There are few facts to be found on a long ago Cornwallis River shipwreck, I wrote in this column [last week]. I was wrong.
In the piece on the schooner Whisper, which was wrecked on a sandbar in Port Williams, I quoted people who remembered the folklore about the ship. Sometimes all that exists about past events is folklore. But when it comes to Nova Scotia shipwrecks, a large database exists that I was unaware of.
I have Maritime Museum of the Atlantic marine history curator Dan Conlin to thank for directing me to a new online shipwreck database – “On the Rocks: The Nova Scotia Museum Maritime Heritage Database – and for supplying details on the fate of the Whisper. Mr. Conlin said the database records some 5000 shipwrecks and you can search by location as well as ship name. The database doesn’t have every single shipwreck. In some cases, Conlin said, the information is “very basic,” but it’s a good place for researchers to start.
The bottom line is that besides the folklore I collected on the Whisper, I now have some of those cold, hard facts I said couldn’t be found. Surprisingly, some of that folklore was accurate, especially the folklore that says the Whisper came to grief on the muddy banks of the Cornwallis River. Mr. Conlin tells me that database records indicate the Whisper was wrecked by stranding on October 19, 1923 at Port Williams. “That usually means you get stuck somewhere perilous,” Conlin said, “and then the tide goes out causing damage and destruction to your vessel.”
Since the shipwreck of the Whisper on the Cornwallis River is in a way unique, sailing ship buffs may be interested in some of the details on the ship that Mr. Conlin unearthed: “Whisper was a small schooner, 31 tons, 53 feet long, 15 feet in breadth, built in 1896 in Pubnico by Peter Amero. She was registered in Yarmouth (official number 103704) with Jerome D’Entremont listed as owner.”
Folklore has it that the Whisper was owned by Williard Coffill when the shipwreck occurred. I was told this by family members and will attempt to confirm it.
The Whisper is not the only Cornwallis River shipwreck, by the way. Dan Conlin tells me that in 1889 there was another shipwreck on the river just outside Wolfville. I’ll have details on this shipwreck in a later column. A tragic shipwreck took place in Kingsport in 1909 and I’m currently collecting folklore on it. I’ll have details on this incident as well in a future column.