136-year-old shipwreck found in Georgian Bay

OWEN SOUND – The wreck of a steamship that went down in Georgian Bay during a storm 136 years ago has been found, with what could be human remains onboard.

American shipwreck hunters Jared Daniels, Jerry Eliason and Ken Merryman revealed their summer discovery to coincide with the anniversary of the Jane Miller’s sinking Nov. 25, 1881.

The 24-metre package and passenger steamer went down with 25 people aboard, including the crew.

The wreck was found in Colpoys Bay, an inlet of Georgian Bay leading to Wiarton on the east side of the Bruce Peninsula north of Owen Sound in Georgian Bay.

The ship mostly is structurally intact with its mast still standing, rising within 23 metres of the surface. The shipwreck hunters also reported spotting what could be remains of bodies.

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Two Rivers area shipwrecks explored

The University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute’s R/V Dawn Treader is mostly full of scuba-diving equipment with two maritime archeologists and three volunteer divers from Madison squished in between. They came to Manitowoc County to survey the S.C. Baldwin shipwreck, a requirement to add the vessel to the state, and eventually national, Register of Historic Places.

“(Shipwrecks) are literal time capsules, a snapshot of what was going on at that specific moment in time,” volunteer diver Matt Schultz said.

Lake Michigan shipwreck

Lake Michigan shipwreck

Built in 1871, the Baldwin is believed to be the first double-decker steamer on the Great Lakes and carried iron ore from Escanaba, Michigan, to Milwaukee. It was later converted into a barge hauling coal, lumber and eventually stone.

The 160-foot-long vessel unknowingly left on its final voyage in 1908. Carrying 693 tons of stone, the barge was hit by strong winds and waves, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society. Nearing Kewaunee about midnight, the Baldwin sprung a leak and “turned turtle” at about 2:30 a.m. near Rawley Point lighthouse.

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Shipwreck artifacts found in Lake Erie

Nautical history buffs will have a rare opportunity to examine artifacts from a ship that frequented the St. Clair River during the 1850s.

Sombra Museum has unveiled a display documenting the life of the barque New Brunswick, a 129-foot sailing vessel built in St. Catharines that holds an important distinction in Canadian shipbuilding history.

“While it was very typical of the tall ships that you’d see on the St. Clair in the 1850s, it was unique in that it was the first North American-made sailing vessel to take a load of wheat across to England and back,” said the museum’s Allan Anderson.

“Normally, wheat would ship to Quebec and then it would be the bigger European and English ships that would make the journey across the ocean.”

Originally constructed in the 1840s, the New Brunswick was owned by the Merritts of St. Catharines, relatives of William Hamilton Merritt, the man responsible for building the original Welland Canal.

The ship made its maiden voyage in May 1847, leaving Chicago hauling 18,000 bushels of wheat. The vessel sailed down the St. Clair River and cleared the Welland Canal before making the journey to Liverpool, England.

For over 10 years the New Brunswick sailed the St. Clair, making the jaunt across the Atlantic, reflective of the new breed of ships that existed in the Great Lakes at the time. But in the summer of 1858, the ship met an early end.

In August, a powerful storm hit Lake Erie while the New Brunswick was transporting square oak timbers to Tonawanda, NY. Gale winds ripped the ship apart, killing all five of its crew members. The ship sank in 40 feet of water, not far from Wheatley.

For years after its early demise, rumours abounded about the ship’s cargo, said Anderson. Many believed the ship’s cargo contained a sizeable quantity of black walnut hardwood, at the time an incredibly valuable commodity.

“Everybody thought that they’d get rich,” Anderson said. “But nobody knew how to salvage the ship and claim it.”

It wasn’t until 120 years after the New Brunswick sank to the bottom of Lake Erie that a man named Mike Dilts was able to use fairly sophisticated technology to pinpoint the wreckage and salvage material from the ship.

Unfortunately for Dilts, the stories of black walnut weren’t true. After salvaging the oak timbers and over 200 artifacts from the ship, he couldn’t find any of the valuable hardwood in the wreckage. Dilts gave some of the artifacts he found from the New Brunswick – such as shoes, pulleys and chains – to a friend in Sarnia, Marty Cole, who recently provided the materials to the museum.

Now members of the public can take a glimpse at some of the finds from the New Brunswick, a ship that holds a prominent place in the evolution of North American shipping.

“It’s just a great find,” said Anderson. “It’s really reflective of shipping in the Great Lakes in that period, it pertains to shipwrecks, improvements in shipbuilding and the history of the St. Clair River.”New Brunswick

National Museum of the Great Lakes

Visitors to the $12.1 million National Museum of the Great Lakes will find a family friendly atmosphere. There have been 8,000 shipwrecks on the Great Lakes.

The shipwrecks are compelling tales. They amount to one shipwreck every 11 days for the last 250 years.

There are more shipwrecks per surface square mile on the Great Lakes than anywhere else in the world.

The greatest number occurred in Lake Michigan and Lake Erie.

For example, the 335-foot steel Marquette sailed from Conneaut, Ohio, on Dec. 8, 1909, to cross Lake Erie to Port Stanley, Ontario.

It carried 30 railroad cars. It disappeared. It has never been found and no one knows why it sank, although some wreckage was located.

You can look through goggles to view footage that divers took of the wreckage of the Cedarville that sank in the Straits of Mackinac in 1965, after it collided with another ship.

The museum is filled with more than 250 historical artifacts from Great Lakes vessels and other sources, plus hundreds of photographs.

The exhibits cover 9,000 square feet of space in five galleries. It also features documentary videos and interactive displays.

The museum is an interesting, fresh, bright, colorful and kid-friendly place designed to attract and entertain families with compelling stories.

It is a great day-trip destination: You can easily tour the museum and the old ore boat in two to three hours.

There are exhibits on Great Lakes lighthouses (there are 326 of them), luxurious passenger ships that once sailed the lakes, the Underground Railroad, rum runners on the lakes, the 1913 White Hurricane that sank 12 boats and killed 240, and maritime technology and equipment.

You can hoist a heavy backpack like early European fur traders, learn how to pump a ship’s bilge to keep water out of leaky vessels and work together to fire the engine of a simulated coal-powered freighter.

Only 10 percent of the museum’s historical items are actually on display, officials said.

A 22-ton ship’s propeller from the lake freighter John Sherwin sits outside the museum in a small riverbank park.

But the Col. James M. Schoonmaker is easily the museum’s biggest attraction and its biggest artifact.

The retired freighter is moored on the east bank of the Maumee River next to the museum.

It was launched in 1911 and was hailed as the “Queen of the Lakes” as well as the largest bulk freighter on the Great Lakes and in the world at the time.

It carried iron ore from Lake Superior to the steel mills of Ohio and Pennsylvania, plus coal and rye.

It was mothballed about 1981. In 1986, the freighter was sold to the city of Toledo and restored at a cost of $1 million.

The Schoonmaker is open for self-guided tours: from the engine room to the cargo holds, from the owner’s cabin to the pilot house, from the crew’s cabins to the galley and dining rooms.

The museum, once based in Vermilion, is housed in the Toledo Maritime Center on the east bank of the Maumee River in Toledo Ohio.