the American fleet during the War of 1812. (Sketches and photos by Andrew King). for 0830 col King
OTTAWA — Once the greatest warship to ever sail the Great Lakes, HMS St. Lawrence was larger than Horatio Nelson’s legendary HMS Victory, and bigger than anything else in the American fleet during the War of 1812. (Sketches and photos by Andrew King) Photo by Andrew King /Ottawa Citizen

Shipwreck maps of the Picton area mark the sinking of many small ships, especially small cargo schooners in the 1800s — the 18-wheel trucks of their day. They had names like Metcalfe, Ocean Wave, Maggie Hunter, Gazelle, Fabiola, Echo, Olive Branch, Restless, Madcap, Red Bird, Annie Falconer, Fleetwing, on and on. There’s also the 22-gun British warship Ontario, lost in a storm during the American Revolution and found in 2008, intact but 500 feet deep. HMS Ontario is an official war grave.

And there were disasters far greater than these.

• One night in 1949, a piercing ship’s horn sounded and flames lit up the Toronto waterfront. The passenger ship SS Noronic was burning at her moorings.

By morning, at least 118 people were dead, many trapped aboard by fire. The ship’s fire hoses were out of order.

• Even worse, 844 people died when the SS Eastland rolled over at the dockside in Chicago in 1915. She had taken on more than 2,500 people for a one-day pleasure cruise. Later analysis found Eastland to be dangerously top-heavy.

• In 1913, 10 enormous, iron- and steel-hulled freighters were lost with all hands — more than 200 in total — in a single November storm. Most were on Lake Huron. One of these, the Henry B. Smith, was 545 feet long, and was found a century later snapped in half in Lake Superior. (The length is 166 metres, but the shipping industry used feet.)

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