The Algoma was a steamer built in 1883; it sank off the shore of Mott Island near Isle Royale in Lake Superior in 1885 and the remains are still on the lake bottom. The wreck was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.[1]

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History Edit

The Algoma (Official #85766) was built in 1883 by Aitken & Mansell in Glasgow, Scotland, for use by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company.[3] The Algoma was 262 feet long, with a 38-foot beam, a depth of 23 feet,[3][4] and measured 1750 tons as originally built.[5] It was powered by a compound steam engine driving a screw, and had two masts in case of an engine breakdown.[5] The ship was designed to accommodate 240 first-class passengers and 500 in steerage.[5]

Canadian Pacific ordered three ships from Aitken & Mansell: the Athabasca, launched on July 3, 1883; the Alberta, launched on July 12, and the Algoma, launched on July 31.[5] The three ships were identical.[5] The company intended to use the ship as a passenger vessel on the Great Lakes,[6] running fromThunder Bay on Lake Superior to Owen Sound on Lake Huron.[5] The Alberta andAlgoma sailed from Glasgow, Scotland on September 25, taking 13 days to cross the Atlantic and arrive in Montreal, Quebec.[5]However, ships of the Algoma's size were too long to pass through the Welland Canal, so the Algoma was cut in half, with the bow and stern moved through the canal separately on pontoons.[3][5] The ship was rejoined inBuffalo, New York, and cabins were added,[3]increasing the tonnage to 1773 tons.[7]Additional work was done on the cabins during the winter of 1883–1884, including the installation of electric lighting; the Algomaand its sister ships were probably the first Great Lakes ships to be electrified.[5] The newly outfitted Algoma, costing a total of $450,000 to build,[7] was relaunched on May 11, 1884.[3]

The three Canadian Pacific steamers immediately set time records for their runs.[5]The Algoma clocked 39 hours, 42 minutes on the run between Owen Sound and Thunder Bay, and journeyed from Toronto to Thunder Bay in the "unprecidented short time of 47 hours."[5] There was some concern that the new steamers were disregarding safety to minimize their run times; indeed, the Albertawas involved in a collision in July 1884 nearWhitefish Point which resulted in the loss of three lives.[5]

Wreck of the Algoma Edit

On November 5, 1885, the Algoma left Owen Sound for Thunder Bay, carrying general merchandise, railway supplies, and 13 passengers, the fewest it had ever carried.[5]The light passenger load was likely attributable to the lateness of the season and the recent opening of a rail route around Lake Superior.[5] The ship passed into Lake Superior on November 6; when it was about halfway across the lake it ran into a blinding snowstorm.[5] The sails were set to stabilize the ship, but it drifted off-course.[5] At about 4 am on the morning of November 7, the captain ordered the sails lowered and changed course.[5] At 4:40 am, shortly after resuming steam power, the Algoma ran aground on the southeast shore of Mott Island off Isle Royale.[3]

The ship was grounded so that the waves pummeled the bow section.[5] At about 6 am,[5] the ship broke in two, with the stern grounded on the shore and the bow drifting off.[3] Many of the passengers and crew were swept away, but three people made it to shore (only 50 feet away) and another 11 remained in the bow section of the ship until the morning of November 8, when the storm abated.[5] The survivors all got to shore on November 8, and stayed that night with a party of fishermen.[5] On November 9, theAthabasca was intercepted and the survivors were taken on to Thunder Bay.[5]

Forty-six people died in the wreck of theAlgoma; there were 14 survivors, including two passengers, 11 crewmen and the captain.[3][5] A search party returned to Isle Royale on November 10, but found only two bodies; more bodies and cargo were located in the subsequent months.[5] The force of the storm was such that nearly all the cargo was smashed; only portions of some bodies were found as the waves had "dashed them to pieces against the rocks", and some hull sections were completely flattened.[5]

The wreck of the Algoma was the worst loss of life in the history of Lake Superior shipping.[5]

Much of the stern of the ship was salvaged in 1886, and much of the bow was either salvaged or drifted away.[3] The engine from the ship was used in the passenger steamerManitoba, launched in 1889; the Manitoba was used for 60 years on the Great Lakes before decommissioning.[5] An additional salvage operation was carried out in 1903.[5]

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The Wreck.

The wreck today Edit

The remaining wreckage is widely scattered in 15 to 100 feet of water, and some portions of the stern are all that remain on the site.[4]The wreckage near shore is primarily distributed in three fields, 100 feet apart.[5]Various pieces of the ship's equipment, including pieces of a mast, pipes, valves, and davits are visible, as well as passenger artifacts.[3] Much of the wreckage is in relatively shallow water, and lake action regularly rearranges the artifacts visible.[3] A few pieces of wreckage have been located far offshore in deeper water; these may be from the missing bow section.[5] The Algoma is the least-visited wreck in the Isle Royal National Park, with approximately 10 dives in 2009 out of 1062 dives made to wrecks in the park.[8]

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