Marine historian Dan Conlin mentioned her briefly in his recent talk on shipwrecks before the Kings Historical Society. And you’ll find her on Conlin’s map of shipwreck sites on the Minas Basin side of Kings County.
A few people remember the ship, marine buffs mostly, and a couple of artefacts from her wreck site can be found in the Kings County Museum. But other than these things, little else remains of a vessel that broke up during a hurricane on the Medford shore in 1927.
However, this vessel has a special place in the shipwreck lore of this region. The schooner Hattie McKay has the distinction of being the first registered shipwreck in Kings County; she is one of only two registered wrecks in Kings, the second the schooner discovered in Wolfville harbour two years ago.
Built in Parrsboro in 1896 for Captain James H. Card, the Hattie McKay was registered as a 74 ton, two-masted schooner with a 10 h.p. auxiliary gas engine. There was little that was romantic about her. While her sister ships of sail were trading in far off, exotic ports, the Hattie McKay spent much of her relatively short lifespan carrying coal, most of her runs confined to the Minas Basin and the Bay of Fundy.
Numerous ship accidents occurred on this side of Minas Basin during the grand age of sail; but other than brief mentions in local histories and in compilations of marine disasters, few records of them exist.
A lot is known about the Hattie McKay, however. Thanks to marine history buff Leon Barron, who first saw her as a wreck on Medford beach, the story of the schooner is on record for posterity. Barron has a copy of the schooner’s original ownership or registry papers, for example, and after digging through records, old newspapers and talking with old-timers, he knows more than anyone about the Hattie McKay.
When I talked with Barron recently about the Hattie McKay, I got the impression she was a ship that attracted misfortune. In 1900 the Hattie McKay ran aground on Isle Haute in the Bay of Fundy, was written off as a total loss and her certificate of registry cancelled; her value at the time was set at $2,500. James Card salvaged the ship and by 1901 had her back in service. Before Card sold the ship in 1920 to J. D. Harris, a Wolfville merchant and coal dealer, the Hattie McKay ran aground several times in the Minas Basin and Bay of Fundy.
J. D. Harris appointed Alex Carey of Medford as the new captain of the Hattie McKay and for seven years she hauled coal into Wolfville. Barron tells me that when her runs were finished, Card would anchor the schooner at Medford beach and walk home. In 1927, Barron says, “an August gale, what they called a hurricane in those days, caught the schooner at anchor, drove her across the creek and broke her in two.”
Barron say the Hattie McKay could be seen on the beach when he was a boy and “his mother would often take him to the wreck site.” Then the schooner disappeared and for decades “nothing could be seen of her.” In 1997 the tides and shifting sands of Minas Basin uncovered what remained of the Hattie McKay, spurring the research that resulted in her being registered as the areas first official wreck site.