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132-year-old shipwreck discovered in Lake Superior

Shipwreck hunters from the United States have discovered the remains of a packet steamer that sank off the northern shore of Lake Superior in 1884. Video of the J.S.

Shipwreck hunters from the US discovered the remains of a packet steamer that sank off the northern shore of Lake Superior in 1884.

Video of the J.S. Seaverns submerged near Michipicoten Harbour shows remarkably clear images of the wreckage, including stacks of unbroken dishes in the vessel's galley.

Dan Fountain, a historian and diver from Negaunee, Mich., was a member of the five-man team that located the Seaverns this past summer.

It was Fountain whose curiosity instigated the expedition.

"I was the guy who recognized that there oughta be a shipwreck on the bottom up there somewhere," he told from his home during a telephone interview. 

Fountain said the Seaverns was transporting supplies for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway as well as equipment for a planing mill in Thunder Bay, when she hit rocks and went to the bottom of Lake Superior in May of 1884.  All 60 crew members and passengers got safely to shore. 

As the decades passed, Fountain said, the wreck was forgotten, but in recent years he was able to connect newspaper articles about the disaster with old nautical charts that had misnamed the lost ship as the Saffern.   

The dive team found parts of the vessel to be in surprisingly good condition. 

"The Seaverns sank in rather benign conditions. It was a calm day, it wasn't a violent wreck. It went down rather smoothly, apparently ... It settled on an even keel on the bottom," Fountain said.

He added that it's fortunate that the ship sank where it did as it has not been affected by storms over the years. "It really is unusual to see anything in that kind of shape," he said, pointing out that the upper works of the wreck are broken up but the hull itself and some of the cabin structure are relatively intact.

For now, the team is not disclosing precisely where the Seaverns is submerged, or even the depth of the water where she is situated. "All we're really saying about it is, it is divable,,,what any certified agency would consider deep-air diving...There's a possibility that this wreck could be pillaged."

Fountain said the Ontario ministry of Culture, Tourism and Sport was contacted about the expedition and granted an archaeological permit to look for the wreck. "We have filed a shipwreck site report with the ministry," he added.

The American team believes there are a number of other as-yet undiscovered wrecks in Lake Superior, but with few clues to work with in most cases, Fountain speculates that searchers are not likely to be as lucky as his group was with the Seaverns. 

"We had good information and just put the pieces together and go look for it." 

The team plans to pay another visit to the site next year to do more exploration and take more pictures.



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Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
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