Calgary Herald

Lake div­ing in Al­berta

Diver un­cov­ers sub­merged ar­ti­facts of for­got­ten Al­berta com­mu­ni­ties

- RE­BECCA ED­WARDS

Most vis­i­tors to Lake Min­newanka in Banff Na­tional Park see only its nat­u­ral beauty above the water sur­face. For diver Greg Moss­feldt, how­ever, the water’s depths of­fer a chance to travel back in time.

The flooded ru­ins of the 1888 Min­newanka Land­ing town­ship are just one of the un­der­wa­ter sites in B.C. and Al­berta that Moss­feldt has ex­plored and doc­u­mented in re­cent years, while run­ning his Cal­gary div­ing school, Moss­man Scubaven­tures.

“I al­ways imag­ine what it would have been like to live there at the turn of the cen­tury,” he says.

“The hard­ships peo­ple faced, those who moved there from an­other coun­try and were set­ting up en­ter­prises and how they cre­ated their homes.

“I’ve found teapots un­der there, lanterns; I even found an old bike un­der there once, cov­ered in silt.”

While wrecks in salt­wa­ter rust quickly, the depths of fresh­wa­ter lakes have low oxy­gen lev­els and are cold and dark enough that al­gae does not form.

Con­se­quently, most ar­ti­facts are cov­ered in a layer of silt but are oth­er­wise un­af­fected, even by 100 years un­der­wa­ter.

One of Moss­feldt’s prize dis­cov­er­ies came last year in Crowsnest Lake, in south­west Al­berta next to High­way 3 in Crowsnest Pass.

He and fel­low diver James Dixon heard a lo­cal leg­end about a train that de­railed into the lake dur­ing the Pro­hi­bi­tion era, sub­merg­ing box­cars filled with bar­rels of moon­shine that were be­ing smug­gled by rum­run­ners.

They set about ex­plor­ing likely lo­ca­tions around the lake. Be­fore find­ing any sign of the train, they came across a sub­merged 1929 Chevro­let car — cov­ered in silt, but fully pre­served.

“The lo­cal story goes that a cou­ple that were in a band at the lo­cal dance hall were com­ing back from a night of play­ing in 1929 and found the road was im­pass­able, so they drove out onto the frozen lake as peo­ple did back then,” Moss­feldt says.

“They broke through the ice. They man­aged to make it out safely but, lo­cal leg­end has it, their be­long­ings — along with a cher­ished vi­o­lin — went down with the ve­hi­cle.

“When we found it, James and I could hear each other’s shouts of joy right through the breath­ing hoses of our div­ing ap­pa­ra­tus.”

The win­ter chains were still vis­i­ble on the back wheels of the car, as well as the me­tal springs in the car seats and the me­tal sup­ports that would have held a soft roof.

The divers didn’t open the en­gine com­part­ment, as they be­lieve the move­ment would have caused the ve­hi­cle to break apart.

An­other ex­pe­di­tion to nearby Emer­ald Lake re­vealed a 1960s Ford Me­teor, although not in as good con­di­tion as the 1920s ve­hi­cle. The team doesn’t know the story be­hind that sub­merged car.

Later, the group re­turned to Crowsnest Lake and found a trail of de­bris that led them to sev­eral 1920s box­cars on the bot­tom of the lake, but no sign of any moon­shine con­tain­ers.

A lo­cal news­pa­per story about the find did, how­ever, prompt con­tact from a woman whose fa­ther was the “Mr. Big” rum-run­ner of Fernie; he used to tell her a train load of booze was at the bot­tom of the lake. Moss­feldt and Dixon hope to re­turn to the lake in search of the stash.

Moss­feldt took up scuba div­ing in 1989 and soon took fur­ther cour­ses to be­come an in­struc­tor.

He was one of the first divers to adapt video cam­eras to film un­der­wa­ter, earn­ing him in­vi­ta­tions from Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel and HBO to travel around the world film­ing fa­mous ship­wrecks.

His ex­pe­di­tions in­cluded a Sec­ond World War Ger­man U-boat that sank off New Jer­sey, and Bri­tan­nic, the sis­ter ship of the Ti­tanic that was lost in the Kea Chan­nel of the Aegean Sea along­side Greece.

More re­cently he has con­cen­trated his ef­forts on Cana­dian dive sites. He was part of a team that dis­cov­ered the Athel Vik­ing in the ap­proaches to Hal­i­fax Har­bour, a ship sup­pos­edly car­ry­ing mo­lasses that was tor­pe­doed in 1945 along with the Bri­tish Free­dom and Martin Van Buren.

He also leads dives to sunken ves­sels in B.C.’S Koote­nay Lake and the Slo­can Val­ley, in­clud­ing the ferry MV An­scomb, which sank in 2004, and the City of Ainsworth pad­dle steamer stern­wheeler, which sank in 1898 in the Craw­ford Bay area of Koote­nay Lake.

Along with lead­ing dives, Moss­feldt in­structs on the mixed-gas closed-cir­cuit div­ing equip­ment that en- ables him to ex­plore great depths. These “re­breathers” re­cy­cle the breath­ing gas, al­low­ing divers to stay at a depth up to 122 me­tres for more than four hours with a very small sys­tem.

Bat­tery-pow­ered un­der­wa­ter scoot­ers, mean­while, al­low his team to move through the water faster than swim­ming, widen­ing their search ar­eas.

“I use tech­nol­ogy that al­lows me to get to the deeper sites, where re­cre­ational divers can’t get to, so they are all un­touched,” Moss­feldt says.

Moss­feldt strictly does not re­move ar­ti­facts from dives, be­liev­ing it is im­por­tant to leave sites un­touched, but says many other divers break Cana- dian law in tak­ing items, which means many shal­low water sites have been stripped.

He says that just about any fresh­wa­ter lake in Canada con­tains ar­ti­facts that show the ef­fect hu­man life has had on the area, and that to him is more in­ter­est­ing than ex­plor­ing un­der­wa­ter wildlife.

“Most lakes will have some­thing of in­ter­est at the bot­tom of them from the early years of set­tle­ment in Western Canada,” he says.

“There were a lot of cars and min­ing trains pass­ing through. They had to get across those wa­ter­ways in all kinds of con­di­tions — there are good fruits of his­tory un­der the sur­face, I’m sure of it.”

 ?? Pho­tos, cour­tesy, Greg Moss­feldt ?? James Dixon ex­am­ines the 1929 Chevro­let that he and Greg Moss­feldt dis­cov­ered at the bot­tom of Crowsnest Lake in south­west Al­berta. The car was fully pre­served.
Pho­tos, cour­tesy, Greg Moss­feldt James Dixon ex­am­ines the 1929 Chevro­let that he and Greg Moss­feldt dis­cov­ered at the bot­tom of Crowsnest Lake in south­west Al­berta. The car was fully pre­served.
 ??  ?? Dixon dis­cov­ered a water pump at the sub­merged town of Min­newanka Land­ing in Banff Na­tional Park. It’s just one of the un­der­wa­ter sites found in Al­berta and B.C.
Dixon dis­cov­ered a water pump at the sub­merged town of Min­newanka Land­ing in Banff Na­tional Park. It’s just one of the un­der­wa­ter sites found in Al­berta and B.C.
 ??  ?? Greg Moss­feldt runs Moss­man Scubaven­tures in Cal­gary, teach­ing divers how to ac­cess sub­merged ar­ti­facts.
Greg Moss­feldt runs Moss­man Scubaven­tures in Cal­gary, teach­ing divers how to ac­cess sub­merged ar­ti­facts.

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