While the Titanic is probably the world’s most famous shipwreck, our own backyard — more specifically the Great Lakes — holds some incredible sunken stories.
Scuba diver and shipwreck enthusiast Jim Kennard was at The Museum on Saturday speaking as part of the Titanic speaker series.
Using side-scanning sonar — a sophisticated form of underwater radar — Kennard has shone a light into the cold darkness of the shipping graves at the bottom of the massive lakes.
One light shined a bit brighter than the rest when Kennard, and his partner Dan Scoville, discovered a wreck in May 2008 off the southern shore.
In 1780 the HMS Ontario, a 22-gun British warship carrying 122 people including about 30 Canadian crew members, sank in Lake Ontario during the American Revolution.
Kennard remembered how his “heart was in is throat” when a final pass of the torpedo-like sonar passed within six metres of the ship’s 228-year-old main masts.
It was the oldest shipwreck discovered on the Great Lakes, and a TV production company is now working with Kennard and Scoville to tell the story.
Kennard has found over 200 wrecks using side-scanning technology in and around the Great Lakes, but he said this discovery was different.
“We knew it was a war grave,” Kennard said.
He said there was “silent reverence” instead of high-fives when the ship was discovered.
Kennard shared a lot of high-fives over 35 years of shipwreck hunting, beginning in the early ’70s when he built the first non-commercial side-scanning sonar technology available within 800 kilometres of his home in Rochester, New York.
The sonar is towed by a boat or submarine, and shoots pulses perpendicular to the ground instead of down toward the ground like traditional sonar. This creates an image of the sea floor that is remarkably clear, but it’s not a perfect technology.
“I chased a school of fish around for two hours once,” Kennard said.
“The darned thing kept moving on me.”
A retired electrical engineer, Kennard still calls shipwreck hunting a hobby, but it’s a hobby that has seen his name printed in the New York Times connected with “Holy Grail” find like the HMS Ontario.