The Cornwall

In the fall of 1989 a new discovery in this area proved to be one of the most historic of the early Canadian steamboats, the iron hulled side-wheeler Cornwall.

The following is an article written for The Kingston Whig Standard by One of the people who located the wreck. Diver and marine historian: Rick Neilson.

Launched in Montreal in 1854 as the Kingston, she was one of the finest Canadian steamboats of her day on the Upper St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario. Indeed, when the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) toured Canada in 1860, she was chosen to be his ‘floating palace.’ Stained glass windows, pianos, and luxurious carpeting comprised part of her decor. In 1872 she was gutted by fire while off Grenadier Island in the St. Lawrence River. Rebuilt as the Bavarian, she burned a second time in the fall of 1873. The iron hull, rebuilt yet again, at Power’s shipyard at Kingston, was this time christened the Algerian. Under this name she served in the Royal Mail Line for the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company until the turn of the century, running between Toronto and Montreal. Renamed the Cornwall in 1905 she gradually assumed a stand-by role, filling in when one of her newer, faster line mates had a breakdown.

Photo by Rick Rogers.

Photo by Rick Rogers.

Near the end of 1911 she was purchased by the Calvin Company of Garden Island, opposite Kingston. In their hands she underwent a remarkable transformation. The Calvin’s weren’t interested in passengers, their business since the 1830’s had been the movement of lumber and ship building, with a towing and wrecking business on the side. They removed much of the upper works and added salvage equipment and a derrick for ‘lightening’ the cargo of stranded vessels. After two highly remunerative seasons the Cornwall was sold to the Donnelly Salvage and Wrecking Company, who used her for many more years as a wrecker. As late as 1928 they still considered her the flagship of their fleet. With her 40 ton derrick, clamshell outfit, 12 inch rotary steam pumps, diving equipment, air compressor lifting jacks, wrecking hawsers, syphons, steam connections and steel hose, she was well equipped to fulfill her role of rescuing vessels in trouble.

Photo by Rick Rogers.

Photo by Rick Rogers.

In the winter of 1928, the Donnelly Salvage & Wrecking Co. was one of several Great Lakes salvage outfits purchased and combined to form Sin Mac Lines, later Sincennes-McNaughton Tugs Ltd.

Shortly thereafter her owners decided that the Cornwall had finally outlived her usefulness. Her iron hull was tired after 75 years of continuous use. The late Vic Ruttle of Portsmouth, an old Donnelly hand, described her last voyage.  About 1930, just before Christmas, they towed her out in a snow storm. Her engine had been removed but her boilers, paddle-wheels and cabins were intact. Not being anxious to hang around, the crew hurried her on her way by the generous use of dynamite. He wasn’t sure of her exact location but thought she was somewhere near Amherst Island.

When found she was pretty much as Mr. Ruttle described her. Sitting upright on the bottom in 70 feet of water, the 176 foot long iron hull is split open in several places, either from the dynamite or impact with the bottom. The engine is missing from between the large a-frame, but the boilers are still in place, sticking some 20 feet off the bottom. The ten bladed feathering paddle wheels, 20 feet in diameter, are intact. The cabins are all gone but a great deal of wood-work lies on the bottom around the outside of the hull. Scattered throughout the wreckage are other items of interest; wooden barrels, tools, steam pipes, a bed, a ladder. At the bow a large piece of fore deck still has the windlass in place; a small engine and port-holes may also be seen here.

The sandy bottom and relatively shallow depth ensure that there is plenty of light; visibility during the summer is often in the 15-20 foot range. The lack of silt inside the hull allows divers to examine the construction methods used on what is only the fourth commercial iron vessel on the Great Lakes. A mooring was installed in the fall by Preserve Our Wrecks, Kingston to help protect this important piece of marine heritage.

The wooden hull of the Comet, built in 1848, and the iron hull of the Cornwall, built in 1854, rest on the bottom within two miles of each other. Where else in the Great Lakes can divers explore two side wheelers in one day?

Photo by Rick Rogers.

Photo by Rick Rogers.

The Aloha / Effie Mae

In the fall of the year 1917 a schooner barge was being towed into Kingston’s harbour in the midst of a troublesome storm.. Heavily loaded with coal the old timbers, of a vessel built in the late 1800’s, could take no more and the Aloha was swallowed up by Lake Ontario’s fury.. The tow vessel managed to pick up all the crew except the Captain who subsequently drowned.. The story does not end there however.. In the 1960’s the Aloha was found again by a couple of local Kingston divers… Then in 1980 the wreck suffered a great amount of destruction with the illegal removal of a large winch from its deck… To-day the wreck sits in 60 ft of water offering a good second or third dive or a warm up dive for those who wish to hone their skills for deeper water. In the summer fish abound, the water is warm, and visibility is great.

mbloc25Around the year of Canada’s 100th birthday a 40 ft wooden trawler hull was started in Shelborne Nova Scotia.. The craft was being built for Ken and Lois Jenkins of Port Credit Ontario. The hull was brought to Port Credit and completed in their back yard. In 1968 it was launched.. The completed boat was christened The Effie Mae.. Around 1980 the Effie became the first live aboard dive charter boat in the Kingston area. In 1987 Ken sold the Effie to Ted and Donna Walker. Ken succumbed to cancer and died the following year. Ted and Donna started in 1987 to run charters out of Kingston and continued to the end of the 1992 season.. Ted was transferred out west. So the Walker family decided to sell their beloved Effie.. Finding no suitable buyers and not wanting their beloved Effie broken up or just left to rot. They decided to donate the hull for sinking to Preserve Our Wrecks Kingston. In the spring of 1993  they ran her for the last time to the Metal Craft Dry dock to be made ready for sinking.


On Sunday October 17 1993, twenty five years from the date of her christening the Effie Mae was put to rest beside one of the historic shipwrecks she visited so many times before. To-day she is a valuable and much visited dive site sitting upright beside the wreck of the Schooner barge Aloha. A silent tribute to the two families who sailed and cared for her during her life above the waves…

 Local divers affectionately refer to the wreck of the “Effie” as “Ken’s wreck”. Ken Mullings, a very active member of Preserve Our Wrecks provided most of the work getting the authority to sink the ship, provided most of the labour to get her ready for sinking, worried, paced and fretted until she was finally put to rest.


“Well Sort of put to rest” It seems he didn’t like the first place the Effie landed. So he convinced a number of divers and a charter boat captain to help him lift the hull gently off the bottom and pull her to exactly the right spot. This was accomplished with no damage…. Ken is now Happy!!!!

P.O.W.’S Two moorings at the site are very well used indeed!!

Wolfe Islander II

wolfe-islander-drawingsA Collingwood Ship yard built The Ottawa Maybrook and a sister ship during the last days of World War II, they were originally designed as 206 ton, 164ft, class C Coastal Freighters.

Built to be delivered to China as part of an aid package by the Canadian Government. The war ended, China fell to the Communists, the aid was cancelled and the two ships were never delivered.

It was decided to convert the Ottawa Maybrook to a car ferry for use in the Kingston to Wolfe Island run. The Shipyard had to do extensive modifications to convert the freighter to a side loading ferry, but the Maybrook, renamed The Wolfe Islander II, was delivered to Kingston where she replaced the older sidepaddle wheel ferry Wolfe Islander. From 1945 to the late 1970’s this converted coaster traveled back and forth between Kingston, Garden Island, and Wolfe Island. During the summer she would load at the foot of Brock street in Kingston and cross to Marysville on Wolfe island, then back again. Once the Ice of winter closed the Marysville dock the ferry would make the longer trip down the river to her winter dock on the island. As the ice strengthened a tug was employed to keep a path open and would even tow the Islander back and forth on her rounds. Eventually it would become impossible to get through so the ferry and her consort would be tied up for the winter. The Islanders would have to fend for themselves.


In 1976 a new end loading ferry was delivered, the Wolfe Islander III, to take over the route. Larger, more powerful and more maneuverable, with four multi-directional diesel power units, it traveled in a channel created in the ice following apth made by  a brand new bubble system run by 5 huge compressors on the mainland.The new ship was able to provide year round service.

The Wolfe Islander II was kept around for a time as back up, in case the new ferry broke down, but the modern unit was reliable. The old ship found herself the property of the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes on the Kingston waterfront. Her luck ran out again when the Museum was able to secure the acquisition of the Coast Guard light ice breaker Alexander Henry which is now permanently moored by the dry dock at the museum. It looked for a time like the Wolfe would go the way of the scrap yards.

pwolfThat is until a group of concerned Marine enthusiasts and divers formed a company and took the ship over with the express purpose of sinking her as a dive site in an area protected from the prevailing south west wind. The idea was to provide a safe and interesting dive site accessible in all kinds of weather. At the same time saving the ship from the wreckers torches.

The ship was cleaned and made safe for divers. Sponsors were found and provided the much needed money for the project. Each large sponsor had the name of their company engraved on the glass of the port holes.On September 21st 1985 the old ship set out for the last time out of Kingston’s harbour, this time under tow, almost the same route the route taken to the winter dock for so many years. There in the St. Lawrence River, within sight of the winter dock the Wolfe Islander II was finally put to rest. A fitting retirement for a Kingston landmark, she landed upright in 80 ft of water with the bow facing north.


Photo by Julie Ralph

The life boat davits on the rear deck are at about the 40 ft level and the car deck is approximately the 60 ft level. The Salon is backlit by the ports and doors providing lots of ambient light. An air pocket develops in a corner of the cabin from divers air in the summer and it is possible to put your head in to it and speak toyour buddy 60 ft below the surface!!! WARNING don’t breath the air trapped there however as the oxygen is depleted. The hold of the ferry can be accessed as well, but this should only be done by divers skilled in wreck penetration. The insides get very stirred up in a matter of seconds with silt. One of the anchors has been recovered and placed on the deck and a motorcycle appeared on the car deck one day. There is a time capsule on the car deck area and Divers can drop down the stern to view the large prop and rudder at 80 ft.

Many divers return  again and again because you can’t cover the entire wreck in one dive. At one time divers could see the portholes that were engraved by the sponsors of the sinking until a group came with their air tools and took them for themselves. They were caught in the act  by the Divercity Captain who called the authorities, but the culprits ditched the loot overboard before being apprehended.

The Munson

munsonThe Munson was a Belleville based steam powered dredge. In the year 1890 it was being towed back to Belleville after completing a job in Kingston by the Emma Munson. About a mile southeast of Collins Bay the vessel started to take on water and sank just off Lemoines Point. It sits upright in 112 feet of water. It’s large shovel lays to the north, the electric generator that is home to a ling cod, is still mounted on the upper deck. A steam boiler, steam engine, plus the many other artifacts still present make this wreck a worthwhile dive. It is intact with the exception of the cabin siding which has fallen off. The wreck is marked with a mooring bouy supplied by P.O.W.

The Comet


Photo by Julie Ralph

The Comet was built by a gentleman by the name of George Ault at Portsmouth village (which has since been swallowed up by the city of Kingston) in the year 1848. The ship was a steam driven side paddle wheeler of some 175 ft long 24 ft in breadth and 10 feet in depth. In 1851 it was renamed the Mayflower. Then in 1861 the ship was refitted and renamed the Comet. On an evening in the year 1861 the Comet left Kingston in heavy winds to make the trip up the lake. Near the false Duck Islands it was run down by the Schooner Exchange. The Comet badly damaged and with out power was driven down wind in the direction of Kingston. It finally sank 2 miles off Simcoe Island out side Kingston’s harbour… It sits upright in 80 feet of water. The superstructure is gone but the two massive paddle wheels some 32 feet across sit upright on the bottom still connected to the walking beam engine. The anchor windless, wheels, engine, rudder, stove, plus much more await the diver. P.O.W. marks the wreck with a mooring.

George A. Marsh

It was a beautiful 8th day of August in the year 1917. The George A. Marsh cleared American waters for the trip across the expanses of Lake Ontario. She was on her way to the picturesque city of Kingston with a load of much needed coal for the Rockwood Hospital. The Sowards Coal Company had retained her when their usual carrier was found to be unavailable. The Marsh, very seldom, made this trip to the Limestone city, but cargoes were in short supply and her Captain jumped at the chance to earn extra money. Therefore, after, a reported, 450 tons of black energy was loaded into her holds at the port of Oswego New York. She had set sail this lovely morning for Kingston and history.


The Marsh and most of the old wooden sailing schooners and barges like her were in their final years of long and gallant careers. Steam had arrived on the scene and with it came larger, faster, and more reliable ships. Ships that were much more economical to operate and maintain by their owners. Steamers carried the better paying payloads of passengers and freight. The old ladies of the lakes were left to carry whatever they could to make a buck. This generally meant over loading the ship’s holds with merchandise such as coal and feldspar. Built twenty-five years earlier the Marsh suffered a little each time such a load was placed against her old timbers.

 The George Marsh had started her life in a Muskegon Michigan ship yard in the year 1892. Built for a gentleman by the name of J. Footlander and put to work as soon as she hit the water. For most of the ship’s working career she was to fly an American flag of registry. Then on April 17 1914 a Canadian, Mr. J.B. Flint, of Belleville Ontario, bought her. He went to Toronto, registered the vessel as Canadian, and was given the registration numbers 133750. Her registered tonnage was listed as 220. As with many old ships of that time her new captain John Wesley Smith was a partner and part owner. The schooner was then sailed to her new home in Belleville. Many trips were made across the expanse of Lake Ontario while the ship was based in this small south eastern town. Calling on American ports such
as Oswego New York.

georgemarshFor the thirteen souls on board and making the trip to Kingston this day, things couldn’t have looked brighter. The day was sunny with a nice fresh breeze out of the south west. The ships three large masts could carry plenty of sail, so the trip was going to be fast and enjoyable. Captain Smith was not aboard that day, his sixty five year old mate William Watkins was a seasoned sailor. The second wife of the captain and five of their seven children were on board. As well Mr. Neil MacLellan, a deck hand, had received permission to bring his wife, their eighteen month old baby, and a nephew along. The captain’s brother, William Smith, was also on board. Rounding out the crew was a deck hand by the name of George Cousins. In all 13 people were on board that fateful day.

 Then it happened! The ship was suddenly hit with a violent, fast rising lake storm. The kind of storm all seamen of the day feared and had a healthy respect for. The crew of the George Marsh fought this raging enemy of wind and rain professionally and valiantly. Hour after hour the storm battered the old ship while the mariners struggled to keep her from broaching in the mountainous seas. Finally, the old lady’s timbers could take no more. Her seams opened allowing lake water to rush in and fill her passages. The pumps could not handle the vast amounts of water. Her buoyancy gone the George A. Marsh slipped below the surface of an angry Lake Ontario. Ending her career within sight of her Kingston destination and the safety of it’s harbour.

  The last few hours in the life of the marsh must have been terror for her crew and passengers. The wind raged, the ship rocked violently from side to side and up and down. Foaming lake water surged again and again over the decks. All of this coupled with the darkness of the night that had fallen over them made it difficult to complete any task. Then the realization that the ship was doomed! The hands managed to launch the yawl that hung on the stern davits. The other life boat remained lashed to the port side deck near the bow. As the ship sank, some people were thrown into the cold black waters. The captain’s brother and deck hand Neil MacLellan managed to climb into the yawl which they would have immediately cut loose from the sinking ship. McLennan had his baby in his arms. One of the other children managed to grab hold of the yawl’s side. For some reason however the two men inside were not able to pull her into their small craft. The cold eventually took its toll. She could hold on no more and was lost to the fury of the lake. After many hours the yawl made it to Amherst Island. By that time, however the McLennan baby had succumbed to the dreadful cold. In all eleven of the thirteen people on board lost their lives. Gone were the captains wife, his children (Greta, John, Harry, Clarence, and one other), Mrs. MacLellan, Her baby, McLennan’s nephew and the deck hand George Cousins. Some of the dead were recovered from the lake. We do know that some of the Marsh’s last seafarers still lay beside their ship at the bottom of Lake Ontario today.

The next morning in that year of 1917. All that could be seen of the once proud ship were her masts sticking above the surface. The George A. Marsh had sunk upright in eighty feet of water. At the time of her sinking she was valued at $5500.00. It was decided not to raise or salvage the ship as it would be too expensive. The masts, being ae enavigational hazard, were pulled out of the deck and dropped alongside the ship. There she sat forgotten and alone for almost fifty years.

On  April 20  2006, Divercity recieved this letter: Thank you Eileen Wessell

I was looking up some info on sunken schooners on the Great Lakes and came across your web site.
The schooner the “George A. Marsh” is of interest to me, as my late husband was related to a Neil MacLellan who survived the wreck. The problem is you have him listed as Neil McLennan. My husband was named after the Captain of this ship John Wesley Smith. John Smith was not on board at the time of the wreck, even though he should have been.
He went to live in the U.S.A. to avoid having trouble with the authorities and died in Oklahoma (Harrah)  quite a number of years later. Even his kin thought he perished on board until they found out different at the time of his death.
Just thought you might like to know.

Yours truly, E.Wessell
Ont. Canada

For the diver to-day the sites to see are her wheel, impressive bow, anchor winch, the cargo, tools, dead eyes, plus many other areas of interest… The wreck is fully intact and gives a good indication of how ships of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s were constructed. P.O.W. marks the wreck with a mooring.