David Cooke was puzzled, and more than a little dubious.
Sitting in a barber shop on Lakeshore Road he listened to an older gentleman describe a Lake Huron shipwreck located just over 100 feet off the beach at Canatara Park.
“I had my own sailboat and sailed back and forth across that stretch of water a thousand times,” said Cooke, who grew up on Christina Street. “I never knew it was there.”
Intrigued, the former military pilot trekked over to the beach on July 6 with his Phantom 4 camera-equipped drone. And there it was, visible in clear, shallow water.
Cooke contacted The Journal seeking information. What is this wreck? And how long has it been there?
As it turned out, David Cooke wasn’t the only one who didn’t know. Queries to the Canadian Coast Guard, Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the local OPP marine unit and Transport Canada all drew blanks.
Barry Mattingley, a retired Sarnia firefighter and scuba diver, said that he’d dived the wreck a number of times but couldn’t recall its name.
A YouTube video of the ship had drawn some reader comments and speculation on names. And Michele at the Sarnia Yacht Club was certain the wreck had been there since 1923.
In the end, an organization called “Saving Ontario’s Shipwrecks” helped fill in the gaps.
In 1888, an American shipbuilder in Cleveland named W. Radcliffe constructed a wooden cargo bulk carrier named the Gladstone. The 2,112-ton vessel was 283 feet in length with a 40-foot beam. It hauled iron ore and other material through the Great Lakes – an older version of the lake freighters that ply the same waters today.
In 1918, while lying at her winter moorings in Pine River, Michigan on Lake St. Clair, the Gladstone’s hull was crushed by an ice jam. A C. Peel of Chatham purchased the wreck and in 1923 she was brought to Sarnia and sunk, to become part of the foundations for a dock.
The dock burned down in 1936.
The online “Great Lakes Shipwreck File” confirms that ship is the vessel whose remains lie off Canatara Park beach.
A few years ago, when water levels approached record lows, jutting up parts of the wreck lay just below the surface, creating a hazard for small boaters.
Perhaps it was just the Gladstone trying to remind us she is still there, nearly a century after she was finally laid to rest.