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Researching   Canadian   Shipwrecks

Also see Researching American Shipwrecks

      There are many public sources of information for researching Canadian shipwrecks.

      This page will review and evaluate several of these sources including the Transport Canada Wreck Lists, Transportation Safety Board Inquiries, Canadian Sessional Papers, Great Britain Board of Trade Wreck List, Port of Registry - Vessel Registrations, Regional Newspapers, Registers, Directories, Provincial and Local Museums, Provincial and Local Archives, Local Books on Shipwrecks, Voluntary Organizations, Scuba Diving Shops and Local Boat Charters, plus other sources.

1. Transport Canada Wreck Lists - Transport Canada produced three major lists of marine casualties. After 1980, annual supplements were published by region.
(info. included on Northern Shipwrecks Database CD)

These lists are:

Statement of Shipping Casualties Resulting in Total Loss in the St. Lawrence and Gulf and on the Atlantic Coast from 1896 Up to Date (to 1980) - 185 pages - approx. 3,800 vessels.

Statement of Shipping Casualties Resulting in Total Loss on the Inland Waters Excluding the St. Lawrence River below Montreal, from 1870 Up to Date (to 1980) - 47 pages - approx. 750 vessels.

Statement of Shipping Casualties Resulting in Total Loss in British Columbia Coastal Waters Since 1897 (to 1980) - 76 pages - approx. 1,200 vessels.

Details include vessel name, port of registry, official number, date of loss, place of loss, tonnage and cause, etc. These lists may still be available at no-charge from the Marine Casualties Investigations, Transport Canada, 110 O'Connor Street, 8th Floor, Ottawa, ON. K1A 0N5   (though they may be charging a fee now).

2. Canadian Transportation Safety Board Inquiries - A little harder to locate, this source includes inquiries into many marine casualties. Unfortunately, each inquiry rarely deals with more than one incident. This source is valuable with respect to finer details related to a specific vessel.

3. Canadian Sessional Papers - Each department of the Canadian Government published their annual reports in the volumes of Canadian Sessional Papers. Between 1870 and the mid-1920's, under the Marine & Fisheries Department (name varies), annual lists of shipwrecks appear featuring from 10 to 40 pages each. The volumes of the Canadian Sessional Papers can be located in the Reference section under Government Documents of most major university libraries. With up to 30 volumes produced for a single year, the common Table of Contents and Index in each volume of each year is very helpful in locating these lists.
(info. included on Northern Shipwrecks Database CD)

4. Great Britain Board of Trade Registers and Indexes of Wrecks - 1855 to 1898 - This list is available on a series of 30 volumes that has been reproduced on 14 reels of microfilm by the National Maritime Museum. Information includes British vessels lost throughout the world. The list varies in quality as a result the condition of the original volume, the writer's hand-writing, the format used and the quality of the reproduction.
(some info. included on Northern Shipwrecks Database CD)

As various persons hand-wrote each entry, it is more difficult to read some hand-writing in the earlier years. From 1873 to 1898, the format used is normally of excellent quality, utilizing a combination of hand-written entries regularly pasted over with actual newspaper clippings. These years are easily reviewed as the lists are recorded in chronological order under alphabetized sections. This source should be available on microfilm at major university libraries. Contact the Reference Desk at your local library to request a search for the nearest location and whether this item can be accessed through the inter-library loan or Document Delivery program.

5. Port of Registry - Vessel Registrations - This rarely used source offers a wealth of information for researchers interested in particular regions or vessels. For a vessel owner to receive official documentation on a newly-built or purchased vessel, they would present a list of the owners plus a certification of seaworthiness (vessel survey) at a Port of Registry office... normally at the first major port entered after launch or purchase. The Port of Registry office would record the vessel details, dimensions, builder(s) and the owners, etc. As the 64 shares in the vessel changed hands, the vessel registration would indicate the changes.
(some info. included on Northern Shipwrecks Database CD)

Active volumes of Registry are held in the local offices until the last vessel registration was closed, at which time the registration book was sent to Ottawa and the National Archives. To provide an idea of the scope of this source, Atlantic Canada has represented by 37 Ports of Registry of which 5 began in 1787. As some ports registered more than 300 vessels per year while also documenting the many changes in owners (from 1 to all 64 shares), there can be many volumes for each port. A major disadvantage of this source is that while the initial registration appears on one reel of microfilm, after the page was filled with updates, any change in ownership or vessel alteration, subsequent details may appear on a another reel, with more changes being located on a third, fourth or even fifth reel. Some patience may be required to locate the information sought.

This source, not including those active books, probably involves a few hundred reels of microfilm. The microfilm can be purchased individually through a business working with the National Archives, or possibly accessed through a major library. In Halifax, these microfilm are located on the campus of Dalhousie University in the University Archives on the top floor of the Killam Library.

6. Canadian Navy's Wreck List - Called the `Magnetic Anomalies Detection Data' (aka: the MADD List), this list was produced in 1958 by the Royal Canadian Navy. The list includes 20 legal-length pages (page 20 is missing from my copy) listing about 600 wrecks and their bottom coordinates. Recent attempts to locate this list or an updated version have proved to be fruitless with no Naval department claiming knowledge of any such list.
(info. included on Northern Shipwrecks Database CD)


8. Newspapers - One of the original newspapers to regularly provided reports of shipwrecks was Lloyd's List. Some libraries and archives may have a rare set of the 1969 Gregg Publishing reprints of Lloyd's List in 43 bound volumes including surviving issues from 1741 to 1826. As well, regional newspapers, an excellent source of shipwreck information, can often be found on microfilm in larger libraries. Ideal for researching individual shipwrecks or events such as a famous hurricane or storm like the Great August Gale in August of 1874, etc.

In Newfoundland, the earliest Newfoundland newspaper on microfilm dates back to 1806, and are located in the Centre for Newfoundland Studies on the campus of Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John's.
(most info. included on Northern Shipwrecks Database CD)

In Halifax, the Dalhousie University's Killam Library holds many newspapers in their Serials Section. Main branch libraries (Spring Garden Road, Halifax) hold local newspapers on microfilm.
(some info. included on Northern Shipwrecks Database CD)

7. Registers - All vessels are required to be registered. Most smaller vessels appear only in local Port of Registry registers (see above). Larger vessels registered with Lloyd's Register (England) , American Bureau of Shipping - (US), Bureau Veritas (France). Registers are often divided into sections for sail, steam and motor vessels. The registers provide basic information of vessels, builders and owners.

8. Directories - This includes research published by individuals or organizations. On of the best is Canadian Coastal and Inland Steam Vessels - 1809 to 1930 by John M. Mills.
(info. included on Northern Shipwrecks Database CD)

9. Provincial and Local Museums - Museums can be found in both large and small communities. In Halifax, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is an excellent resource. Access to their library is available by appointment. Lunenburg is home to the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic.

Other museums across Canada include: Canadian War Museum (Ottawa), Marine Museum of the Great Lakes (Kingston), Naval Museum of Alberta (Calgary), Vancouver Maritime Museum (Vancouver) and Maritime Museum of British Columbia (Victoria).

10. Provincial and Local Archives - Archives are another excellent source of information. Most Provincial Archives can be found in the `blue' pages of your phone book. The National Archives of Canada is located in Ottawa. For smaller archives, perform a Google search using words "Archive" or "Archives" plus the province name.

Other excellent archives that are not as easily found include the Maritime History Archive (Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NL) which, in addition, to having an excellent marine collection, also holds one the of the largest collections of crew lists. The Centre for Newfoundland Studies, also located at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, is in the Queen Elizabeth II Library. While the name may be deceiving, the University Archives, on the 5th floor of Killam Library, Dalhousie University, features many sources related to marine information, including many rolls of microfilms for regional Ports of Registry (see above). Yarmouth hosts the Yarmouth County Museum & Archives. Do not overlook such resources as the Navy's `Maritime Command Museum' in Halifax. The Hudson's Bay Company Archives is in Winnipeg. The University of Calgary hosts the Arctic Institute of North America.

11. Local Books on Shipwrecks - Most regions have writers that specialize in shipwrecks. In Nova Scotia, Jack Zinck wrote Shipwrecks of Nova Scotia - Volume 1 and 2. In Newfoundland, Frank Galgay and Michael McCarthy have written several books, as well as Robert Charles Parsons. For St. Pierre & Miquelon, see Jean-Pierre Andrieux's books. In Ontario, Cris Kohl has a number of titles. In British Columbia, Alfred (Fred) C. Rogers is a major source.
(most info. included on Northern Shipwrecks Database CD)

12. Voluntary Organizations - Voluntary organizations come from many backgrounds. Provincial and regional diving organizations support the diving communities with a lot of `hands-on' information of shipwrecks. Archaeological and nautical archaeology groups can prove to be a treasure chest of shipwreck information and possibly some unique diving opportunities. One of the largest, is `Save Ontario Shipwrecks' (aka: SOS). Do not forget to seek out historical organizations.
(most info. included on Northern Shipwrecks Database CD)

13. Scuba Diving Shops and Local Boat Charters - In addition to the regional diving organizations, many local dive clubs and shops publish regular newsletters featuring shipwreck information. Most dive boat charters are very familiar with local shipwrecks.

Click for details on the Northern Shipwrecks Database CD

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