In June 2008, after a 35-year search, electrical engineers Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville discovered the HMS Ontario, the oldest shipwreck in the Great Lakes and the only known fully intact British warship in those waters. The vessel sank in Lake Ontario during a sudden gale on October 31, 1780, with more than 120 passengers aboard, including 30 American prisoners of war. Kennard and Scoville used side-scanning sonar to locate the wreck, which rested in an area of the lake where depths exceed 500 feet. They later explored the vessel with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV).
“The first thing we came upon was not Ontario but a longboat that probably was trailed along behind the ship,” says Kennard. “The next thing we saw was the ship’s rudder and then seven windows in the stern. At that point, we knew from British Admiralty drawings of the ship that we had found Ontario for sure.”
Images from the ROV show the vessel’s two masts are standing and its cannons are still on board. Ontario was once the area’s most sought-after wreck, so its location is being kept secret to protect it from looters. Ontario is considered a British and American war grave and is the property of the British Admiralty.
“It’s phenomenal that a ship of that age is still so intact and complete,” says Carrie E. Sowden, the archaeological director for the Great Lakes Historical Society. “Really incredible finds like this bring the Great Lakes into the forefront and remind people that there is a lot of history here.”
To learn more about underwater archaeology, please visit Archaeology Archives.