She was in trouble from the start. Rotting and full of leaks, His Majesty’s Ship Speedy was in no shape to sail Lake Ontario, much less carry the who’s who of Upper Canada from York to Newcastle, 150 kilometres away.
But over the captain’s protests, the 80-foot warship was forced to make the trek east for an important murder trial in October of 1804.
Battling a sudden, vicious storm, she struck rock lurking beneath the waves and sank, taking everyone on board to an icy death.
Two centuries later and 22 years after finding her remains off Presqu’ile Point in Brighton, 90 minutes east of Toronto, wreck hunter Ed Burtt believes it’s high time the artifacts were recovered so everyone can appreciate a little-known part of Canada’s heritage.
“This is the most historically significant archeological site that changed the history of Canada,” says the 72-year-old Belleville diver.
Worried about the wreckage rotting on the lake bottom, he’s anxious to haul up relics that include a ship’s bell with an “S” still visible. But that can’t happen until a government-approved site is found to exhibit the items.
It was Oct. 7, 1804 and the trial of Ogetonicut, a native charged in the murder of a white man, was about to start in the tiny colony of Newcastle. A successful trial there would pave the way for the establishment of a district town.
HMS Speedy had been languishing in York harbour for months, taking on so much water she had to be bailed out daily. Hastily built with green timber by the British government in anticipation of a war with U.S. colonies, the seven-year-old schooner was pressed into ferry service.