By Troy Patterson - Kincardine News
Marine heritage experts are looking at the condition of two local shipwrecks as an opportunity for their host communities to act and prevent further degradation of the sites that claimed lives over a century ago.
The clear, calm and noticeably low Lake Huron water levels on March 21 revealed a far greater amount of the shipwreck Ann Maria on Kincardine's Station Beach than had been in recent years, while increasingly landlocking the Erie Belle boiler on Boiler Beach down the shore in Huron-Kinloss.
The Ann Maria was an American schooner that missed the harbour entrance on Oct. 7, 1902 and was smashed by waves in the shallows off of Kincardine's beach.
It has been visible for years as water levels have receded. Most of the time, the keel is visible as waves lap at its rusting hull spikes and the massive timber that has weathered winters for over 106 years.
A combination of the lack of ice cover this past winter and wave action has uncovered even more of the ship, with a large portion of the Ann Maria's hull ribbing visible and over 12 feet of the keel visible just under the waterline and another eight feet on shore, with spikes sticking up out of the sand.
The Walker House Museum, which sits across the street from the historic Kincardine Lighthouse and Ann Maria anchor, which was placed there in 1966, has shown interest in protecting the wreck alongside the municipality, but neither has the knowledge or experience to know how to handle such a project.
Last November, after a The Kincardine News feature on local shipwreck artifacts from the Erie Belle, Carter and George R. Clinton was published and the items were donated to the museum, the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture scolded the museum and diver Carl LaFrance for retrieving the artifacts, which under Ontario law is against the law, but wasn't when LaFrance retrieved them before the Ontario Heritage Act was put in place in the 1980's.
The MTC later gave its blessing to see the artifacts; the Erie Belle compass, brass steam vent, chain link and other items, along with the ships log from the J.N. Carter, preserved in the local museum.
The Kincardine News then questioned the MTC and Ontario Underwater Council as to why Kincardine's wrecks are allowed to fall victim to nature along the shoreline.
The MTC also revealed that none of the Kincardine-area wrecks are registered with the government agency.