The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Gananoque Reporter (Gananonque, ON), Nov. 14, 1885

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Owen Sound, Nov. 10th - The Canadian Pacific Railway Co.'s steamer Algoma, which left Owen Sound on the 5th inst., went ashore in a blinding snow storm and gale of wind on Isle Royal, Lake Superior, at 4 a.m. on Saturday. About eight passengers and twenty-five of the crew are supposed to have been lost. Mr. Beatty, manager of the lake traffic has sent out two tugs from Port Arthur with instructions to search the island for any of those on board who may have got ashore and to pick up and take care of any bodies that may be found. They are now at the wreck.

Winnipeg, Nov. 10th - The first known of the disaster was when the steamer Athabaska of the same line arrived at Port Arthur late last evening, with the rescued, consisting of thirteen sailors and two passengers. The Athabaska, which left Owen Sound two days after the Algoma, came upon the wreck at Isle Royal and found those saved in a perishing condition. The wreck had been dashed by the waves against the rocks and had finally beaten against the shore of the island. A boat containing the rescued was washed over several times, but righted again, when the men clung to the sides. They succeeded in reaching the shore almost dead from exposure. The storm continued to rage with fury all night long. They remained on the boat watching the wreck beat against the rockbound island and seeing the dead bodies dashed in the surf against the shores. The Athabaska set sail for Port Arthur where she arrived last evening.

Port Arthur, Nov. 10th - On board the Athabasca were Capt. John Moore, commander of the Algoma, two passengers and eleven of the crew, all that were left of 62 persons that sailed for this port from Owen Sound on the Algoma last Thursday. The following are the survivors:- W.J. Hull and W.B. McArthur, of Meaford, Ont., Capt. Moore, first mate Hastings, second mate Richard Simpson, wheelsman H. Lewis, watchman John McNabb, fireman P. McColgar, deckhands R. Stevens, James Bolton, Daniel Laughlin, waiters John McLane, George McColl and John McKenzie. The captain is badly injured. The ship's papers were lost are lost. The following is a list of the lost:

Mrs. Dudgeon and her son aged 10 of St. Paul, Mr. and Mrs. Frost (or Foster) relatives of P.P. Dutchart of Owen Sound, Geo. Petigrew, chief engineer, Alex. McDermott of Sarnia, second engineer, Mr. Mackenzie, purser, nephew of Hon. Alexander Mackenzie, of Sarnia, Alexander Taylor, Chief Stewart of either Buffalo or Cleveland, Mr. Jones, steerage of Scotland. Names of deckhands, firemen, waiters and others cannot be obtained.

The Algoma was a splendidly equipped Clyde-built steamer, lighted by electricity. Her gross tonnage is 1,780; length 270 feet, breadth 38 feet. Her furnishings were luxurious, and equal to the finest ocean steamers. The vessel cost $450,000, and is understood to have been insured for $300,000. It is one of the three steamers Alberta, Athabasca, and Algoma, purchased two years ago by the Canadian Pacific Railway for the lake traffic, since which time it has been plying steadily between Owen Sound and Port Arthur. She passed Kingston on her way to Lake Superior in November '83 with the other steamers.

The Captain's Statement.

The story of the disaster, as related by Capt. Moore, is that the Algoma passed through St. Marie canal bound for this port last Friday noon. Soon after reaching Lake Superior, the wind began to freshen up from the north-west, and a great bank of leaden clouds along the northern horizon denoted the approach of heavy weather. Realizing, however, that the Algoma was one of the strongest and most powerful steamers afloat and well able to cope with even a severe gale, Capt. Moore kept her on her course. But as night approached, the wind continued to increase in violence, and by dark had developed into one of the fiercest and most destructive gales ever experienced in the upper lakes. As the gale increased, the sea rose, and before midnight, Lake Superior was lashed into a mass of seething foam while the tempest roared and the great seas swept completely over the struggling steamer. The situation was made all the more terrible by a blinding snow storm that set in before morning. It was impossible to see the length of the steamer. The passengers and crew were terrified beyond measure and momentarily expected to see the steamer plunge to the bottom. By instructions of Capt. Moore, the officers went among the passengers and tried to allay their fears. They were panic stricken, however, and huddled together in the cabin, where the screams and prayers of the women and children could be heard above the thundering of the gale. Saturday morning Isle Royale was sighted, and Capt. Moore headed the steamer for Rock Harbor, where there is a natural harbor of refuge, but near the entrance there is a dangerous reef, and just as the steamer was nearing the entrance she struck the reef. There was a terrific shock, and then the steamer came to a full stop. The passengers rushed out of the cabin and beseeched the officers to tell them what had happened. "We are on a reef," replied Capt. Moore, "but if you will only keep as calm as possible I trust all will be safely landed." Just then, one of the crew reported that the steamer had been punctured and was filling with water. The boats were at once got in readiness and all started to leave the steamer; but just as they were about to lower them the steamer slipped off the reef and disappeared with an angry roar. The water was covered with struggling men and women, and then all was over. Only fourteen lived to tell the tale. These got into one of the boats, but were powerless to save themselves, as they were without oars. Capt. Moore, however, wrenched the foot board from the bottom of the boat and, with that as a paddle, succeeded in working the boat to the island, where the survivors were picked up by the Athabasca.

A Passenger's Story.

The tugs are now at the scene of the wreck. One of the rescued passengers gives a graphic account of the terrible scene before and after the wreck. "It's no use to describe the scene," said he, "nothing worse ever occurred on earth. In their madness, when the waves were washing the deck, a number threw themselves into the foaming billows. Others, when a great wave would pass off the deck, which was swaying from side to side, were swept into the sea like a feather. A few hung on to the ropes or to the masts, but the majority seemed to abandon themselves in wild alarm and despair. Even the crew seemed powerless, so stricken were they with the awful suddenness of the disaster. Meanwhile, the boat rapidly went to pieces, being dashed against the rocks. The crew, all of whom, except the waitress, had clung to the rigging, managed during a slight lull in the storm to place themselves in a life-boat and cut the fastings, and in an instant a wave swept them from the ill-fated wreck. Amid a roar of wind and the dashing of the waves, the boat was borne onward. Two of the passengers had managed to place themselves in the boat before it was cut away from the wreck. Any efforts that had been made to launch the boats during the early confusion and horror had failed. Meantime, the life-boat and its occupants had a terrible experience on the lake. All who could bound themselves to the boat while the remainder held on to the side, expecting every moment to meet their death by drowning or from exposure and cold. Once the boat was turned over with the waves and one of the crew was washed away, but the frail craft righted itself and was swept on into the comparitive darkness. After half an hour, the boat suddenly struck some rocks. The inmates feared that all was over with them when the craft capsized, but to their surprise when thrown out, the water was only a foot deep, and they discovered that they were on land. After remaining there an hour or more, exposed to the elements, the storm abated and the sky cleared. They then discovered that they were on Isle Royal, and that the vessel had been wrecked about a mile from shore on great boulders near the channel. It was about 10 o'clock in the morning and the crew remained there until late in the afternoon when the Athabasca came along and picked them up."

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Nov. 14, 1885
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Rick Neilson
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Gananoque Reporter (Gananonque, ON), Nov. 14, 1885