Our story begins on a beautiful autumn day, little did we know that we were about to experience the dive of our lives.
For years the Niagara Divers' Association has been diving the Kingston area aboard the Brooke-Lauren with it's owner and Captain Spencer Shonker of Suspence Scuba Charters. Having gotten to know Spencer over the last few years he suggested that if we wished, we could do a little wreck hunting after the first dive on the City of Sheboygan. Spencer has been looking for a certain wreck for many years and wanted to investigate some numbers he'd been given from a local fisherman, which were located in his prime search area. After a great first dive with record visibility for Lake Ontario, we started our search.
After running a search pattern for only a few minutes we had a huge "hit" on both the depth finder and sonar which showed a large object with about 15 to 20 feet of relief. If you have ever been wreck hunting you will know that this happens alot but most times all you find is a large shoal of rocks, a pile of drums or all sorts of other very uninteresting items.
While Spencer skillfully dropped a marker, Durrell and myself suited up to go down and see what was there. Even though the odds were against finding anything our hopes were still high, so much so that we both took our cameras along. The plan was to drop down and if there was something worth diving we would secure the boat and deploy a lift bag to let the rest of the group know to suit up.
Deeper and deeper we followed the line into the cold darkness below. Dropping quickly we were amazed when right under us a ship appeared!, Spencer had actually hit the wreck with the marker perfectly in the middle of the stern!. The first sight I had was of a wash basin full of dishes laying beside a stove. After a quick look around it was pretty obvious that this was a virgin wreck and we were the first two divers to see her since the day she went down. Not wanting to waste any of our now very precious bottom time we secured the boat and deployed the lift bag. Having done all this in just 4 minutes we were now free to explore!
Spencer had been looking for a freighter but this ship was too small to be that. Starting from the starboard stern we headed toward the bow. As we passed the maze of machinery that was the steam plant complete with intact controls, Durrell nearly pulled my arm off as he pointed up at a mast rasing a good 15-20 feet above the ship. Floating past intact light bulbs and a winch, we arrived at the bow to find two very large anchors on the foredeck. As we continued down the port side the mystery increased. The ship was completely intact. Why did she go down?. Next we passed the wheel house now laying off the port side, and standing up in the middle of the boards, I found the ships wheel! The wheel had fallen over and was laying on its side but in my opinion a wreck is not a great dive without a wheel. This find had just "made" the dive for me. We continued to the stern and using up the last of our film on a shot of the propeller. We were quickly running out of bottom time (it never lasts long enough at 110 feet) and started heading for the line, at which point we met Spencer coming down. After watching him do a little jig on the stern and hugging the life out of Durrell we headed towards the surface and our long hang.
After everyone had completed the first dive we compared notes. A small bell had been found by Spencer (perhaps the dinner bell) as well as the ships still working compass. Many other items had also been found ranging from a antique fire extinguisher to bottles, plates and gears. As well one very important piece of information; the ship's name. Cliff was able to read across the transom "FRONTENAC OF KINGSTON".
Armed with the name, measurements of length, beam and draft plus a drawing compiled by Karen from all of our descriptions we were able to do some research.
The story of the tug the "Frontenac" begins in 1900 when she was built by the Calvin Company of Garden Island. The Frontenac was owned for many years by the Donnely Wrecking Company of Kingston (from 1912-1929). The Donnely also owned the "William Johnson" a tug boat the club dove last year, which was very similar in design to the "Frontenac". The ship was sold to Sin-Mac Lines in the spring of 1929, which was to be her last year afloat.
On December 12, 1929 the "Frontenac" along with her sister tug the "Rival" were heading back to Kingston after doing some work at Main Duck Island to lighten some of the cargo from the freighter "Sarniadoc" which had run aground. As the two overloaded tugs headed back for port in Kingston, the weather turned quite rough and the "Frontenac" started taking on water. She was going down quickly but at the last minute, as she slipped under the waves, the crew was pulled to safety aboard the "Rival".
That was the last time she was seen until September 9, 1995 which will be a day that I will remember until I hang up my fins for the last time.
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