Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Lost Warship

By : Dennis Stein

  At Fort Haldimand in the shipyards on Carleton Island in 1779-1780, the largest and most powerful British brig sloop ever to sail the Great lakes was taking shape. The Thousand Islands was a strategically sensitive area for both British and American, not to mention the French in years before. Operated by the Royal Navy, she had 22 guns, and weighed in at 226 tons when completed, a double mast warship which was over 80 ft. long, and had a beam of 25 feet, built to guard British assets in the colonies from attack during the American Revolutionary War. The ship was christened the HMS Ontario, and the boat herself was shrouded in secrecy. The British didn't want the Americans to be fully aware of its capabilities, and she routinely sailed between Carleton Island at the head of the St.Lawrence, and Fort Niagara, ferrying troops and supplies. She was fast and well armed, used to guard the entrance to the St.Lawrence against american attack.
  Only six months after her launch, on Hallowe'en 1780, the most powerful hurricane of the 18th century churned north out of the Carribean Sea, across the New England coast and into Lake Ontario. The Ontario was returning from Fort Niargara with over 130 souls aboard. She floundered in the rough waters, sinking in the storm, lost. The ship's Captain and crew, Canadian soldiers, 9 women and children, 1 mohawk, and possibly 30 or more American prisoners-of-war all died. Very little wreckage was ever found, and six bodies from the ship which washed up on the southern shore of Lake Ontario were the only evidence of the ship's loss. Even after the Ontario sunk, the british kept it a secret, not wanting George Washington to know how weak the Canadian defenses had suddenly become, fearing the Americans would attempt an invasion.
  For over 220 years, the HMS Ontario remained in a watery grave, lost to time. In 2008, Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville, using sophisicated side-scan sonar, re-discovered the Ontario, lying near the southern shore of Lake Ontario in about 500 feet of cold water. She was remarkably intact, resting upright on the bottom and leaning slightly to one side, her masts still standing 70 ft. above the decks. The two men used sonar and a specially developed Remote Operated Vehicle with cameras to document and image the wreck site, which was far beyond the reach of diving. British Admiralty maintained that the site was still British property, and should remain undisturbed. It was designated as a war grave, and enough video and imagery was taken to positively identify the Ontario, so that any return to the site would be unnecessary. It remains historically as one of the worst maritime disasters in Canadian History. For more historical articles, visit

Cropped from Legend of the Lake by Arthur Btitton Smith

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