Underwater Archaeological Society of B.C.

Heritage designation sought for Royston breakwater wrecks

By T.W. Paterson - The Canada

This graveyard of ships has been described as "world-class."

According to the press there's a movement afoot to attain "heritage wreck" status for 14 ships scuttled at the old Royston breakwater by the Comox Logging & Railway Co. and its successor, Crown Zellerbach, from the mid-1930s through the early '60s.

Based upon a review just concluded by the Underwater Archaeological Society of B.C. and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, these hulks cover an area just 500 metres long by 100 metres wide.

The all-but-submerged wrecks include three Cape Horn windjammers, a barkentine, an auxiliary schooner, three frigates, two destroyers, a US Navy deep-sea rescue tug, two steam tugs and a Norwegian-built whaler.

The site has already been recognized as the Royston Heritage Wrecks by the provincial government. What is now proposed is that each ship be given its own heritage status with an archaeological catalogue number. "This is almost a world-class heritage site, the way we see it," said a UASBC member. "I mean, it's just incredible."

What a shame that any form of heritage designation is so long after the fact, after seven decades of storms and extensions of the rock-fill breakwater have broken up, ground down and buried most of these seagoing ladies.

The day when you could literally step from ship to ship has long gone. Happily for me, when it was still possible to board most of these wrecks, I spent many an enchanted hour climbing in and out of them with my notebook, camera and toolkit (the latter for salvaging what few -- very few -- bits 'n' bites that had escaped countless previous visitors.

All this was done, I point out, with the consent of Crown Zellerbach which had commissioned me in the '70s to write a history of the breakwater for their company newsletter.