Search­ing for the SS Cari­bou


PORT AUX BASQUES, N.L. — A lo­cal ship­wreck so­ci­ety may soon go look­ing for the wreck­age of one of New­found­land’s most dev­as­tat­ing civil­ian ca­su­al­ties dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

Neil Burgess, pres­i­dent of the Ship­wreck Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety of New­found­land and Labrador (SPSNL), said if the so­ci­ety can se­cure fund­ing, it may be able to go look­ing for the re­mains of the SS Cari­bou in just a few years.

“It would be won­der­ful to lo­cate the SS Cari­bou in the Cabot Strait. It would be an amaz­ing project. It was one of the most tragic U-boat at­tacks of World War II in Cana­dian Wa­ters,” he said.

The SS Cari­bou was a pas­sen­ger ferry that ran from North Syd­ney, N.S., to New­found­land. On Oct. 14, 1942, it was hit by a Nazi tor­pedo off the coast of Port aux Basques. Of the 237 pas­sen­gers on board, 137 died, many of them civil­ian women and chil­dren.

SPSNL is a non-profit cor­po­ra­tion that aims “to ad­vance the aware­ness, doc­u­men­ta­tion, and stew­ard­ship of ship­wrecks through­out (New­found­land),” ac­cord­ing to its web­site.

SPSNL is cur­rently cre­at­ing a web­site on the his­tory of four ore car­ri­ers that were sunk by Ger­man U-boats near Bell Is­land dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

Burgess said af­ter this project is com­pleted in the next two months, SPSNL will pos­si­bly start look­ing for fund­ing to search for the SS Cari­bou, although he said it would be a “big un­der­tak­ing” due to the time and money it takes look­ing for ship­wrecks.


Burgess said SPSNL has re­ceived fund­ing in the past from lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to do re­search on ship­wrecks that aren’t far from shore. SPSNL works with th­ese com­mu­ni­ties to cre­ate sto­ry­boards ex­plain­ing the ship­wreck’s his­tory, which are then in­stalled on shore­lines.

But since the SS Cari­bou was sunk 37 kilo­me­ters off of Port aux Basques and its ex­act lo­ca­tion is un­known, Burgess said search­ing for the wreck would be more com­plex com­pared to other wrecks.

“We haven’t gone ex­plor­ing for ships whose lo­ca­tions are un­known yet. That would be tak­ing our ef­forts to the next level of com­pli­ca­tion and fund­ing to do that,” he ex­plained. “If we went search­ing for it, it would take days, if not weeks, to find it. We’d have to go with a sur­vey boat with sonar and search the sea bot­tom to try and lo­cate the wreck. It takes a lot of search­ing to find a wreck in deep wa­ter.”

Although Burgess doesn’t know how deep the wreck­age is, he be­lieves that it’s deep enough that div­ing would be too dan­ger­ous. In­stead, SPSNL would have to use a re­motely-op­er­ated un­der­wa­ter ve­hi­cle to in­ves­ti­gate the wreck­age.

Once lo­cated, the next step would be to con­firm the wreck­age is ac­tu­ally the SS Cari­bou by ex­am­in­ing its struc­ture and the names on its bow and stern, and com­par­ing it to pho­tos taken of the ship be­fore it sunk.


Like most tor­pe­doed ves­sels SPSNL has ex­am­ined, Burgess said he would ex­pect to see a “fairly in­tact ship­wreck with a big hole in the side from where the tor­pedo struck.”

Burgess also thinks the wreck would be very well pre­served due to sink­ing in deep, freez­ing wa­ters.

Burgess said while most hu­man re­mains, in­clud­ing bones, would have de­com­posed soon af­ter the sink­ing, per­sonal items such as shoes and tooth­brushes, as well as the ship’s re­mains and equip­ment, would prob­a­bly still be in­tact.

As SPSNL abides by a code of con­duct, the so­ci­ety does not re­move any ar­ti­facts from ship­wrecks with­out gov­ern­ment ap­proval. Ar­ti­facts re­trieved from ship­wrecks are then con­sid­ered prop­erty of the Crown and go to mu­se­ums to be prop­erly con­served.

Af­ter dis­cov­er­ing and in­ves­ti­gat­ing the wreck, Burgess said the ap­pro­pri­ate au­thor­i­ties would then be alerted, such as Trans­port Canada and Parks Canada. Parks Canada has the only pro­fes­sional team of un­der­wa­ter ar­chae­ol­o­gists in the coun­try, which is re­spon­si­ble for reg­u­lat­ing and pro­tect­ing ship­wrecks across Canada.

While Burgess hopes to one day ex­plore the re­mains of the SS Cari­bou, sur­vivors and fam­ily mem­bers of those who died in the sink­ing have mixed feel­ings about lo­cat­ing the al­most 80-year-old wreck.

Percy Moores, a sailor with the Bri­tish navy at the time, was on leave and headed home to Moores Cove, N.L., when the 19-year-old was thrown out of bed early in the morn­ing by the im­pact of the tor­pedo.

Moore sur­vived the sink­ing by mak­ing it onto an in­flat­able life raft.

While Moore ac­knowl­edges the sink­ing was “a dra­matic thing at the time,” it “didn’t have too much ef­fect” on his life.

Now 96, Moore can hardly re­mem­ber the sink­ing, but said look­ing for the wreck­age is “al­right” with him.

“The stuff I kept isn’t no good any­more,” he said.

But for Bill Bryne, who was only seven months old at the time of the sink­ing, the SS Cari­bou brings forth more painful mem­o­ries.

Bryne’s fa­ther, Wil­liam, 34, was a civil­ian pas­sen­ger on the ship who never made it back home to For­tune Bay, N.L.

Wil­liam was a fish­er­man work­ing on schooner in Lunen­burg, N.S., and the sole bread­win­ner for his wife and five chil­dren.

Wil­liam’s death pro­pelled the fam­ily into poverty, and Bryne’s mother, Sarah, had to take on sev­eral odd jobs to sup­port her chil­dren. Mak­ing mat­ters worse, Sarah’s com­pen­sa­tion pack­age from the War Claims depart­ment was taken away when the New­found­land gov­ern­ment dis­cov­ered she had been draw­ing wel­fare.

“(The sink­ing) af­fected my life big time. It wasn’t easy,” Bryne, now 77, solemnly re­calls. “I don’t feel we were treated fairly, es­pe­cially my mother. She was on her own and tryna’ make a cent here and there. It was hard on the whole fam­ily.”

And, he says, the SS Cari­bou should re­main in its wa­tery rest­ing place.

“I think they should leave it. Leave well enough alone,” Bryne said of the po­ten­tial ex­plo­ration.

“I don’t know why they’d wanna go all the way down there af­ter all this time. If that boat was tor­pe­doed, I’d say it was blown apart.”

While not ev­ery­one may agree with SPSNL’s work, Burgess said it’s im­por­tant that wrecks like the SS Cari­bou are dis­cov­ered and ex­plored as it brings aware­ness to New­found­land’s nau­ti­cal and wartime his­tory be­fore it fades from mem­ory.

“When we’re able to re­lo­cate a ship­wreck and take im­ages of it, it gives us an op­por­tu­nity in the me­dia to make peo­ple, younger gen­er­a­tions, aware of the event and how im­por­tant it was for Cana­di­ans back in the Sec­ond World War when it oc­curred,” he said.


The SS Cari­bou docked. Neil Burgess of the Ship­wreck Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety of New­found­land and Labrador. Burgess' "dream" ship­wreck ex­plo­ration would be the SS Cari­bou. The SS Cari­bou (top) in its hey­day. The Cari­bou, which served as a pas­sen­ger ferry be­tween Syd­ney, N.S., and Port aux Basques, N.L., was sunk by a Ger­man tor­pedo on Oct. 14, 1942.


Percy Moores cel­e­brat­ing his 96th birth­day. He says he would be fine with the Ship­wreck Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety of New­found­land and Labrador look­ing for the re­mains of the SS Cari­bou.


Percy Moores in the Royal Navy. Moores was on leave and headed home to Moores Cove, N.L., when the 19-year-old was thrown out of bed early in the morn­ing by the im­pact of the tor­pedo.

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