Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 1
by John H. Rick
Underwater Archaeological Investigations
The Service's initial underwater work was carried out by Sean Gilmore and Walter Zacharchuk in the area around Fort Lennox during the summer of 1964. Primarily this was designed to test equipment and to determine what information might reasonably be expected from submarine excavations and what types of problems were likely to be encountered. Test excavations were carried out on a coal barge sunk about the turn of the century at Cantic some five miles upstream from the fort.
The following year, Gilmore carried out underwater surveys on the shores of Ile-aux-Noix in an attempt to locate and date dock construction there (Gilmore 1965).
In 1965, Zacharchuk directed an extensive underwater survey in the vicinity of Egg Island on the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The purpose of this work was to locate and determine the condition of the wrecks of the Hovenden-Walker expedition of 1711. This fleet had been on its way to attack Quebec when eight vessels went aground in a storm; five of the wrecks were located by Zacharchuk. Since these are in relatively shallow water, they have all been severely damaged by wave and ice action. The remains are encased in a very hard conglomerate of sand and boulders from which the few artifacts recovered had to be removed with chisels. Glass and pottery have been heavily scoured by sand. Most of the iron objects have corroded away, but it is possible to obtain impressions of some of these pieces by pouring plaster into the holes which they once occupied in the matrix. Those iron artifacts which survive require immediate conservation since they crumble after a few days of exposure to air.
These wrecks might repay further investigation, but this could be done only at great expense. Removing artifacts from the matrix would be a time consuming job and diving would be hampered by the frequent storms and fog in this area. For much of the summer, the coldness of the water would also reduce diving time unless dry suits were worn. Extensive laboratory facilities for prompt treatment of the artifacts would be a necessary part of any investigation of these wrecks.
Four additional wrecks were discovered in this area. One dates from the 1920s and the second from the mid-19th century. The remaining two were not sufficiently exposed to permit any estimate of date.
Beginning in the late spring of 1966, Zacharchuk carried out a reconnaissance of the eastern end of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River down to Gananoque. A large number of wrecks was located and it was decided to confine further investigations that summer to this area.
The first site examined was wreckage off Burnt Island, near Gananoque, Ontario, believed by local divers to be the remains of early trade canoes. Although this site had been picked over by divers for several years, many artifacts were recovered, chiefly clay pipes and pane glass. Five kegs of cut nails, each weighing 250 lbs., were found; two of these were salvaged. Documentary research suggests that this material was cargo which had been jettisoned after a collision between two ships on 24 August 1856.
The second site was off Main Duck Island in Lake Ontario, about 22 miles south-southwest of Kingston, Ontario. The primary objective was to locate and excavate a French military vessel which had sunk off the island in 1741 while on its way from Cataraqui (present-day Kingston) to Fort Niagara with trade goods and military supplies. A large quantity of 18th-century material was recovered from cracks in the limestone slabs which form the lake bottom in this area, but no trace of the ship itself was found. The evidence suggests that the vessel ran aground in a storm and could not be refloated because of damage to the hull by the rocks; some of the cargo may have been salvaged by the survivors. When the ice moved out in early spring, it probably carried the hulk with it, at the same time scattering the unsalvaged cargo over a wide expanse of lake bottom. In subsequent years, the ice presumably swept the material into cracks in the rocks where it was found.
R. K. Leishman, a Kingston diver, reported a wreck in Patterson Bay near Mallorytown Landing, Ontario, and this was examined on completion of the Main Duck Island project. The wreck was completely sand-covered except for the stem, centre board case and stem post. Because of the shallow water, it was not possible to use air-lifts and, consequently, the sand had to be raised by a slower, water-powered suction device; it was necessary to remove some 320 cubic yards of sand to bare the hull for recording. The craft is 54 ft. long and 14 ft. abeam; its general appearance and architectural details suggest a military supply ship of the 1810-20 period. Most of the few artifacts recovered seem to support this date, although the maker's mark on one pipe stem suggests a later period. It is hoped that current documentary research will provide sufficient information to identify the wreck. Architecturally, the vessel seems sufficiently interesting to justify raising it for further study and eventual exhibition and it is expected that this work will be carried out during the summer of 1967.
To the extent that time permitted, Zacharchuk examined a dozen other wrecks in the river and eastern end of the lake. Most of these, unfortunately, were found to have been stripped by divers.
Gilmore and Zacharchuk conducted a brief survey at Fort St. Joseph in 1964 to locate submerged dock installations connected with the military establishment there. Remains of the schooner dock were found and several mounds of stone, believed to be cribs for the fort's canoe docks, were also discovered. A few days of work were devoted to excavating and raising a 23 ft. bateau, tentatively dated to the period of the War of 1812 (Gilmore and Zacharchuk 1964). The craft was treated with polyethylene glycol and is now on display at Fort Malden.
During the autumn of 1966, Zacharchuk and the author visited Meldrum Bay on Manitoulin Island to examine a wreck reputed to be that of La Salle's Griffon which disappeared somewhere between Green Bay, Michigan and Niagara Falls in 1679. Quimby (1966, Ch. 4) suggests that the ship went down in northern Lake Michigan; certainly there is no reason to believe that she ever reached Manitoulin Island. The Meldrum Bay wreckage appears to be the side of a ship and examination of the nails recovered indicates a post-1820 construction date (Mercer 1951: Fig. 207; Fontana et al. 1962: 44 ft.). There is no possibility that these nails were made in the 17th century and, hence, the wreckage cannot be that of the Griffon.