Tuesday, August 19, 2008

New shipwreck discoveries hearken  back to War of 1812

By Jordan Press
Whig-Standard Staff Writer

A view of the parts of the sunken vessel


KENN FEIGELMAN AND HIS TEAM OF underwater filmmakers planned to spend .the summer documenting on film all the known wrecks in the waters around Kingston.

They also hoped to find a new wreck. They didn't expect to find four old ships, including one that likely hasn't been seen for nearly 200 years, along with a debris field of other ships near the city

One wreck was previously found then lost. The wreck, a large hulk sitting on the bottom of the lake, is believed to be HMS Montreal, a Kingston build ship that was scuttled after the War of 1812, said Feigelman, who runs DeepQuest2 Expeditions.

“This isn’t just Kingston history, this is North American history,” Feigelman said, referring to the warships his crew stumbled upon.

“It can only be good for Kingston”

“We’re not saying we found them for the first time, but it’s a discovery for sure”.

The discoveries, he said, could attract marine archeologists to the region to study the remains. A marine archeologist for Parks Canada told Feigelman’s team that there could be six or seven similar wrecks in the same vicinity of the discoveries made this month.

“We don’t know where it’s going to lead to,” Feigelman said. “It can only be good for Kingston.”

The location of the find is being kept a secret. Parks Canada will be made aware of the location of the wrecks, but finds of this nature are kept secret to ensure nobody steals from or damages the remains, Feigelman said.

“We don’t want people to do souvenir hunting,” Feigelman said.

This part of the Great Lakes is a massive underwater graveyard for shipwrecks from the past. The number of boats that have disappeared between Kingston and Prince Edward County is similar in nature to the infamous Bermuda Triangle and its strange habit of swallowing boats and planes.

This local triangle in known as the Marysburgh Vortex.

There are estimated to be 450 wrecks in the vortex, with about 80 shipwrecks known to exist in the area from Kingston to Prince Edward County. They include a passenger freight ship called the Comet, the George A. Marsh, a three-masted schooner with the wheel still intact, and a series of wrecks by Amherst Island that includes two old steamers and a paddle wheel boat.

“Our mandate this year was to record and document… some of the known wrecks in the area,” Feigelman said yesterday.

“We haven’t had a chance to.”

Among these ships are several from the War of 1812, some of which researchers have been seeking for years. Feigelman said the large ship found this month is believed to be the HMS Montreal.

During the war, the British ordered ships built in Kingston to counter the American fleet being built at Sackets Harbour, N.Y., on the south of Lake Ontario. The Montreal was built in Kingston and launched in 1813.

Originally, she was named after Sir George Provost, the British governor-general who ordered her built. After launching, she was renamed HMS Wolfe and later HMS Montreal in January 1814.

HMS Montreal took part in several battles, including the raid and capture of the fort at Oswego N.Y.

Feigelman said the wreck is more than 27 metres (90 feet) long. About three metres (10 feet) of the body of the boat are still intact and rise from the bottom of the lake, he said. The dimensions aside, another notable clue that it is the warship Montreal is the number of cannon balls in and around it, he said.

The ship appears to have been set afire and purposely sunk, like many other British ships from the time, he said. After the war, there was no use for them and the British didn’t want the ships to fall into American hands.

“The others [wrecks] we’re finding – there’s no doubt they’re all part of the same fleet,” Feigelman said. “Although they’re not as big and robust as some of the other ships out there, these are history.”

Feigelman said his team plans to return to the wrecks to shoot high-definition video plus stills and three-dimensional photographs. The new discoveries, he said, may change how the team approaches the documentary they planned to do at the start of the summer.

“We don’t know where this is going,” Feigelman said, “but there are a lot of people interested in it.”