Archives For Canadian Shipwrecks

Baychimo Ghost Ship

SS Baychimo
Photo: Wikimedia

This year the MV Lyubov Orlova became a news sensation as reports of its ghost ship status and subsequent sightings flitted about the internet. As strange as the Orlova’s story is, though, it can never rival its sister ghost ship, the SS Baychimo. The Baychimo began life as the SS Ångermanelfven in Sweden in 1911 and quietly plied the Sweden-Germany trade route until she was handed over to the British government as part of Germany’s war reparations after World War One. Acquired by the Hudson’s Bay Company, the ship was renamed Baychimo and dispatched to the New World to carry goods, especially furs throughout Canada’s upper reaches.

The saga of the Baychimo took a strange turn when, on October 1, 1931, she became trapped in pack ice and was abandoned by her crew. The next few months witnessed several on-again, off-again attempts to winter with the Baychimo in order to bring her safely to port. At one point, the Baychimo broke free of the ice and, unbeknownst to her crew, floated away. After successfully locating the vessel, the crew offloaded the ship’s cargo and abandoned her to the vagaries of the Arctic.

Over the next 8 years, the vessel was sighted several times and even boarded on occasion. Although the vessel was last physically boarded in 1939, Inuits reported sighting the Baychimo as late as 1969. This last sighting has often been called into question, but what is without question is that the ship continued her ghostly haunting of the Arctic Sea for years after her abandonment. The Baychimo’s final resting place, if she has indeed sunk, has yet to be determined. Who knows, perhaps she is still wandering the vast expanse of the Arctic in search of her next cargo.

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HMS Fury

August 25, 2013 — Leave a comment
HMS Fury

HMS Fury’s Sister Ship Trapped in Ice

The search for the fabled Northwest Passage captivated European explorers for much of the 1500s through the early 1900s. Alas, like Ponce de Leon’s mystical Fountain of Youth, the Northwest Passage proved elusive and commercially non-existent. Not until Roald Amundsen’s journey through the passage from 1903 to 1906 was someone able to complete the journey completely by sea.

Among the numerous expeditions sent to explore the far reaches of the Arctic Sea were two led by Royal Navy officer Sir William Edward Parry. For seaborne transportation Parry relied on two bomb ketches – the sister ships HMS Hecla and HMS Fury. Only a few months before the expedition’s return to England in October 1825, the Fury was severely damaged by ice floes which had trapped the ship. Despite numerous efforts to rescue the vessel, the Fury had to be abandoned on August 25, 1825.

Before she was abandoned, though, the vessel’s extensive stores were moved ashore and deposited into a supply cache. Four years later those supplies would save the life of Arctic explorer John Ross and his team before they were rescued. The site of the Fury’s loss is now called Fury Beach; however, it remains unclear if the Fury slipped beneath the waves when the ice floes parted or if she drifted off to sink into the clutches of the Arctic Sea in another location.

battle of the atlantic

Blackett’s War documents the application of science to the Battle of the Atlantic and the outsized impact a small collection of British scientists had on its outcome. Author Stephen Budiansky charts the life of Nobel Prize winner Patrick Blackett, a British naval officer turned scientist, from his service in World War I to his 1930s academic life and conversion from civilian scientist to architect of a scientific method of fighting the Battle of the Atlantic. In the first section of the book, Budiansky follows Blackett’s World War I and inter-war experiences as well as those of the United Kingdom as a whole. In particular, Budiansky focuses on the deployment of the submarine as an unconventional offensive weapon and how it nearly brought Britain to her knees in World War I.

As the tale progresses, other scientists and historical events are woven into the story to add context and depth to the fascinating melding of ruthless warfare with statistical analysis, cryptography and electronic detection and countermeasures. While this often helps advance the storyline, at times it becomes difficult to keep track of the countless characters and events. If there is any flaw in the book, it is that the inclusion of these characters renders the title slightly misleading. The book is less about Patrick Blackett than it is about the scientific teams on both sides of the Atlantic that fought both their own civilian and military bureaucracy and the Kriegsmarine to win the naval war. Overall Blackett’s War is an intriguing read that provides a unique blend of scientific and military history.

City of Medicine Hat
 
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
CC Image Courtesy of Space Ritual on Flickr

UPDATE 3/12/13 – The Star Phoenix released a story yesterday concerning recent archaeological work performed on the SS City of Medicine Hat which sank under mysterious circumstances on June 7, 1908. The lead archaeologist on the project, Butch Amundson, now believes that the steamer was wrecked on purpose. This is due to a surprising lack of personal effects on the wreck and the removal of expensive items such as its 6-foot tall brass music box just prior to the ship’s sinking.

PREVIOUS POSTThe Star Phoenix reported earlier last week that more than 1,000 artifacts have been recovered from what is believed to the wreck of the SS City of Medicine Hat. Designed and built by the wealthy and eccentric Scottish nobleman Horatio Hamilton Ross, the ship was intended to operate as an inland steamer in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Canada.The ship sank on her maiden voyage from Medicine Hat, Alberta to Winnipeg, Manitoba on June 7, 1908. City of Medicine Hat’s rudder was rendered inoperable when it snagged an underwater obstacle and the vessel drifted against a bridge abutment where it capsized under the swift river currents of the South Saskatchewan River.

There were no casualties in the sinking and the ship sank into both metaphysical and physical obscurity. This August, though, a crew working to replace a bridge across the South Saskatchewan River recovered more than 1,000 artifacts from approximately 25 feet below the surface. Archaeologists working with the project believe with substantial certainty that the artifacts belong to the City of Medicine Hat. Miscellaneous artifacts such as an anchor were previously recovered in 2006 and 2008, but this is the first comprehensive recovery of items since initial salvage efforts concluded on the vessel in 1908. While the final disposition of the artifacts is still in question, they most certainly will assist historians in painting a more complete picture of turn of the century riverine life in central Canada.

Canada WWII Navy

HMCS Sackville
CC Image Courtesy of Paul B on Flickr

The HMCS Sackville was laid down in early 1940 and was 1 of 267 Flower-class Corvettes built for the Allied navies during World War II. The U-boat threat to the Atlantic shipping lanes required hundreds of small, nimble ocean going warships to fend off U-boat and Luftwaffe bomber attacks on Allied convoys. The Flower-class were intended to fulfill this role and helped get American and Canadian men and war material across the Atlantic safely.

The Sackville first saw service in early 1942 when she was deployed to the Northern Atlantic to protect convoys off the coast of Newfoundland. The ship damaged several U-boats during her wartime patrols and even forced two U-boats to completely break off their attacks and return to occupied Europe for extensive repairs. Unfortunately, the Sackville was herself damaged in August 1944 when a massive explosion damaged one of her boilers. The cause of the explosion is still unknown, but was most likely the result of one of her depth charges exploding a Nazi torpedo close to the Sackville’s hull.

Relegated to harbor duty the ship was later converted into a research vessel for use by the Canadian Department of Marine and Fisheries. Finally retired in 1982, the Sackville avoided the scrap heap and is now the last remaining Flower-class corvette in the world. She now continues in service as a museum ship and Canada’s Naval Memorial in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The ship can be visited during the summer months and more information can be found here.

City of Medicine Hat

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
CC Image Courtesy of Space Ritual on Flickr

The Star Phoenix reported earlier last week that more than 1,000 artifacts have been recovered from what is believed to the wreck of the SS City of Medicine Hat. Designed and built by the wealthy and eccentric Scottish nobleman Horatio Hamilton Ross, the ship was intended to operate as an inland steamer in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Canada.The ship sank on her maiden voyage from Medicine Hat, Alberta to Winnipeg, Manitoba on June 7, 1908. City of Medicine Hat’s rudder was rendered inoperable when it snagged an underwater obstacle and the vessel drifted against a bridge abutment where it capsized under the swift river currents of the South Saskatchewan River.

There were no casualties in the sinking and the ship sank into both metaphysical and physical obscurity. This August, though, a crew working to replace a bridge across the South Saskatchewan River recovered more than 1,000 artifacts from approximately 25 feet below the surface. Archaeologists working with the project believe with substantial certainty that the artifacts belong to the City of Medicine Hat. Miscellaneous artifacts such as an anchor were previously recovered in 2006 and 2008, but this is the first comprehensive recovery of items since initial salvage efforts concluded on the vessel in 1908. While the final disposition of the artifacts is still in question, they most certainly will assist historians in painting a more complete picture of turn of the century riverine life in central Canada.

Vikings in America

Baffin Island
CC Image Courtesy of Mike Beauregard on Flickr

National Geographic reports that archaeologists working in Tanfield Valley on Baffin Island have uncovered evidence pointing to a second Viking camp in North America. Canadian archaeologists led by Memorial University adjunct professor Patricia Sutherland began excavations in the area in 2001. While excavating the ruins of an ancient building on the island, Sutherland and her crew found whetstones with traces of a copper alloy known to be used by Viking metalsmiths, but not natives of the region. Items with Viking origins have previously been found on the island including Viking yarn, tally sticks and whetstones.

Sutherland’s latest discovery solidifies evidence for Viking contact with the peoples of Baffin Island and provides further foundation for her assertion that a northern transatlantic trade route existed between the Vikings and Arctic natives. The high demand in northern Europe for ivory and furs would have provided significant economic incentive for the Vikings to trade with Arctic natives.

Archaeologists first discovered evidence of Viking contact with North America at L’Anse aux Meadows in 1960. Numerous modern day adventurers have utilized Viking ships and navigation techniques to sail from the Vikings’ Scandinavian homeland to various points in North America. The feat was even accomplished 120 years ago when Norwegian Magnus Anderson built and sailed a Viking longship replica from Norway to Chicago for the 1892 World’s Columbian Exposition. The ship is now on display in Chicago, Illinois.