Photo by Parks Canada

Canada’s most famous shipwrecks

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What do you get when you have a nation that stretches from coast to coast to coast? The perfect recipe for shipwrecks. After all Canada’s waters are home to more than a hundred. Of course some shipwrecks are more well-known than others. In case you ever wondered what they are and where they lie, here are eight of the country’s most famous.

Sweepstakes

If you’ve done anything touristy in Tobermory, Ontario, then you’ve likely seen Sweepstakes. Lying at the bottom of Big Tub Harbour in no more than 7 metres of water, Sweepstakes can actually be seen from the shore. Built in 1867, the 119-foot schooner was used to transport coal until it was damaged off of Cove Island. The boat was towed to Big Tub where it sank in 1885 while awaiting repair.

S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald

Immortalized by the Gordon Lightfoot song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, this Great Lakes Freighter sank on November 10, 1975, killing the entire 29-person crew. Succumbing to a winter storm, the boat sank to 160 metres deep, about 17 kilometres from Sault Sainte Marie. Though the cause of the wreck has never been determined, many theories persist, which include rogue waves and structural failure. What we do know is that the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald is still in two pieces at the bottom of Lake Superior.

HMS Erebus and HMS Terror

The infamous Franklin Expedition that was held to discover the Northwest Passage led to more than one shipwreck. The two ships involved (the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror) were abandoned by their crews when they became ice bound in 1845. Following this event, the entire crew got lost and recent anthropological studies concluded that the men died of pneumonia, tuberculosis, and lead poisoning from badly soldered tin cans. Parks Canada has since organized five expeditions to look for the wrecks, but nothing has been found. The two ships are designated by Parks Canada as a national historic site, making them the only non-discovered national historic site in the country.

HMS Investigator

An indirect casualty of the Franklin Expedition, the Investigator was sent to search for Sir John Franklin and his men in 1848. The boat made two voyages to the Arctic but it was abandoned in 1853 after becoming trapped in the ice. In July 2010 Parks Canada discovered the wreck buried in silt, 150 metres off of the north shore of Banks Island.

Titanic

Perhaps the most famous of all shipwrecks, the Titanic’s bow can be found just off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, technically putting the wreck in Canadian waters. The boat sunk in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912, and if you don’t know anything else about the Titanic, well, there was a little movie made about it in 1997 as well.

RMS Empress of Ireland

This ocean liner sank in the Saint Lawrence River in 1914 after colliding with a Norwegian Collier. The ship sank in 14 minutes and claimed the lives of more than a thousand people. Over the years many salvage divers have visited the wreck, retrieving everything from mail to a brass bell. In 1999 the wreck was added to Canada’s list of historic sites to prevent treasure hunters from continuing to pillage the site.

The Robert Kerr 

In 1911 this 190-foot barque was running behind a towboat when it struck a reef just north of Thetis Island in British Columbia. Once the coal was removed the ship was abandoned. It became known as “the ship that saved Vancouver” when a fire destroyed much of the city in 1886 and residents boarded the vessel to escape the fire. The Robert Kerr now rests off the city’s coast in 15 metres of water and is a popular dive site.