Ground Broken for the Sault Ship Canal. -- In this year ground was broken for this canal, which was not opened until two years later, and which was destined to exert a tremendous influence in future years upon lake traffic.
Loss of the Ocean Wave. -- One of the most distressing accidents that ever occurred on Lake Ontario happened April 30, near the Ducks, small islands near the Canadian shore, about 40 miles above Kingston. The upper cabin steamer Ocean Wave, built in Montreal in 1851, took fire about one o'clock in the morning, while on her way from Hamilton to Ogdensburg. The boat was newly painted, the flames spread rapidly and the boats could not be got out. Within five minutes the vessel was enveloped in flames. The light attracted the schooners Georgiana and Emblem which, with some fishing boats, saved 21 persons out of a total of 44 who were aboard. Of the lost, 15 were members of the crew and 13 were passengers.
Independence Wrecked by Explosion. -- One of the most deplorable disasters during the navigation of 1853 was the explosion of the boilers of the propeller Independence, Captain John McKay, at or near Sault Ste Marie, on the morning of November 22. She left the dock at the head of the portage about midnight with a heavy freight of winter supplies for Ontonagon and La Pointe, and a number of passengers. She had not proceeded over a mile before her boiler burst, literally tearing three- fourths of the boat to atoms, killing four persons -- the first engineer, one passenger and two firemen -- and badly injuring the second engineer and several passengers. The boat, with the exception of 25 feet of her bow, was blown to atoms. Her engine and boiler, with the exception of a small piece of the latter, was beyond discovery in a search that was made within 100 feet of the wreck, and a large portion of her 2,700- barrel bulk cargo was scattered in every direction, altogether making the escape of 30 lives miraculous.
The steamers Empire State and Atlantic had a trial of speed on Lake Erie, the former proving the victor. The steamer Ocean had a tilt with the Empire State also, both claiming the superiority. A trial of speed also took place between the steamers Queen City and Alabama, from Buffalo to Cleveland, the former performing the distance in 12 hours and 10 minutes, and coming in the victor. The distance between the two ports is 151 nautical miles, or 173 statute miles. Placing the Queen City's time at 12 hours gave her a speed of 14 5-12 miles per hour.
Disasters of 1853. - Of 266 disasters during the season of 1853, 19 occurred in April, 30 in May, 17 in June, 11 in July, 28 in August, 30 in September, 39 in October, 80 in November, and 12 in December. Sixty steamers, two propellers and thirty sail vessels passed out of existence. The number of disasters exceeded those of 1852 by 37, while the loss of property was less by $118,516. The great decrease in the loss of life and property by collision and explosion, as shown by comparison, was the result of the first year's operation of the new law relating to vessels propelled by steam, and their improved system of lights. With the one exception, the Ocean Wave on Lake Ontario, no lives were lost on any of the regular passenger steamers by any accident whatever.
Other Events of 1853. - In this year navigation was resumed at Buffalo April 2, the steamer Mayflower being the first to arrive. The Straits of Mackinac were clear April 17, the propeller Forest City being the first to pass through going west. The steamers Wisconsin, Southerner and Albany, which had been plying many years, passed out of existence this year, fortunately without the loss of any lives. Their places were filled by several new boats of much larger tonnage, including the Mississippi, 1,829 tons; Crescent City, 1,740 tons; Queen of the West, 1,852 tons; Northern Indiana, 1,470 tons; and others of larger tonnage. The steamer Albany, owned by Mr. McKnight and commanded by Capt. H.J. Jones, was wrecked near Presque Isle, Lake Huron, and proved a total loss. Over 200 passengers were on board, and safely landed the day following the disaster. The schooner Saltillo, owned by J.R. Huguinn, of Chicago, and laden with the coal and iron, was sunk by running into the schooner Trade Wind, in St. Clair river, and was never recovered. On the morning of October 8 the steamer Ben Franklin, Capt. H.J. Jones, while en route to the Sault, went ashore at Thunder Bay island, Lake Huron, and became a total wreck. She was built at Algonac, Mich., in 1842, and was 231 tons burden. During the same month the steamer A.D. Patchin, commanded by Capt. H. Whitaker, and partly owned by him, struck on Skillagalee and became a total loss. The Patchin was built in Truago, Mich., in 1849, was of 870 tons burden, and one of the stanchest built boats on the lakes. She was propelled by the engine formerly in the steamer Missouri. The steamer Commerce (Canadian) came in collision with the steamer Dispatch, off Grand River, Canada, sinking the former and 38 persons were drowned. The brig Crispin stranded on Point aux Barques, and became a total loss. Fifty feet of the table rock at Niagara Falls became dislodged and plunged into the abyss below. During the latter part of the season the steamer Canada was transferred, and taken to Lake Michigan to ply between Chicago and New Buffalo. The wreck of the steamer Nile was burned at Milwaukee. She was driven ashore in a gale at that point in the fall previous. May: Steamer Superior and schooner Signal collide near Buffalo. Steamer London sunk near Sault Ste. Marie. On May 5, the Cherokee, an iron vessel, commanded by Captain Gaskin, left Toronto direct for Liverpool, arriving there June 16. Schooner Citizen ashore above Waukegan. Schooner John Grant ashore at New Buffalo. May 25: Schooner Texas ashore near the mouth of the St. Clair river. Schooner Mary Margaret capsized near Grand river; four lived lost. June: Steamer Admiral burned at Toronto. Brig Iroquois damaged by collision with the steamer Reindeer, near the Kingston lighthouse. July: Steamer Queen of the West burned at Hamilton, Ontario. August: Steamer Wisconsin sunk by collision with the propeller Brunswick near the West Sister lighthouse. September: Schooner Herald capsized near Chicago. Steamer Fashion damaged by lightning near Racine. Propeller Nile ashore near Chicago, sustaining several injuries. October: Steamer Queen City sunk in the harbor at Erie; 25, schooner Whip ashore at Cleveland. Schooner G.H. Walker wrecked on Lake Erie, near Madison; total loss; 26, schooner Rocky Mountain ashore near the mouth of the Kalamazoo river. November: Schooner Susanna burned at Port Dover.
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Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.