Category: Boat Dive Beginners

Wolfe Islander II

So not the first artificial reef in Ontario, but joining the likes of the Neilson and Papa’s Paycheque the Wolfe was certainly the largest project taken on by the now-defunct Comet Foundation.

Ship Type: Converted Car Ferry
Lifespan: Built 1947, Scuttled 1985
Length: 200ft
Depths: 80ft
Location: Wolfe Island, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
GPS N44.13.5580 W76.24.9860

Originally the Ottawa Maybrook, built in 1946 as a gift for China, but due to changing political views, she was converted into a 16-car ferry and renamed the Wolfe Islander II. She was sunk intentionally on September 21, 1985, as an artificial reef in 80 ft (24.6m) of water

Dropping down the line and reaching the bow davit, it is only another dozen feet to the open door of the wheelhouse. Just abaft the wheelhouse is a set of steel stairs that lead to benches lining the curved bulkhead and large square windows provide exit points with large doorways also convenient. The depth is 60 feet (18.5m) and the air pocket above divers’ heads is exhaust from previous diver visits and is not for breathing

Exiting the salon on the port side, divers follow the stairs to the main deck where vehicles were parked and recently a motorcycle was placed to demonstrate past cargo

A nearby doorway leads into the depths of the engine room and only the diver with experience, skills, and training should proceed here. Through catwalks and piping, one may proceed to the engine mounts at 75 feet (23m) depth and you encounter the “elevator” shaft leading to the top deck. Near the port rail, you will find the portholes (of which several were liberated by some divers that need them more than others) with logos and names of support organizations. Just around the corner is the ship’s name and registry port.

Some Videos

Slideshow of the sinking

A Fall Dive to the Wolfe Islander II


On September 4, 1876, CITY OF PORT HURON, a wooden steam barge, sank a few miles off shore near Lexington, Michigan, at about noon. She was heavily loaded with iron ore and sprang a leak at about 11 o’clock. Most of the crew managed to get on top of the cabin while two were in the forward rigging as she went down in 6 fathoms of water. The heavy seas washed over those on the cabin. Captain George Davis and two others floated ashore on wreckage while a fish boat picked up the five others. No lives were lost.

  • Vessel Name: CITY OF PORT HURON
  • Nationality: U.S.
  • Official Number: 5392
  • Rig: Propeller

Dimensions and Tonnage

  • Length: 169.00
  • Width: 30.42
  • Depth: 10.16
  • Masts: 0
  • Gross Tonnage: 411.02
  • Net Tonnage: 0.00
  • Hull Material: Wood
  • Hull Number:

Vessel History

  • Rebuilds:
  • History: First enrollment issued at Port Huron, MI, on July 8, 1876.
  • Disposition: Sprung leak, broached, and sank about four miles off Lexington, MI, Lake Huron, on September 4, 1876, when downbound with iron ore; no lives lost. Final enrollment surrendered at Buffalo, NY, on 9/9/1876. In summer, 2001, divers located wreck in 35 ft. of water, about 15 mi. north of Sarnia, Ont.

Build Information

  • Builder: Arnold, Joseph P.
  • Place Built: Port Huron, MI
  • Year Built: 1867

An associated Press dispatch from Detroit last night announced that the stmb. CITY OF PORT HURON, bound from Marquette to Buffalo with a cargo of iron ore, sunk yesterday morning, in Lake Huron, in 50 ft. of water. No lives were lost.
The vessel was owned in this city by Capt. M.M. Drake and others, and was valued at $15,000.
Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
September 3, 1876 3-1

A special dispatch to the Free Press from Port Huron, September 4, Says: The steambarge CITY OF PORT HURON foundered in Lake Huron at noon today. She was bound from Lake Superior to Erie with a cargo of iron ore. She had the barge DICTATOR in tow. The DICTATOR was cast adrift about an hour before the CITY OF PORT HURON foundered. The barge was heavily laden down by the head, having burned her fuel out aft. She was seen to broach to and sink. The crew took to the rigging and the top of the cabin. She sunk in about 6 fathoms of water nearly a mile from shore, near Lakeport. her cabin floated off with 8 persons on it, who were rescued by fishermen from shore. Two remaining were taken off by the tug Wm. A. MOORE. The DICTATOR arrivd here safe.
Detroit Free press
September 5, 1876

The steam barge CITY OF PORT HURON foundered yesterday abreast of Birchville about a mile from shore there she broached to and immediately sunk. She was heavily loaded with iron ore and had burned her fuel out aft and was so far down by the head that the syphon pump could not keep her free from water, The crew managed to get on top of the cabin which was out of the water and 2 persons were in the rigging forward. The heavy see which was running, washed the cabin off, and the unfortunate sailors were soon adrift and at the mercy of the waves, Captain George Davis, who was in command of the ill-fated craft, together with his son and 6 others, were picked up from the pieces of the floating wreck and brought safely to shore by a boat launched by people on shore. A tug picked up one other survivor and a scow two others. The CITY OF PORT HURON was owned by M.M. Drake and others of Buffalo and was considered a safe boat if not too deeply loaded. That she was in this condition was very evident. The fortunate circumstance of her going down near shore and while the water in the lake is warn had probably a great deal to do with the saving of the lives of the crew.
Port Huron Daily Times
Tuesday, September 5, 1876

Steam Barge CITY OF PORT HURON, sunk in Lake Huron in six fathoms of water, one mile from shore near Lakeport.
Detroit Free Press
September 5, 1876

Captain George Davis, commander of the sunken propeller, CITY OF PORT HURON, desires us to state that it was about 11 in the forenoon, when the steamer sprung a leak; that the pumps worked all right and kept her clear until 12 o’clock, after which the water gained on them at the rate of a foot an hour until she went down. He says the boat was not overloaded, drawing 11′ 1 inch forward. She is of peculiar build and so shallow in the hold as not to show much side out when loaded. She was 3 or 4 miles out when she went down, and Captain Davis and 2 others floated ashore on wreckage while a fish boat picked up five or the crew.
Port Huron Daily Times
Wednesday, September 6, 1876

A dispatch in yesterday’s paper announced the sinking of the stmb. CITY OF PORT HURON on Lake Huron Monday afternoon, 3 miles north of Lakeport, in 50 ft. of water, and also conveyed the welcome intelligence that the crew were all saved. The boat was bound down with a cargo of iron ore, and had the barge DICTATOR in tow. The latter was cast adrift about an hour before the propeller went down. Capt. Davis reported that the steam barge consumed all her coal aft, and thus became low down by the head, which caused her machinery to work badly. While in this situation she shipped heavy seas, and was put about toward shore, but before reaching it was overcome by the seas and sunk, nearly a mile from land. The captain, his sone and 8 men took refuge in the cabin which brole loose from the hull, and were picked up by a fish boat which went to their assistance from Lakeport. The remaining 2 of the crew were up in the rigging, and were rescued by the tug WM. A. MOORE. The owners of the vessel are Messrs. Drake, Bartow, Robinson & Drake, of this city, who place her value at about $20,000. She is insured for $18,000 in companies represented by Messrs. Smith, Davis & Clark, and Messrs. Fish & Armstrong – $5,000 with the former and $13,000 with the latter. The cargo is said to be fully insured.
Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
September 6, 1876 3-5

Capt. Jack McKenna, Marine Inspector, has been sent to examine into the condition of the stmb. CITY OF PORT HURON, with the view of raising her. Our latest advices from the scene of the disaster are to the effect that a large quantity of broken portions of her upper works and her furniture are floating about, which tends to show that she is so badly broken or injured as to be worthless, and that no effort will be made to raise her except it be to save her engine and boilers. The tops of her spars were yesterday visible above the surface of the lake, and a part of her sails, which were set were also apparent.
Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
September 7, 1876 3-6

Capt. John McKenna has returned from the wreck of the prop. CITY OF PORT HURON, and confirms the report which was published by us on Thursday. He says she is rapidly going to pieces, and that it will be a waste of time to attempt to raise her. The hull is evidently broken to pieces and doubled up.
Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
September 9, 1876 3-6

The wrecker MONITOR has returned to Detroit with the boiler and 100 tons of iron ore recovered from the wreck of the steam barge CITY OF PORT HURON, some time since sunk in Lake Huron, and with chains and fixtures belonging to the wreck of the schooner C. L. WALKER. Further work is to be done towards the recovery of property from both wrecks.
Cleveland Herald
August 4, 1877

The MONITOR, propeller barge, which has been engaged in taking the cargo from the steam barge CITY OF PORT HURON, which was sunk in the lake a few miles below here, and the schooner C. L. WALKER near Lakeport, has returned to Port Huron, having been most successful in her expedition. The CITY OF PORT HURON was found about four miles below Lexington lying in thirty-four feet of water, a total wreck, being broken in two. From her were taken the large boiler and about 200 tons of iron ore. From the WALKER, which was found off Lakeport, in forty feet of water, two anchors, a lot of chain, and about 10 tons of ore were taken. Later in the season she is to return after the engines of the CITY OF PORT HURON, and the remainder of the cargoes.
Cleveland Herald
August 22, 1977

The U. S. Marshall Matthews sold the boiler and macinery of the old steamer PORT HURON at Detroit yesterday morning at auction. Darius Cole was the purchaser, his bid being $1,000.
Port Huron Daily Times
Thursday, December 13, 1877

The date was Sept. 4, 1876, and the steam barge CITY OF PORT HURON was losing a battle against a gale at the southern end of Lake Huron. The ore laden boat, with the tow barge DICTATOR in tow, was trying to make her way into the St. Clair River and the port whose name it bore, when she began to founder.
After hours of battling the storm, the steamer had burned more fuel than usual. In fact, the ship’s aft coal hunkers were empty. Because the steamer was weighted down with iron ore in her bow, she became unbalanced and began taking on water with every sea that rolled over her how. The ship was soon dropping lower and lower by the head.
The steamer was unmanageable. Down by the head and with her stern riding high, she was not in any condition to fight the storm. The rudder was too high to work properly. the propeller was not deep enough in the water to work effectively and the ship’s siphon pump wasn’t working. The CITY OF PORT HURON was sinking.
Capt. George Davis did all he could to save the boat. He cut the DICTATOR adrift and then headed the steamer toward Lakeport, which was the nearest Michigan port. Davis acted too late. About a mile off shore, the PORT HURON suddenly broached to, took a large wave over her deck, and sank in 40 feet of water.
The crew scrambled to the roof of the cabin and into the rigging on the fore mast, which were the only parts of the boat still rising out of the water. Alas, the seas swept away the cabin and the sailors who chose to sit on its roof found themselves adrift on the wreckage. Residents of Lakeport saw the steamer founder and mounted a rescue. They loaded a fishing boat on a wagon and hauled it about three miles out of town, close to where the hapless sailors, still struggled in the storm. The boat soon had them picked up and delivered safely to dry land.
A telegraph message to Port Huron brought the tug WILLIAM A. MOORE out to assist in the rescue. That evening the Moore took the rest of the crew off the wreck.
‘The City of Port Huron was never salvaged, Capt. Davis said he thought the 169-foot-long ship broke in half when it sank. The boat was built only seven years earlier at Port Huron.
Port Huron Daily Tribune
Article by James Donahue

Steam screw CITY OF PORT HURON. U. S. No. 5392. Of 411.02 tons. Home port, Port Huron, Mich.
Merchant Vessel List, U. S., 1871.


On August 21, 1861, BANSHEE (wooden propeller freighter, 119 foot, 166 tons, built in 1852, at Portsmouth, Ontario, named HERO in 1860-61) was carrying wheat, flour and butter to Montreal when her engine failed (broken shaft) and she was helpless in a storm on Lake Ontario. She foundered near Timber Island on Lake Ontario. One passenger died, but the crew of 10 made it to Timber Island. She was owned by Howard & Rowe of Quebec.

BANSHEE Propeller, cargo flour and etc.,sank near South Bay Point

N43 56 29 W76 50 43

, Lake Ontario. Total loss, one man drowned.

Buffalo Commercial Advertiser

Jan. 22, 1862 Casualty List, 1861

. . . . .

Loss of Propeller BANSHEE.

The Propeller BANSHEE with a cargo of grain went down at Timber Island, in South Bay, in the gale of Wednesday night. She was owned by Mr. Rose of St. Thomas, and had on board 6000 bushels wheat, 250 bbls. flour and 300 kegs butter. The machinery breaking, the vessel became unmanageable and got into the

trough of the sea, when she went down; but only one life was lost, a passenger named John Nagle, a printer. The others were saved, ten getting safely to shore in the small boat, and seven by holding onto floating timber.

The purser, Mr Scott, saved the books and cash under his care. The Propeller is a complete wreck, all her upper works having been washed off before she was abandoned by the crew. The vessel lies in 18 feet water, in a good position to be raised.

Several telegrams reached Kingston yesterday afternoon from parties, who, on hearing of the wreck, had mistaken the propeller for the steamer of that name, and who, having friends on board, were solicitous for their safety. The steamer BANSHEE, we are glad to state, went down the river at her usual hour yesterday morning, having bravely withstood and passed through the worst of the storm between Cobourg and Kingston.

Weekly British Whig (Kingston)

Friday, August 30,1861

. . . . .



The steamer RANGER, passed the propeller BANSHEE sunk in 18 feet of water between the Duck’s and Timber Island, one person was drowned, a passenger belonging in Montreal. The crew are all safe on the Island, these are all the particulars yet known.

It was too rough for the RANGER to get the crew off the Island, this is reported by the purser of the Ranger.

The BANSHEE plied as a freight boat between Montreal and Port Stanley, she left the latter port in the bedinning of the present week, with a general cargo, and passed through the Welland Canal on her way down a couple of days ago.

The vessel was owned by Captain Howard of the steamer MAGNET & Mr. Chas. Rose, of St. Thomas and is said to be insured.

Toronto Globe

Friday, August 23, 1861


. . . . .



Residents on the shore of Babylon to the cliffs of Cape Versey, Marysburg Township, probably fared better than usual during the winter 1861-62, because they were able to salvage from waters surrounding the Sweatman Island, some of the cargo of the Propeller BANSHEE, which went to the bottom of Lake Ontario in the vicinity of Timber IsLnd one mile off the Point Traverse mainland.

A bad storm was sweeping across the lake that day, Wednssday, August 21st, 1301, when the ship’s machinery broke down. Floundering about helplessly in the troughs of the heavy seas, the ship soon broke up and sank, being a complete wreck.

Ten persons were saved when they hurriedly clambered into a small boat and seven persons floated in on a piece of wreckage, Mr. John Nagle, a printer was drowned.

The cargo of the banshee comprised of some 3,000 busheIs of wheat, 250 barrels of flour and 300 kegs of butter, She was owned. by a Mr. Robe of St. Thomas, Ontario.

On Sunday, October 15th, 1967, Mr. Dennis Kent and members of the Quinte Aqua Divers, Belleville, found the wreck of the propeller BANSHEE, which was lost one mile off Pt, Traverse,

The remains of the wooden ship is in some 24 feet of water on the Timber Island Bar.

Over the winter months the location was lost; but on July 30th after nearly two months of searching by.Quinte Aqua Divers, It was re-found and pinpointed. The BANSHEE is currently being explored by the Quinte Aqua Divers,

A page from the Q. A. D.’s Newsletter, 1969



The package freighter ARIZONA was launched on August 19, 1868, at Cleveland, Ohio by Quayle & Martin for E.T. & J.C. Evans of Buffalo, New York.

Located at N44 06 55 W76 24 40 Arizona is located southwest of the ferry landing on the south shore of Wolfe Island near the red buoy. Built in 1868 Arizona caught fire December 4, 1922 and without adequate water hose protection was towed 1.5 miles upstream where her sea cocks were opened and she sank into 25 ft. of water. She was a wooden propeller barge with a 765 ton displacement with a length of 186 ft. and a beam of 33 ft.

At Milwaukee the steamer ARIZONA and consort PLYMOUTH will both receive repairs about equal to a rebuild. The ARIZONA will be double decked. The steamer RUBE RICHARDS and consort MAY RICHARDS, also wintering on Lake Michigan will receive repairs costing about $6,000.

The Marine Review

December 24, 1891

Steam screw ARIZONA. U. S. No. 1768. Of 765 tons gross. Built 1868. On Dec. 1, 1922 with 12 people on board vessel burned at Cape Vincent, Lake Ontario and became a total loss. No lives were lost.

Loss of American Vessel Reported during 1923

Merchant Vessel List, U. S., 1923

Steam screw ARIZONA. U. S. No. 1768. Of 765 tons gross; 601 tons net. Built Cleveland, Ohio, 1868. Home port, Oswego, N.Y. Freight service. Crew of 12.

Merchant Vessel List, U. S., 1920

Detroit, May 8 – The propeller BLANCHARD from Buffalo for Chicago and the propeller ARAZONA from Sault Ste. Marie for Buffalo, collided today at noon at the head of the St. Clair Flats, the latter sinking in four fathoms, she was laden with flour and wheat.

The Toronto Mail

Friday, May 9, 1873


On 29 June 1902, GEORGE DUNBAR (wooden propeller freighter, 134 foot, 238 gross tons, built in 1867, at Allegan, Michigan) was loaded with coal when she was damaged by a sudden squall on Lake Erie near Kelley’s Island and sank. Seven of the crew elected to stay aboard while the skipper, his wife and daughter made for shore in the lifeboat. Those three were saved but the seven perished on a makeshift raft


Location: 8 miles NE of Kelleys Island
Coordinates: LORAN:  43729.6  57076.4
GPS: 41 40.631     82 33.893
Lies: bow southeast                                      Depth: 45 feet
Type: propeller                                            Cargo: Coal
Official #: 10890
Power: steam engine
Owner(s) Saginaw Bay Transportation Company
Built: 1867 in Allegan, Michigan by A.  McMillan
Dimensions: 133.5’  x  25.3’  x  9.1’          Tonnage: 238 gross  190 net
Date of Loss: Sunday, June 29, 1902
Cause of Loss: sprung a leak in storm

The Dunbar lies in the mud at a depth of 45 feet.  The most remarkable features of the wreck are her windlass and donkey boiler.  Her stack lies approximately forty feet off her stern on the port side.  The name board of the Dunbarwashed up on Kelleys Island and is now on display at the Great Lakes Historical Society Museum, Vermilion, Ohio.  The Historical Society also displays side scan images of this site in their Lake Erie Shipwreck Research Center.

Steamer GEORGE DUNBAR Founders Off Kelley’s Island
Captain John Little, His Wife and Daughter Are the Only Ones Rescued.
Terrible Struggle of the Rescued to Reach The Shore.
Myron Tuttle, Cleveland
Engineer, Johnson, Buffalo
Wheelaman, Eck, Sheboygan
Fireman, Charles Washie
Three unknown sailors
In all probibility, the above named persons, seven in all, were drowned about 6 o’clock Sunday morning when the steamer, GEORGE DUNBAR foundered about ten miles off the northeast shore of Kelleys Island. It was reported that they had succeeded in reaching Put-In-Bay on a life raft, but reports early Monday morning had indicated they had not been heard from.
The captain, John Little, and his wife and daughter, succeeded in reaching Kelleys Island in a yawl after a terrible battle with the waves. When some distance off the shore their little craft capsized. They had on life preservers and managed to keep afloat. They were almost exhausted, but at a late hour last night were reported out of danger.
Dilligent search Sunday afternoon by a number of vessels failed to reveal the slightest trace of the seven missing men, and there is little doubt but what they all met watery graves. The steamer DESMOND and the launches, QUEEN and BEATRICE, the latter owned by John A. Heinmelein, were out and made a search for the sailors, but nothing to indicate that they reached the shore in safety was found.
The DUNBAR was of that class of vessels known as propellors. She was owned by her Captain, John Little, and hails from Port Huron, Michigan, Captain Little’s home. She left Cleveland about 6 o’clock Saturday night with a load of coal and was bound for Alpena, Michigan. She encountered terrible seas all the way, and soon began to leak. When off Kelleys Island, she was settling, and about 6 o’clock in the morning was at the mercy of the waves. She was sinking fast and the captain and the crew held a consultation. It was decided by the brave sailors that the first chance for life would be given to Captain Little, his wife and daughter. The men got down the only yawl from the davits, and soon had her ready for launching. Awaiting the opportune moment, the little boat with the three abord, started out on her perilous journey for the shore. The seas were terrible, every one threatening to engulf the little craft. Time and time again it seemed the little craft would not live another moment, but she was a well built boat and rode the seas well until a point near the beach was reached. Then an unusually large, roller was enouuntered and the captain, his wife and daughter were thrown out and the little boat turned completely over. They all had on life preservers and by these managed to keep afloat and stayed together. They were seen by the residents on the island and rescued.
Meantime the poor sailors were huddled on the lee side of the vessel watching the perilous course of the captain’s boat. When she capsized they decided to risk their chances and make for the shore. It was sure death to remain on the Dunbar, and there was only a ghost of a show to fight their way on life rafts to land. They put out, one after another and were soon lost from one another’s view. The last seen of any one of them was the apparent lifeless body still clinging in a death grip to a board. There was absolutely no chance for the men and they were almost with out a doubt now at the bottom of the lake.
This is the third disaster thus far this year. The schooners GRACE GRIBBLE and BARKALOW foundered in April and three lives were lost in each case.
The part of the lake in the vicinity of the islands is particularly dangerous to navigators. The life saving station at Marblehead is stationed at a particularly dangerous place and time
and time again, as is shown by the reports of the life saving department, vessels have been warned to keep off the shore.
In this instance, however, the life savers at Marblehead knew nothing of the sinking of the DUNBAR until about 3 o’clock Sunday afternoon — too late to aid in rescuing the crew.
Communication with Put-In-Bay was very difficult, but so far as is known, nothing has been heard of the seven sailors.
Sandusky Register
Monday, June 30, 1902

(Follow-up story, The Rescue of the Little Family) in the July 1, 1902 issue of the Register) (Story of the finding of 2 bodies in the July 2, 1902 issue of the Register)

. . . . .

Sandusky, June 29. — Six of the crew of the steamer GEORGE DUNBAR are thought to have been drowned in the foundering of the vessel early this morning in a terrible gale. The steamer was en route from Cleveland to Alpena with coal when she sprung a leak and sank at 4 a.m.
She was built in 1867, measured 135 x 25 and was owned by Capt. Little. She formerly ran in the lumber trade between Green Bay and Chicago. The vessel went down in deep water and there will probably be no attempt to raise her.
Chicago Inter Ocean
June 30, 1903

Has Been Located By Assistant Engineer, William T. Blunt.
It Is A Question Whether the Vessel Is In U. S. Or Canadian Waters
The wreck of the steamer George Dunbar which sank on the morning of June 29, has been located by United States Assistant Engineer, William T. Blunt, on the steamer VISITOR by direction of Major Dan. C. Kingnian, corps of engineers, U. S. A. The location by the owners was so far from correct that a search in that vicinity failed to discover the vessel. The first reliable information which reached the authorities came from Captain 5. 0. Iobinson of the C & T steamer, STATE OF NEW YORK and the description given by him was found to be closely correct.
The vessel lies on an even keel, heading ESE in 44 feet of water. E by ½ S, 5½ miles from Middle Island lighthouse, and exactly east from the Middle Island passage. It is almost exactly on the range of Nun bouy on the north east corner of Kelleys Island Reef and the extreme north east point of Kelleys Island. It is N ¼ W from Huron lighthouse and N E by N ¾ N from the red gas buoy at the entrance to Sandusky Harbor, direcly on the course to North East Shoal lightship. It is but 2 miles northerly from the sailing course between Cleveland and Middle Island passage. It is, therefore a menace to navigation in thick weather to vessels passing between Sandusky and South East Shoal Light-ship or between Cleveland and Middle Island passage.
It may be plotted on the chart 4,300 feet north of parallel 41 degrees, 40 minutes, and 4,000 feet east of meridian 82 degrees, 35 minutes.
On July 18, the foremast was still standing with an association flag attached and the wreckage of the pilot house was floating, still attached to the wreck.
A floating buoy carrying a large red flag was placed about 300 feet south of the wreck, should the spar be carried away. The location of the vessel is so close to the international boundry that it is not certain whether it is in the United States or Canadian waters.
Sandusky Register
Monday, July 21, 1902

The wreck of the steamer GEORGE DUNBAR which constituted an obstruction at the northeast end of Kelley’s island, Lake Erie, has been blown up.
Port Huron Daily Times
Monday, October 20, 1902

Steam screw GEORGE DUNBAR. U. S. No. 6496. Of 220.99 toms gross; 138.58 tons net. Built Allegan, Mich., 1866. Home port, Chicago, Ill. 133.5 x 25.2 x 9.1.
Merchant Vessel List, U. S., 1885

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Categories: Boat Dive Beginners Lake Eire



Name of Wreck:      O.W. Cheney Organizing Group:  Niagara Divers’ Association Official Number:     155034 Nation of Registry:  US CYear Built:      1881  Built At:          Cleveland, Ohio Built By:         Great Lakes Towing Company Vessel Type:    Wooden tug Length:        66′ Beam:          16′ Draft:           9.8′ Gross Tonnage:  463.4NM/94.7T Point Albino Lighthouse, 5.5NM/245.4T Buffalo.    G.P.S 42-50.251/79-00.477

Propeller CHEMUNG Crashes Into Tug CHENEY in the Lake During a heavy Sea and Sinks her.
– – – – –
An awful accident occurred on Lake Erie when the big freighter CHEMUNG of the Erie Line crashed into the tug O. W. CHENEY at a point somewhere between Buffalo and Point Abino about 2:45 o’clock this morning. Three of the crew of the tug, including Capt. John F. Whelan, were drowned and two escaped on the life raft. They were picked up a few minutes later by the tug FRANK S. BUTLER and brought into port, when the story of the accident was told. The CHENEY was sunk.
Just how the accident occurred is not definitely known. Capt. Whelan was the oldest tugman in Buffalo and had 30 years experience. It is not reasonable therefore, to suppose the collision was due to his carelessness of inefficiency. Capt. F. B. Huyck of the CHEMUNG says his steamer was traveling perhaps 11 or 12 miles an hour and that it appeared to him as though whoever was steering the CHENEY had misjudged the distance and cut directly in front of the freighter while intending to go to one side.
The crew of the CHENEY consisted of Capt. Whelan; Engineer James T. Byers of 708 West Avenue; fireman Dugan. Andrew Fritzenschaf, the steward, and. John McManus, as recorded on the books of the Great Lakes Towing Company which owned the CHENEY. McManus got ashore with engineer Byers.
It is the custom of tug captains to take their boats out just beyond the breakwater at night and await signals from steamers coming into port. There was a rather heavy sea rolling last night, and it was raining lightly. There was no fog to speak of. The CHENEY and the BUTLER were near each other, cruising around when the lights of the CHEMUNG were sighted. Both tugs started for her. It was rough going. The seas tossed the little tug boats about like playthings. Eventually the CHENEY reached the CHEMUNG on her port side. The tug was hardly distinguishable from any distance for the darkness was intensified by the heavy rain clouds which hung over the lake.
The CHENEY started to turn toward the freighter. She was tossed about in the trough of the sea but held her own and the men in the wheelhouse of the CHEMUNG thought all was well until the crash came. A wild shout rang out from the CHENEY just as the boats collided. The crew of the CHEMUNG got forward with all possible speed but the CHENEY was sinking swiftly. Two of the CHEMUNG’s crew who were well forward say the tug sank in a few minutes.
Tug Struck Amidships.
It is believed the CHENEY was struck just about amidships. Capt. Whelan is said to have been in the wheelhouse. Dugan and Fritzenschaf were asleep below. They probably had no chance to get out of their bunks. It is believed their bodies will be recovered if the wreck is located. There is some doubt expressed about the recovery of Capt. Whelan’s body. He was an expert swimmer and a man who would fight to the last. The belief was expressed on the docks this morning that Capt. Whelan had been struck by the wheel of the tug, perhaps, or otherwise injured with the crash.
“If he had half a chance,” said a tug captain this morning. “he’d kept up until help, came. If they ever find his body they’ll find, to, I think that, he was hurt.”
Rescued Men on Raft.
Engineer Byers and the fireman who was on duty managed to get hold of one of the life rafts on the tug. They were buffeted around by the waves but the tug BUTLER was not far away when the accident happened. The captain made straight for the spot and was just in time to save the two men on the raft.
It was hoped that Capt. Whelan, Dugan or Fritzenschaf had been fortunate enough to get hold of something to float them, so the BUTLER cruised around in the immediate vicinity, the crew shouting out to learn whether there were any more alive who might be rescued. No answers came to their calls, and they gave up the search and ran into Buffalo, where the rescued men were cared for.
Capt. Whelan was not only the oldest tugman in Buffalo river, but was well known all over the Great. Lakes and for many years was captain of the big steel tug DUMBAR. He was the father of eight grown-up children and leaves a wife, who collapsed when she heard the news. Patrolman Arthur J. Whelan is one of the sons. He was at the foot of Main street this morning arranging to make a search for his father’s body.
“We will spare no effort to find it,” said he. “I think if we can locate the wreck it will be comparatively easy to find the body.”
Capt. Whelan was highly thought of by his employers and was esteemed by all his associates. He had a reputation for being fearless, but always careful and prudent.
0. W. Johnson, superintendent of the Buffalo fleet of the Great Lakes Towing Company, said this morning the accident was the first of a serious nature that the company had since entering the Buffalo field.
“It is regrettable,” he said, “that lives were lost. Capt. Whelan was, a competent, trustworthy commander, and probably no man in this part of the country was more skillful in handling a tug.”
Dugan, the fireman who was drowned, was a somewhat remarkable young man. For two years he was employed in the office of the Great Lakes Towing Company as a bookkeeper. Recently he determined upon making more money and acquiring better health by firing on a tug. He joined the Tugmen’s Union and started in. He lived at 25 Herkimer street and was well thought of. He was one of the most popular young men around the docks, and was always pointed out as the one who preferred to fire on a tug than keep books.
Dugan was ambitious and had only recently passed a civil service examination for a position in the postoffice.
He intended leaving the tug business in the near future. He was not married
Fritzenschaf’s Wife at Dock.
Fritzenschaf, who was cook and steward on the boat, was married. His wife was at the docks near the foot of Main street this morning waiting anxiously for some more definite information than, had reached her up to that time. She knew her husband was dead but she wanted details. A story arose that Fritzenschaf had considerable money with him. He was to have paid several grocery bills with it, so the story goes. Mrs. Fritzenachaf said she understood he had the money when he left port and (hat the bills were unpaid. Just how much he had is not known. Fritzenschaf was 55 years old and had lived in Buffalo all his life. He had been on the lakes several years. His son, Charles, was drowned while in swimming at Ashtabula two years ago. He is survived by his wife and two daughters, Mrs. P. J. Kearney and Mrs. William Beyer.
Engineer Byers made a statement this morning in which he says he heard Capt. Whelan groaning after he got in the water. This bears out the supposition that he was injured before going overboard. Byers was in the engine room, attending to his duties when he heard the signal bell begin to jingle rapidly.
Engineer Byers Story.
“The crash came just after that,” said he. “We were tossing around pretty rough. I got out someway to the raft. I yelled to the captain or to anyone who was near. There wasn’t time to do much. I heard Capt. Whelan groaning after he got in the water and I tried to get to him with the raft but it was no use. We were thrown around and out of reach in a second.”
When asked for a version of how the accident occurred, Byers said he was not in a position to say what went on outside. “I was in the engine room awaiting signals,” he explained. “I couldn’t tell what was going on any place else. I know we were tossing around a good deal.”
There are many ways in which the accident might have occurred. In the first place the CHENEY and the BUTLER were racing to the CHEMUNG for the tow. It was a case of all steam ahead. The BUTLER came about first in order to get close to the freighter and the CHENEY followed. It may be a significant fact that the CHENEY was fitted with a hand steering gear.. There is a possibility that the wheel got away from Capt. Whelan. Such things have occurred. If a big wave struck the rudder under certain conditions and the captain was, for instance, looking out the door of the pilot house, to see how close he was to the freighter, the chances are, the wheel would be wrenched from him and the tug might go in the direction just opposite to that he desired. There are other ways in which the steering gear might have become unmanageable at a critical time. A cable might have broken, for instance.
If the tug is raised it will be apparent just what happened, if there was anything out of the ordinary.
It is said the accident may have a tendency to stop the racing of tugs by the rival towing companies. The CHENEY was the property of the Great Lakes Company. The BUTLER belongs to the Independent Company. Tugs of each company lie in wait outside the break water for signs of a possible tow and then they race for it. The practice is condemned by marine men in general and it is said the accident of this morning may mean the abandoning of it.
The Mate’s Story.
The CHEMUNG is unloading freight at the Lackawanna’s docks near the foot of Main Street. There are practically no signs of the collision about her except a slight marring of the timbers in her bow. The mate of the CHEMUNG said this morning: “We were well past Point Abino when we say the lights of two tugs coming toward us. The first time we saw the CHENEY she was off our port side. She was coming about and we thought everything was all right until she seemed to dive right in front of us. Well, there was the crash.
“Before we could do anything she was sinking fast. I heard someone yell. There was a heavy sea rolling, but it wasn’t raining hard.”
Supt. Johnson, of the Great Lakes Towing Company said he couldn’t estimate the exact value of the CHENEY, but he thought it was worth between $8000 and $9000. It may be raised. Nothing has been decided yet and nothing can be done until the sea goes down.
Divers to go After Bodies.
Oil on the surface of the lake about two miles this side of Point Abino showed to a party of investigators on the tug CASCADE this morning where the propeller had crashed into the tug. It was impossible because of the heavy seas to take the depth of the water. Tugmen took note of the place relative to the two shores, however, and when the lake quiets down divers probably will be sent to the bottom in an endeavor to recover the bodies.
`The party which went out on the CASCADE was organized by Patrolman Whelan, whose father met his death in the wreck. It was almost impossible to stand on the deck of the tug because of the waves.
“There was a heavier sea than this rolling last night,” said a tugman. It is calculated by lakemen that the water is of about average depth where the accident occurred. It was, of course, impossible to see any part of the tug, and for a long time, there were no signs of oil. Finally the CASCADE ran right into the oily water. The scene of the fatal wreck was therefore approximately located.
Buffalo Evening News
Tuesday, June 23, 1903

. . . . .

Another unsuccessful attempt was made this morning to get at the wreck of the tug CHENEY which was run down and sunk by the propeller CHEMUNG early yesterday morning about four miles south of Windmill Point in Lake Erie. The tug CASCADE, Capt. James Gray commanding, started for the scene of the wreck at 6 o’clock this morning. It was hoped that the sea would have gone down sufficiently to permit a diver’s going to the bottom but the weather was too severe.
Just as soon as the sunken tug can be reached it is believed the bodies of Edward Dugan and Andrew Fritzenahaf will be recovered. They were asleep in the tug and presumably had no chance to get out. In response to the appeal of Patrolman Arthur J. Whelan, son of the dead tug captain, people living along the Canadian shore of the lake in the vicinity of the wreck are keeping a lookout for any bodies.
G. W. Johnson, superintendent of the Great Lakes Towing Company’s Buffalo fleet, said this morning that an almost perfect calm would be necessary before a diver could go to the bottom, and do successful work.
“it is, of course, impossible to say just when we can get a. diver down there,” said Supt. Johnson. “If the wind stops and the sea quiets down we will lose no time in sending a diver to the scene. We know now just about where the tug is and it probably will be an easy matter to find it,”.
“How deep is the water in the vicinity of the wreck.?” was asked.
“I should say perhaps 40 or 60 feet,” said Mr. Johnson.
At that depth, marine men say there will be little danger of rough water having any very disastrous effect on the tug. If the collision with the CHEMUNG didn’t do too much damage, it is more than likely the CHENEY will be raised.
The families of the men whose lives were lost in the wreck, are anxiously awaiting the recovery of the bodies. The suspense is telling on them. Mrs. Bridget Whelan, wife of Capt. Whelan, who was among those lost, has not yet recovered from the shocking, news. Mrs. Whelan is in poor health, and the effect of the tragic death of her husband upon her is feared.
Much speculation is being indulged in as to how the accident really occurred. Vessel men say the solution is simple. The method of “rounding to” as the sailors call it was responsible for the accident, in their minds. One experienced lake man said this morning: “A tug goes out after, a big boat like the CHEMUNG and rounds to so as to get in the big boat’s suction. You see a tug couldn’t run as fast, as those big boats go. It is a case of run up to a big boat, turn quickly and snuggle right in under her bow where the suction takes hold of the tug and hurries her along just as fast as the big boat is going. If a tug misses the suction it goes away off behind and the captain can’t do business with the big one unless she slows down and waits. Now as I figure this out, Capt. Whelan, in rounding to, came a little too soon and ran directly in front of the steamer. The rounding to with a tug is always more or less dangerous. Of course there is the possibility that something was wrong with the steering gear. There might have been a dozen different reasons for the accident. Perhaps we’ll never know, although the boat may show something.”
Buffalo Evening News
Wednesday, June 24, 1903

. . . . .

Was Sighted Off Fort Erie Beach and Soon Brought Ashore.
The body of Capt. John F. Whalen of the ill-fated tug CHENEY, which was sunk by the propeller CHEMUNG, was found at 2:30 yesterday afternoon near the Fort Erie Beach shore of the lake. H. C. Webster of 163 West avenue. Buffalo, says he first discovered the body. He was walking along the beach with his 12-year-old son.
I notified some men of the discovery and we got the body ashore and notified the sheriff,” said he. “There was no doubt about the identification.”
F. L. R. Hope and Joseph Shumacher, U. S. Inspectors of Steam Vessels, held an inquiry yesterday into the circumstances of the accident. They mean to see whether there was a violation on any one’s part of the rules governing lake navigation. Capt. F. R. Huyck, Pilot Ward; Lookout Slattery and Wheelsnan Rowe, the last three of whom were on deck when the accident occurred, told what they knew of the accident. In substance they said the CHENEY had switched straight in front of the CHEMUNG.
The bodies of Andrew Fritzenschaf and Edward M. Dugan have not been recovered. Neither has the CHENEY been reached. If the lake calms down today, a diver will be sent to the bottom to search the wreck of the CHENEY.
The body of Capt. Whalen was taken to the morgue this morning by Undertaker Thomas Crowley. Deputy Medical Examiner Howland has been informed the coroner at Fort Erie has refused to issue a death certificate on the ground that Capt. Whalen was drowned in American water’s. Dr. Howland in case a certificate is not issued he will make one out.
Buffalo Evening News
Thursday, June 25, 1903

. . . . .

Two Tugs Grappling in the Lake With Big Anchor Chains.
Practically every tugman in Buffalo who could get away attended the funeral this morning of Capt. John F. Whalen, who was drowned by the sinking of the tug O. W. CHENEY about five miles south of Windmill Point, in Lake Erie, last Tuesday morning. Owing to this fact, further search for the missing tug was postponed until this afternoon when the tugs MASON and CASCADE started for the vicinity of the wreck. Supt. Johnson of the Great Lakes Towing Company’s Buffalo fleet said this morning he was hopeful of finding the tug before nightfall.
“We had two tugs out there all yesterday,” said Mr. Johnson, “big anchor chains were used for grappling, but the tug wasn’t found. We mean to keep at the work, however, until all hope is gone. It may prove a long tedious job, and again it may not. There is not much chance in a search of this kind when we know only the approximate location of the sunken boat.”
It is naturally impossible to send divers to the bottom before the boat is located, Mr. Johnson said, however, that if the CHENEY is found divers will be sent down to get the bodies of Edward M. Dugan and Andrew Fritzenschaf, the men who are said to have been asleep in their bunks when the freighter CHEMUNG crashed into the tug.
The bodies of these men probably are still in the hold of the tug. Until an inspection of the sunken boat can be made it will be impossible to determine whether the whole or any part of it can be raised.
Buffalo Evening News
Sunday, June 27, 1903

. . . . .

Inspectors Say if Rules Had Been Observed Accident Could Not Have Happened.
In a report submitted today, Government Inspector Pope and Schumacher hold the pilots of both vessels responsible for the collision of the steamer CHEMUNG and tug O. W. CHENEY off Windmill Point on the night of June 23. Three lives were lost and the tug was sent to the bottom.
The lIcense of James Ward, Pilot of the CHEMUNG, is suspended for six months. The pilot of the CHENEY was lost. Following is the report:
Department of Commerce and Labor Steamboat Inspection Service, office of local inspector, ninth district. Port of Buffalo, N. Y., July 7. 1903.
After careful deliberation on the testimony taken in the investigation of the collision between the steamers CHEMUNG and 0. W. CHENEY on Lake Erie between Point Abino and Wind Mill Point on the 23d day of June, 1903, about 3 o’clock A. M., we find that the steamer CHEMUNG was enroute to Buffalo, running at her usual rate of speed, which is about 12 miles per hour and heading due east. The night was dark and raining. Wind S. S. E. The lights
of a steamer on the port bow and also of a steamer on the starboard bow was plainly visible to the pilot and lookout of the steamer CHEMUNG when two miles distant.
The steamer Q. W. CHENEY was lying off Wind Mill Point waiting for a tow. As soon as the lights of the steamer CHEMUNG were seen by the crew of the tug they got underway, heading
for the CHEMUNG in the customary way for the purpose of getting a tow or to communIcate with her, and in doing so came across her bow, was struck on the starboard side and sank. Three of the crew of the tug 0. W. CHENEY were drowned.
Rule I. “When steamers are approaching each other ‘head and head.’ or nearly so, it shall be the duty of each steamer to pass to the right, or port side of the other and the pilot of either steamer may be first in determining to pursue this course, and thereupon shall give, as a signal of his intention, one short distinct blast of his whistle, which the pilot of the other steamer shall answer promptly by a similar blast of his whistle, and thereupon such steamers shall pass to the right or port side of each other. But if the course of such steamers is so far on the star board of each other as not to be considered by pilots as meeting head and
head,’ or nearly so. the pilot so first deciding shall immediately give two short and distinct blasts of the whistle, which the pilot of the other steamer shall answer promptly by two similar blasts of his whistle, and they shall pass to the left, or on the starboard side of each other.”
Rule V. “The signals, by blowing of the whistle, shall be given and answered by pilots, in compliance with these rules, not only when meeting ‘head and head’ or nearly so, but at all times when meeting or passing at a distance within a half mile of each other, and whether passing to the starboard or port.”
It appears from the evidence that the pilots of both steamers failed to observe the above rules. Signals were not exchanged as required by law. We feel satisfied that strict compliance with these rules would have made a collision impossible. Therefore, we must, in view of the evidence impose a penalty for a violation of the rules herein quoted and under the authority conferred upon us by Section 4450 of the Revised Statutes of the United States we hereby Suspend the First Class Pilot’s license of James Ward of the steamer CHEMUNG for six months, same to take effect immediately. The pilot in charge of the steamer 0. W. CHENEY was drowned.
Respectfully yours.
F. L. R. POPE.
U. S. Local Inspectors.
Buffalo Evening News
Tuesday, July 7, 1903

The wreck of the tug CHENEY, which sunk several years ago, was located yesterday near the old salt dock by Capt. Cofffee and John Burns. It is in several feet of water, but the ferrymen recovered some pieces of the machinery.
Buffalo Evening News
August 23, 1909

Steam screw O.W. CHENEY. U.S. No. 155034. Of 41.91 tons gross; 20.96. Built 1881 at Buffalo, N.Y. Home port, Bay City, Mich. 61.0 x 16.0 x 8.0
Merchant Vessel List, U.S., 1886

O.W. CHENEY Built May 26, 1881 Steam Tug -Wood
U. S. No. 155034 41 gt -20 nt 61′ x 16′ x 8′
Sunk June 23, 1903, in collision with stmr. CHEMUNG off Buffalo, N.Y., Lake Erie.
Buffalo Shipbuilding Master List
Institute for Great Lakes Research
Perrysburg, Ohio


Stern is located at N 48o 12.018’ W 88o 29.606’ Bow located at N 48o 12.003’ W 88o 29.525’
In 1947, the Canada Steamship Lines steamer EMPEROR, loaded with ore and bound for Ashtabula, hit the rocks off Isle Royale at 4:10 a.m. The vessel sank within minutes but the crew was able to launch 2 lifeboats. Captain Eldon Walkinshaw, First Mate D. Moray, and 10 other crew members drowned when one of the lifeboats overturned. Twenty-one other survivors were rescued by the U.S.C.G. cutter KIMBALL.

The Emperor was constructed in 1910 by the Collingwood Shipbuilding Co. in Collingwood, Ontario, for the Inland Lines Ltd. of Midland, Ontario. It was launched on December 17, 1910 and assigned registry number 126,654. At 525 feet in length, it was the largest Canadian-built freighter ever built at the time of her launching. The ship had a beam of 56 feet in beam, a depth of 27 feet, with 4641 registered tons and 7031 gross tons. It contained a 1,500 horsepower triple expansion steam engine with two Scotch boilers which powered the ship to a nominal speed of 10 knots. The Emperor was built of steel, with an arch and web frame construction to provide an unobstructed cargo hold with hatches placed every 12 feet. The pilothouse, captain’s quarters, and mate’s quarters were at the bow of the ship, and the crew’s quarters and engine room were aft, with unobstructed deck space between.

Although launched in 1910, the Emperor did not begin its first voyage until April 1911. On its first trip, the ship broke its main shaft in Thunder Bay, Ontario and had to be towed all the way to Detroit for repairs.[4] Also in 1911, the ship overrode its anchor while in the Soo locks, tearing a hole in the bottom and sinking the vessel.

In May, 1916, the ship was sold to the Canada Steamship Lines Ltd. It was involved in some additional minor incidents, including groundings in 1926 and 1937, and the loss of a rudder in 1936. including the death of a crew member who fell into the hold in 1918

Bettey Tomasi and Frederick Stonehouse
Lake Superior has triumphed over vast numbers of sea-going vessels – most being early sailing wood-hulled craft which were no match for Nature’s moody lady. But the Great Lake continues to prove her superiority over man’s humble efforts to traverse her as she still occasionally claims a trophy in the form of a mighty steel hulled cargo ship. Such was the case in the demise of the ore carrying EMPEROR – Destination — depths!
We had read about her, dreamed about her and yearned to see her and now, finally we were actually going to dive on her! Our excitement mounted as we helped each other into the last wet suit glove prior to our entry off the gunwhale of our dinghy. We tried mentally to prepare ourselves for the icy onslaught of Lake Superior’s merciless waters, but immediately on ‘splash-down’ we became aware that, while we were mentally prepared to descend into the frigid depths, we were definitely not physically ready! The liquid ice seeped into our suits and until our body heat was able to warm the water, a process requiring only a minute or two but seeming much longer, we began to wonder at the dubious wisdom of this adventure. Once the gigantic bow loomed into sight, though, all doubts disappeared and we began eagerly our descent down the starboard – swimming over one ghostly gaping hatch after another. In the eeriness of the swim, it seemed as if the emptied hatches would go on adinfinitum or, perhaps one of the reported trapped crewmen might make himself manifest to confront us with our audacity at trespassing on this watery graveyard. These thoughts were dispelled when we, at last, reached the end of the cargo holds and came upon the stern cabin which was emblazoned with the identification “EMPEROR” across the superstructure. It had been a relatively easy swim to the cabin, to about 110 feet as the ship rests on a steep incline of an underwater granite mountain — one of many such edifices in Lake Superior. However, a glance at our underwater pressure gauges indicated that there would be no time on this trip for exploring the stern as we were well aware that the swim to the surface would be more challenging as it was all ‘uphill’ and therefore, we wanted to conserve enough air for the climb.
During the entire dive, our thoughts were taking us back in history to the early June morning in 1947 when the mighty EMPEROR made her final voyage.
On November 6, 1918, the 525-foot ore carrier CHESTER H. CONGDON met death on the razor edged reefs of Isle Royale’s deadly Canoe Rocks. Twenty-nine years later, on June 4, 1947, the Canada Steamship Lines steamer EMPEROR repeated the CONGDON’s error and died on the same reef. The crew of the CONGDON was lucky; the moody lake gods smiled and not a man was lost, but the gods frowned on the EMPEROR and 12 of her crew of 33 drowned in the
At 3:10 p. m., June 4, the EMPEROR was working her way through the wispy tendrils of a thick Lake Superior fog. The silence of the inky darkness was pierced only by the intermingling sounds of the low rumble of the steamer’s powerful 1500 horsepower Scottish built steam engine, the gentle chuckle of water at her barn-sized bow, and the methodical bleat of her bellowing fog horn. Behind was the dock she had just left at Port Arthur (Thunder Bay, today); ahead, her destination, Ashtabula, Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie.
Sleepily, First Mate James Morrey peered ahead, out through the pilothouse window, but the fog prevented his seeing much beyond the EMPEROR’s bow. Morrey was bone-tired. He had spent the steamer’s entire dockside period (as per regulations) personally supervising the loading of the steamer’s iron ore cargo. Now it was his watch and his responsibility to guide the freighter safety past Isle Royale. There would be plenty of time for sleep later. Sipping his coffee, he continued to search ahead.
Five minutes later, the sleepy Mate was jarred from his feet and thrown to the steel deck. At her full speed of ten knots, the EMPEROR had rammed into the northeast edge of Canoe Rocks! As there was no doubt that the vessel was sinking, an immediate SOS was radioed off
into the airways. Quickly the desperate signal was answered by the U. S. Coast Guard Cutter KIMBALL. The cutter had been at Isle Royale on purely routine matters when the call for help galvanized her into action. With her engines straining at forced full speed, the staunch Coast Guard craft headed for the EMPEROR, now rapidly sinking 3½ miles, 281 degrees from the Blake Point Light (Isle Royale).
On board the ore carrier the situation was serious. Vast torrents of freezing water were gushing through the steamer’s sprung hull plates and rapidly flooding her holds. Aware that the steamer’s life was almost over, fear-stricken crewmen rushed to their lifeboat stations and began to abandon ship. Within an hour the once proud steamer had slipped beneath the
surface of the lake. Above she left the inevitable result of any marine disaster, water-logged lifeboats wallowing in the gentle swells, floating debris of every nature and a total of 21 stunned, half-frozen survivors.
When the KIMBALL arrived on the scene she immediately pulled ten men from a half swamped lifeboat, four from the slippery keel of an overturned boat and seven more from a frigid perch atop the nearly awash Canoe Rocks. All told, twelve men died in the disaster and
it isn’t inconceivable that some of them actually were trapped in the steel coffin of the steamer’s hull when she sank! Notable among those lost was her captain, Eldon Walkinshaw of Collingwood, a veteran Lake skipper of 42 years experience, and James Morrey, the First Mate.
The reason for the loss of the EMPEROR is clouded in the mystery born of a multitude of bureaucratic investigations, all carefully conducted with the distinct advantage of hindsight. That the steamer was far off course is not hard to determine, but why, is. In the official
report, the Canadian Board of Investigation blamed the Mate, stating that he “did not keep proper watch” As the Mate was conveniently lost with the ship, he could hardly defend himself. The Board did, however, criticize the prevailing system “which required the First Mate to be in charge of the loading of the ship during the period when he should have been off duty. (and) . . . resulted in his becoming overly tired, suffering as he was from a lack of sleep.”
But that conclusion hardly touches the root of the problem. The EMPEROR was far to the south of her intended course. Why? The downbound steamer track from Port Arthur was well known, and is in fact indicated on navigational charts, and there was no unusual wind or sea conditions (fog limits visibility, but does not force a ship off course). Regardless of Mate Morrey’s ability to keep a proper watch, the helmsman should have held the steamer on the proper heading. Why then did the steamer strike the rocks? Stories of drunkeness and irresponsibility are legion, and probably untrue. The real reasons for the loss will most likely never be known. The fact remains, however, that the steamer was far south of her course, without apparent reason, when she struck and died on Canoe Rocks.
For the scuba diver, the wreck of the EMPEROR presents both a tempting and a terrifying target. Tempting because it is a relatively intact ore carrier, and therefore a very unusual wreck. But she does paint a streak of terror (however faint and admitted or not) through a
diver’s heart. The grisly remains of at least part of the dozen men lost during the sinking are undoubtedly still entombed in the stern, not a pleasant thought for the diver exploring the steamer’s inner recesses.
Resting on the west slope of Canoe Rocks, only a short distance northeast of the CONGDON, the steamer’s bow is in a shallow 40 feet, but the stern slants sharply downward into 150 foot depths. Listing to port with her hatch covers blown open by trapped air during the sinking and covered in part by a thick brownish-green lake growth, the EMPEROR is an awe-inspiring sight.
The EMPEROR, official number 126654, was launched in 1910 at the Coliingwood, Ontario shipyard of the Collingwood Shipbuilding Company. Until 1916 she was owned by the Inland Lines Ltd., but in May of that year she was purchased by the Canada Steamship Lines. At 7,031 gross registered tons, 525 feet in length, 56 feet in beam and 31feet in depth, she
wasn’t the largest vessel on the lakes, lthough she was still respectable indeed.
During her life, the EMPEROR was just another bulk carrier; but in death, she became the “Emperor” of Isle Royale, and the exalted playground of scuba divers.
Almost before we realized it, we were breaking surface and helping each other with our clumsy reentries into the dinghy for the return trip to our ‘mother ship,’ the W. R. Busch which was standing off about a quarter of a mile in about 600 feet of water. As soon as our teeth stopped chattering, we began to all report different sights, reactions and enthusiasms. On one point we were all clearly agreed — we must return and make another ‘drop’ on one of
the most exciting wrecks Isle Royale has to offer. There was so much left to explore in the stern cabins, that the mutual obsession and resolve was unanimous. We would return to
the wreck of the EMPEROR!
Author’s note: Subsequent dives were made the following summer revealing cabins
with bunk beds still intact, replete with shoes under them! Could these have belonged to the crewmen entombed somewhere in the bowels of the ship?
Canadian Diving News
Vo. 4 No. 9 April


GPS Location: N45° 03.380’ W83° 10.180’
Depth: 60 Feet
Wreck Length: 128 Feet Beam: 26 Feet
Gross Tonnage: 301 Cargo: Coal
Launched: 1862 by Albert Little at Tonawanda, New York
Wrecked: May 31, 1887
Description: The Lucinda Van Valkenburg was built in 1862. 25 years later it was lost on Lake Huron. Bound for Chicago with a load of coal, it was struck by the iron propeller Lehigh about 2 miles northeast of Thunder Bay Island. The crew was picked up by the Lehigh and taken to Port Huron. The sunken Van Valkenburg presented a dangerous obstruction to other vessels, as the masts remained standing high out of the water from just below the crosstrees.
On 1 June 1887, LUCINDA VAN VALKENBURG (wooden schooner, 129 foot, 302 gross tons, built in 1862, at Tonawanda, New York) collided with the iron steamer LEHIGH in fog and sank near Thunder Bay Island on Lake Huron. The crew was safely taken aboard the LEHIGH and brought to Port Huron.

Schooner L.VAN VALKENBURG of 280 tons, built 1862. Owned by T. Hood. Home port, Chicago. On June 1, 1887, vessel sunk on Lake Huron, with a cargo of coal, and became a total loss. Classed as B 1. Property loss on hull $5,000 and on cargo $2,000
Casualty List for 1887 (total losses)
Marine Record, December 15, 1887
The propeller LEHIGH arrived here at 6 o’clock last evening and reports the sinking of the schooner VAN VALKENBURG 3 miles above Thunder bay island. The propeller struck the schooner on the port side forward of the fore-rigging, and she sank inside four minutes. The crew were safely taken aboard the LEHIGH and brought to this city. The weather was thick and very dark when the collision occurred.
Port Huron Daily Times
Thursday, June 2, 1887
Port Huron.-The revenue cutter FESSENDEN was up to Thunder Bay the early part of the week and removed the masts of the sunken schooner VAN VALKENBURG that foundered about a mile off the island several weeks ago. The spars of the sunken schooner were a dangerous obstruction to navigation, being right in the course of vessels bound up or down the lake.
The Marine Record
Thurs., Sept. 22, 1887 p.5
Schooner LUCINDA VAN VALKENBURG. U. S. No. 14614. Of 301.66 tons gross; 286.58 tons net. Built at Tonawanda, N.Y. in 1862. Home port, Chicago, Ill. 128.5 x 26.3 x 12.6
Merchant Vessel List, U. S., 1885


Located at Latitude: 42° 17′ 10.2012″ N Longitude: -79° 43′ 4.5588″ W

Vessel Name
Build Year
Official Number
Build City
Build State
Vessel Type
Bulk Freighter
Number of Decks
Hull Materials
Builder Name
Quayle & Martin
Original Owner
H. J. Winslow, et al
Original Owner Location
Buffalo, NY
Power (Sail)
Propulsion Type
Sail Number Masts
Power (Mechanical)
Engine Type
For-and-Aft Compound
Engine Number Cylinders
Engine Number Boilers
Engine Number Propellers
Tonnage Gross
Tonnage Net
Final Disposition
Final Location
Ripley, NY.
Lake Erie.
Final Date Month
Final Date Day
Final Date Year
Final How
Afire, beached to prevent sinking.
Final Notes
Flames discovered in forward hold.
Burned 30 miles west, Dunkirk, NY.
History and Notes
1881, May 14 Launched from Messrs Quayle & Sons; carried coal from Cleveland, OH – Chicago, IL.
1881, Jun Chartered, Lehigh Valley Transportation Co; coal from Cleveland – Chicago, grain from Chicago – Cleveland.
1881, Jun 8 Aground entrance of Ogden’s canal, Chicago.
1882 Returned to Winslow fleet.
1882, Apr – May Series of 4 groundings; strayed into towline between JOHN B. LYON & her consort, slightly damaged steamer.
1883, May 19 Aground Adams Street Bridge, Chicago.
1883, May 24 Engine broke, Lake Huron.
1884, Apr 25 Owned Smith & Davis, Buffalo, NY.
1884, Oct New propeller from Union Drydock.
1885, Sep 20 Caught fire, Duluth elevator.
1887 Iron boiler house.
1889, Mar 26 Owned W. M. Egan, Chicago, IL.
1889, May 28 Aground, Grosse Pointe Shoals, Detroit River.
1889, Jul Struck pier of upper bridge, Blackwell Canal, Buffalo.
1889, Oct A blade of propeller knocked of by obstruction, Chicago.
1891, Sep 25 Aground nearly a week, Chicago River.
1892, Spring Minor repairs, masts reduced to one.
1898, Winter Wrecked off Point au Pelee, Lake Erie.
1898 Fore & aft steam engine with 22 & 46″ cylinders, 48″ stroke, 500hp at 70rpm; 12.5 x 12′ scotch boiler from Dry Dock Engine Works, Detroit.
1899, Aug 31 Owned J. C. Gilchrist, Cleveland, OH.
1902, Sep 11 Sprang leak, Lake Superior.
1905, Jun 27 Sunk at Tashmoo Park, St.Clair Flats, by steamer LINDEN, cargo iron ore; LINDEN also sank, 2 dead.
1905, Nov Driven ashore, Middle Island, Lake Erie.
1909, Nov 11 Aground 5 mi. north of Sheboygan, WI.
1913, Apr 30 Owned Shipper Transit Co., Mentor, OH.
1914, May 7 Burned, Ripley, NY.