S.S. City of Medicine Hat

Nautical disaster - First and only city shipwreck recalled

By Cam Fuller - The Star Phoenix

Saskatoon's most famous (OK, and only) shipwreck is finally a film.

The Last Steamship, a documentary on the sinking of the S.S. City of Medicine Hat, has its maiden screening on Friday at the Broadway Theatre.

"This seems to be a story that so many people don't know about," says director Leanne Schinkel. "You can't imagine a 130- foot steamship on our river."

But on June 8, 1908, the opulent ship made quite an impression on the newly encorporated city. High water caused the vessel to get tangled in telegraph wires under the nearby CN bridge, damaging the rudder.

It then drifted into the Traffic Bridge, crashing into one of its piers and ultimately sinking. Both the ship -- built by the colourful Scottish immigrant Capt. Horatio Hamilton Ross at a cost of $28,000 (more than half a million dollars today) -- and the bridge were practically new.

History came back to life in 2006 when divers from Saskatoon Fire and Protective Services chanced upon the sternwheeler's anchor while on a training exercise. The spectacular find triggered an archeological dive in September of 2008. Schinkel, producer Nils Sorensen and editor Corby Evenson, all trained at the University of Regina film school, were intrigued by the story.

"It seemed like an awesome thing for us to work on," said Schinkel, who happened to be working for Shearwater Tours at the time of the dive. One of its boats, the Meewasin Queen, was used for the expedition.

"We have to shoot this. We'll figure it out later," they thought.

The project turned into a full-length doc running 80 minutes and consuming incalculable hours of their donated time. The film looks at the quest for artifacts and goes back in time with a historical recreation featuring extras in period costumes.