There is an an­cient sailor su­per­sti­tion about a ship’s name – you change it at your peril. Was the re­cently-dis­cov­ered wreck of a steamship that dis­ap­peared on Canada’s Lake On­tario 90 years ago a vic­tim of this jinx?


The amaz­ingly in­tact wreck of the 54m steel steamer, Mana­soo, lost in a storm on September 15, 1928, has been lo­cated in deep wa­ter by an in­ter­na­tional team of searchers/divers. She’s rest­ing at an un­usual an­gle in Ge­or­gian Bay near Owen Sound, On­tario.

Built in Glas­gow, Scot­land in 1888, the Mana­soo spent the first 39 of her 40 years named the Ma­cassa, car­ry­ing tourists and car­goes be­tween Toronto and Hamil­ton on Lake On­tario.

In 1928 the ship was pur­chased by the rel­a­tively-new Owen Sound Trans­porta­tion Com­pany (to­day it op­er­ates the fa­mous Chi-cheemaun ferry be­tween Tober­mory and Man­i­toulin Is­land, and the Pelee Is­land fer­ries on Lake Erie). Sched­uled mainly for the Man­i­toulin Is­land to the Soo (Sault Ste. Marie) run, the re­fur­bished ves­sel was re­named the Mana­soo, re­flect­ing these two har­bour stops.

She en­joyed a suc­cess­ful first sea­son un­der her new name and own­er­ship, but then dis­as­ter struck. De­part­ing Man­i­towan­ing on Man­i­toulin Is­land on September 14, 1928, with 17 crew, four pas­sen­gers, and 116 head of cat­tle, she’d nearly reached her des­ti­na­tion when she en­coun­tered heavy seas at 2am.

The ves­sel started set­tling at the stern and, re­al­is­ing that some­thing was ter­ri­bly wrong, the cap­tain quickly headed his ship to the near­est land – the Grif­fith Is­land light­house. But she sank be­fore reach­ing shore.

...she sits on the lake bot­tom on the very same dra­matic an­gle at which she sank...

Five sur­vivors (the cap­tain, three sailors, and one pas­sen­ger) drifted on a lif­er­aft for 60 hours be­fore be­ing res­cued by a pass­ing steamer, the Man­i­toba. Six­teen peo­ple and all the cat­tle per­ished. The cause of the sink­ing re­mained a mys­tery, but the shift­ing cat­tle cargo was thought to be at least par­tially to blame.

Ken Mer­ry­man and Jerry Elia­son, both from Min­nesota, and Cris Kohl, from Wind­sor, On­tario, lo­cated the Mana­soo in just over 60m of wa­ter in June 2018. All three have con­sid­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence in find­ing and iden­ti­fy­ing ship­wrecks in the Great Lakes.

“The unique thing about the Mana­soo wreck,” says Ken, “is that it sits on the lake bot­tom on the very same dra­matic an­gle at which the ship sank. The stern, where most of the dam­age oc­curred, is em­bed­ded up to its rail­ing in the soft bot­tom, while the bow points up to­wards the sur­face, ris­ing high above the lake bot­tom.”

Ken and Jerry had spent sev­eral days in 2017 with Michi­gan col­league Jared Daniel try­ing to lo­cate this ship­wreck, fol­low­ing 1928 re­ports that the Mana­soo sank in about 90m of wa­ter three miles off the Grif­fith Is­land Light­house.

In 2018, Ken and Jerry con­tin­ued their search in deep wa­ter for sev­eral days be­fore Cris Kohl, new to the team, tried steer­ing them closer to Grif­fith Is­land, as­sum­ing that a sink­ing ship would head to the near­est land.

Only af­ter re­ceiv­ing a re­port from Alan Givens in Wiar­ton that a late dive buddy of his claimed to have found the wreck in 45m of wa­ter years ear­lier (and kept it a se­cret), did the team head closer to the is­land, less than a mile from it. They found the Mana­soo within hours, but in slightly more than 60m of wa­ter, cast­ing doubt upon the story of the diver hav­ing found the wreck ear­lier in 45m.

“Af­ter we found her I delved deeper into the 1928 ac­counts of the sink­ing,” says Cris, “and dis­cov­ered that the wreck had ac­tu­ally been lo­cated just a few weeks af­ter it sank. One news­pa­per

ac­count even gave the ex­act lo­ca­tion and the ac­cu­rate depth of the ship­wreck!”

Cris and his wife (re­searcher/writer Joan Fors­berg) have writ­ten 16 books about Great Lakes ship­wrecks, and have read sev­eral ac­counts of the Mana­soo’s sink­ing, yet that 1928 dis­cov­ery of the wreck was not re­ported in any of them.

The team worked un­der an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal li­cense is­sued to Ken by the prov­ince of On­tario (such a li­cense is manda­tory for any­one search­ing for a ship­wreck in Cana­dian wa­ters of the Great Lakes) to find the wreck of the Mana­soo.

Af­ter the dis­cov­ery, Ken re­ceived as­sis­tance from Greg Hil­liard and Terry Irvine, Cana­dian tech­ni­cal divers, to pho­to­graph the wreck – the trio be­com­ing the first vis­i­tors to the Mana­soo.

Their video and pho­to­graphs re­vealed the col­lapsed smoke stack, the in­tact pi­lot house with its unique stair­way run­ning down the ship’s cen­tre­line, three lifeboats and many other com­po­nents, in­clud­ing a vin­tage 1927 Chevro­let Coupe be­low deck. No hu­man or an­i­mal re­mains were found.

The Chevro­let was owned by the cat­tle man, Don­ald Wal­lace, who was trans­port­ing his live­stock to south­ern On­tario where he lived. He was the only pas­sen­ger who sur­vived the sink­ing.

The team hopes that fur­ther study of the ship­wreck will add more in­for­ma­tion to its story, although the cause of its sink­ing is not likely to be de­ter­mined any time soon, with the answer likely buried deep within the stern that lies em­bed­ded in the lake bot­tom.

Rheumy-eyed sailors would point to the folly of chang­ing a ship’s name… BNZ

Rheumy-eyed sailors would point to the folly of chang­ing a ship’s name…

ABOVE For the first 39 years of her life the Mana­soo was called the Ma­cassa. (Kohl-fors­berg Archives) BE­LOW Com­puter graphic of the wreck, show­ing the dra­matic an­gle of its bow. (Jerry Elia­son)

ABOVE The wheel, now cov­ered by in­va­sive ze­bra and quagga mus­sels. (Greg Hil­liard)RIGHT The only pas­sen­ger to sur­vive the sink­ing owned this 1927 Chevro­let Coupe. (Greg Hil­liard)

BE­LOW The im­age of the wreck ap­pears on the scan­ner. (Cris Kohl)

ABOVE Cris Kohl low­ers the video and lights rig to the wreck site. (Ken Mer­ry­man)

BE­LOW The ship car­ried an un­usual mid-ship stair­way. (Ken Mer­ry­man)BOT­TOM The wreck­hunters (L-R): Jerry Elia­son, Ken Mer­ry­man and Cris Kohl. (Ken Mer­ry­man)

LEFT The wreck lies up­right, with the stern em­bed­ded in the mud. (art by Bob Mcgreevy)

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