Digest>Archives> Jan/Feb 2005

Shipwreck Artifact Found on Canada’s Chantry Island

By Jeremy D'Entremont


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This plate bearing the name of the schooner ...

On November 11, 2004, personnel of an environmental company were conducting a cleanup of the basement of Chantry Island Lighthouse on behalf of the Marine Heritage Society of Southampton, Ontario, managers of the lighthouse property. A small but fascinating artifact was uncovered during the cleanup – a four by eleven-inch flat piece of copper bearing the letters, “ALTAIR,”

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Duncan McGregor Lambert, seen here with his wife ...

Historic research that had been done by John Weichel and Patrick Folkes of the Marine Heritage Society of Southampton revealed the meaning behind this cryptic find. It seems a two-masted, 138-foot schooner named Altair was built at Buffalo, New York in 1855. Nine years after it was constructed, this vessel was bound from Chicago to Goderich, Ontario, on Lake Huron when it was wrecked at Chantry Island.

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Chantry Island Light in summer 2003. The ...
Photo by: Mike Lee

The Toronto Globe reported, “Several American vessels which were out in the gale of Wednesday and Thursday last, are ashore on this coast. Two are west of Chantry Island – the one on the shoal, nearly 1/4 mile out, and the other quite close to the shore of the Island. The former is the schooner Altair from Chicago having 17,000 bushels of wheat on board, and the other the scow American Eagle empty, having been on her way from Detroit for a load of lumber at Saginaw. Both vessels ‘got on’ before daylight Friday morning. The Altair having sprung a leak made for Chantry Island Light, and was in a sinking condition when she grounded on the shoal. A boat from the Lily Dancy of Goderich, which was safely anchored to the lee of the Island, having been seen going to the Island in the morning, confidence was felt that anything sailors could do for the crew of the Altair would be done by that boat’s crew. They carried a boat across the Island and succeeded in taking the crew off, and all got safe ashore, though they had a narrow escape – the boat having been capsized in the breakers, but fortunately not far from shore.”

The wreck of the Altair prompted Chantry Island Keeper Duncan McGregor Lambert to write a letter to the Department of Public Works, requesting a small lifeboat to enable him to offer assistance to any future shipwreck victims. His request was granted, and the boat played a role in a number of rescues.

There’s an eerie note on the finding of the Altair nameplate in the lighthouse basement. The date it was found, November 11, was the 140th annivesary to the day of the wreck of the schooner Altair.

For more on Chantry Island Lighthouse and the Marine Heritage Society of Southampton, see www.chantryisland.com

This story appeared in the Jan/Feb 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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