GALA AFTERNOON AT PENETANG
Deadliest Ship on Lakes Raised from Grave
By William French
Penteganguishene Aug. 30. Staff
The U.S. Gunboat SCORPION, once the deadliest ship under canvas on the Great Lakes, was pulled from her mucky grave on the bottom of Penetanguishene Bay yestereday, 135 years after she was sunk.
Her skimpy remains looked like the skeleton of a prehistoric monster as she broke the surface of the water with gaunt ribs clinging to the spine of her still-stout keel. Her superstructure and fittings had been long since washed away by the relentless water.
The SCPRPION fought this last battle with history, nobly and almost sucessfully, It took 15 men and a dredging scow from 7:30 a.m. until an hour past sunset to subdue her. A lucky shot with the scow's clam shovel hooked her in a vital spot just before a diver went down for what would have been his last try of the fading day.
The ship's remains were ignominiously towed to shore lashed to the scow and her last voyage will be made on a trailer, to the Penetanguishene Museum, a mile away.
The SCORPION'S reserrection was the occasion for a gala afternoon for the residents and tourist of this history-rich resort area. Scores of boats, large and small, clusterd around the scow and a provincial policeman took to a boat to direct traffic. A converted RCN Fairmile was chartered to bring people out from the town. Hundreds of others lined the shore. A boat with a loudspeaker was provided for the politicians to make speeches to the assembly. Every time the scow brought a loose piece of debris to the surface, the surrounding ships sounded sirens. But most of the crowd, expectant all afternoon, had gone when the quarry was finally hooked.
The salvage operation was organized by Wilfred Jury of the University of Western Ontario as part of his project of digging up and restoring history in the area. He was backed enthusiastically by three Penetanguishene residents particulary Mayor George Kerr museum boat chairman W.H. Morrison, John McGuire, local historian and Reeve Alf Cage and the Simcoe County Council.
The ship was built at Erie before Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo. She was finished just in time for the War of 1812 and carried a 24 pound gun and a crew of 32.
With her sistership the TIGRESS and NIAGARA, she cleared Lake Erie of British ships and fired the first and last shot at the battle of Put-In-Bay, which gave the U. S. complete control of the lakes. After that battle the three ships set out to get the NANCY, the only British ship left west of Niagara, which was supplying the vital fort of Mackinac.
They found the NANCY up the Nottawasaga River and had no trouble capturing and burning her. The NIAGARA then went off to Mackinac to make sure no supplies got in, while the other two ships set out to look for canoes carrying furs.
A goup of Britons who had escaped from Nottawasaga and made the 360 mile trip to Mackinac by rowboat rallied under Lieut. Millar Worsley and set out in four large rowboats to attck the U.S. Navy.
They found the TIGRESS, boarded her before the crew knew they were there, and captured the ship in a bloody battle. Worsely left the American flag flying.
The SCORPION which had been some distance off, rejoined her sistership unaware of what had happened. When she was right along side, the TIGRESS let go with her armament and the SCORPION was taken easily.
Both ships were taken to Mackinac, where they were renamed the SURPRISE and CONFIANCE and were used to help fight the Americans. After the war they were used as supply boats. A treaty signed between the U. S. and Britain in 1817 limited the number of ships each could have on the Great Lakes and as a result the TIGRESS and SCORPION were sunk. There were no war surplus stores in those days.
The TIGRESS was raised in 1928 and its bony remains rest outside the museum where the SCORPION will soon join it. The diver who worked on yesterday's operation,Vern Carson is the son of the man who did the same job when the TIGRESS was raised. He was the coolest man on the scene working in 15 feet of water with a temperature of about 70 degrees. At the opposite end was the stoker on the scow who labored in 110 degree heat.
One of the speakers at the ceremony was George C. Johnston. MPP for Simcoe Centre. He said that if at any time the U. S. requests the return of the SCORPION and TIGRESS to their native shore he for one would raise no objections. (From the look on Mr. Jury's face when that statement was made, he for one would object.)
Mr. Jury, who told the crowd that he was just an old crock doing a job, was particularly grateful to the Russell Construction Co. which donated the use of the scow and its crew for the job. He said after the remains finally reached shore that he was very pleased with the success of the opeation. When diver Carson got down to the wreck he found another ship on top of it. When it was pulled up it was identified from its iron-work as the TECUMSEH, a British boat which was sunk a few hundred feet up the bay as a result of the same treaty. The rigors of 135 spring break-ups had moved it down on top of the other wreck. "That as a matter of fact, is quite symbolic." said Mr. Jury, "The two former enemies have been getting closer and closer together over the years.
Aug. 30, 1953 (Newspaper unknown)