A “MYSTERY WRECK” IN WOLFVILLE HARBOUR (August 17/01)

“The wreck emerged about mid-July as a mud bank in the harbour… through some change in the current,” reads the initial report by Dan Conlin, curator of marine history at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

Mr. Conlin had done the preliminary investigation of a wreck uncovered by the action of the tides in Wolfville Harbour a year ago. The wreck was tentatively identified as the 18-ton schooner Clara Jane which capsized and sank in Wolfville harbour in November 1879 but there appears to be some doubt about this. In his report Mr. Conlin noted that the measurements of the Clara Jane are only “roughly consistent with the size of the remains” but the wreck appears to be of larger tonnage.

I first heard about the discovery of the wreck last autumn from Leon Barron. Dykelands researcher Sherman Bleakney made the discovery and along with Conlin and Barron participated in the preliminary investigation of the wreck in September 2000. Upon hearing about the discovery – a “mystery wreck” so close at hand is, after all, exciting news – I was gung-ho to write about it in this column. I held off when concerns were raised about publicity luring unwanted visitors to the site before it could be surveyed by marine and archaeological experts. Originally scheduled this spring, the survey was delayed until this month and I was delighted to be invited to tag along.

In his detailed report on the original survey, Dan Conlin noted that the wreck is “in very close proximity to the town of Wolfville” and is visible from the new waterfront park. Since it is close to the wharf I’m surprised no one has reported it before. However, as Conlin points out, the short duration of exposure at low tide may explain why the wreck wasn’t noticed. And perhaps the site has been buried in debris and mud for decades and only now has been uncovered by the powerful Minas Basin tides.

If you’re curious and have a good pair of binoculars, the wreck can easily be seen from the wharf at low tide, looking approximately north towards the harbour channel. You are cautioned about investigating the site since the mud and the tides in this area are treacherous.

In his original report, Dan Conlin noted that the wreck lies roughly in an east-west orientation and is approximately 15 feet wide by 32 feet long. No artefacts were moved from the site but various pieces of ironwork were observed at the wreck – bolts, hasps, hooks and rings, for example. Mr. Conlin noted a thin shard of white ceramic that later was identified as being of 18th-century origin.

Participating in the recent investigation of the site, along with Mr. Conlin and David Christensen of the Nova Scotia Museum were marine archaeologists from Parks Canada who made detailed measurements of the wreck. Their assessment will be available at a later date.

As of this date, the Wolfville harbour wreck has not been identified. Dan Conlin says that Wolfville had at least eight recorded marine casualties, “but no exact match of the wreck.” Conlin said that the wreck’s position is unusual in that it lies close to the harbour entrance and may at one time have been an obstacle to navigation. There’s the possibility, Conlin said, that the wreck was “burned to the water or mud line” to remove it as a hazard.

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