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Hidden History Unearthed: Cape Ray Family Discovers Centuries-Old Shipwreck




CAPE RAY — An early morning stroll turned into a once-in-a-lifetime discovery for Gordon Blackmore, when he happened upon the remnants of an old shipwreck washed up on the beach. Wanda Blackmore, Gordon’s mother, said it was quite the discovery.


“My son actually stumbled upon it in the wee hours of the morning on Saturday (Jan. 20),” said Blackmore. “Where you come out to go on to the beach in the park, it's right out straight as you walk onto the beach.”


When the whole family went down, they knew it was significant but didn’t want to chance anyone coming down and taking pieces of it away.


“I wouldn't put it on Facebook because I was afraid people would go out and take some things away from it. I thought it was something historical, so I reached out to the Newfoundland archives for it,” said Blackmore. “I didn't hear anything because that was Saturday afternoon. Sunday morning, I sent in the email about the pictures, but now I was talking to the Maritime Archives and they told me to send in the pictures to them and they will try and get someone out, I think, to have a look, and I was talking to the Shipwreck Preservation Society as well. The guy I was talking to, he is actually in with the Archeological Society, so he said that more than likely will be called a historical find or archeological site or whatever it is, but he wanted my son to send in the coordinates and stuff of the site.”


Blackmore isn’t sure what kind of vessel the unearthed pieces could be from, but she believes it to be from a much older ship.


“What we saw is all in one area because it looks like the hull of the ship, I would say it’s about 65 ft or so. That's the first time I've seen anything like it. We've got shipwrecks around here, there's a lot of old shipwrecks off the coast here in Cape Ray, but that's the first time I've seen anything like that,” said Blackmore. “I found it interesting because to me it looks like she's put together with wooden dowels. My son was out and stood up on it because you could see it better in low tide, but he went out and stood up onto it because he was kind of curious as to how long it was. So he got up onto the boat and walked out, but it is made with wooden dowels. There's some metal nails there, but they got like square heads onto them.”


She believes the recent storms, like Hurricane Fiona, could have been what uncovered the parts of the ship.


“When Fiona struck, those poles that the Newfoundland Railway put in years ago for the barricade for the train track there, that was all under beach when I was a kid growing up, and since Fiona, that's been all unearthed, but Fiona brought out the worst of it,” said Blackmore. “My son just said he was down to the track Tuesday or Wednesday of last week and it wasn't out then, but he saw it on Saturday morning, so I'm thinking the storm that we had Thursday and Friday brought it out.”


Neil Burgess, President of the Shipwreck Preservation Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, was excited to hear from Blackmore and see the photos of the discovery.


“I was amazed, I mean, it's a large sailing ship. The wreckage is, I don't know, 70 or 80 ft long, so the ship is bigger than that, because this is only part of the hull. It's difficult to tell exactly how long the ship would have been, but I'm hoping to get down there maybe the weekend or early next week and we'll do a survey of it,” said Burgess. “And once we've measured the timbers that are there, we should be able to make a guesstimate of how long the ship was.”


Identifying the exact ship the wreckage is from may not be a possibility.


“In terms of identifying it, I'm not sure if we'll be able to put a name to the ship with 100 per cent confidence, but I think we'll be able to get it down to a short list of possibilities. There's quite a number of ships that were wrecked around Cape Ray, but by looking at the wreckage there and examining it closely, we should be able to figure out, get it down to a list of maybe three or five ships,” said Burgess. “We'll measure the timbers and that will give us an indication of how big the ship was originally. We'll look at what kind of wood the hull is made out of and that can tell us where the ship was made. If it's things like beach and oak and the timbers are really large, then we know it's not from North America, that it's from Europe, and we're also going to take wood cores, we're going to drill holes in the keel and the planks of the hull to take samples back, and by examining the tree rings, the pattern of the tree rings, we can hopefully determine when the trees were grown, and that'll give us an indication of when the ship was built.”


The entire process is likely to prove both lengthy and extensive.


“It's going to take a little while because we have to send things off, the tree ring cores will have to send to experts who do that kind of dating work, and they have collections of similar tree ring cores from known samples from Europe, and they can do the comparison and figure out how old these timbers are,” said Burgess. “I haven't been involved in one of these before, but they have come up in the past. Around Newfoundland, there was a shipwreck that was exposed on the sandy beach down at Point Lance on the southern Avalon, back, I think it was 1989. And before that, there was a wreck that came out of the sand on the beach in Lumston, up by Windmill Bite on the northeast coast. So it happens occasionally, and I think what's happened is with the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona back in the fall of 2022, I think that really moved a lot of sand around on the southern coast, especially the southwest coast, and I think this shipwreck might have been buried in the sand near Cape Ray and Fiona uncovered it, and two weeks ago, the big swells threw the wreckage up on the beach.”


Even though storm events cause immeasurable damage, it’s quite possible this shipwreck would’ve remained hidden had it not been for the adverse weather conditions over the past couple of years.


“It's probably been buried for at least 100 years. So it's amazing to think that, with these big storm events that we're having nowadays, more and more of these shipwrecks may be uncovered,” said Burgess.


Being able to salvage pieces from shipwrecks like this can have significance, not only historically, but culturally as well. 


“It's important in a few ways. One is if we can narrow down the identity of the ship, then that gives us a story to tell and make the public more aware of the nautical history in that area by Cape Ray, because it was a really important landmark for ships coming in and out of the St. Lawrence river and the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the way to Europe,” said Burgess. “And if we can figure out what country the ship came from, then that gives us some insight into the trade and where people were travelling to and from, and there may be some oral history passed down through families around Cape Ray thats associated with this particular shipwreck, so we can bring that to light as well. There may have even been survivors from this shipwreck. I don't know if they settled in Newfoundland, but they may have travelled. There's all of the connections with where the ship came from, the people that were on the ship and the crew. So descendants of those people might be interested in hearing more about the story as well.”


Even though residents may be intrigued by the shipwreck, Burgess asks that they leave everything where they found it. 


“People should not be trying to take souvenirs from the wreck. There was a fellow out on the weekend with a saw trying to take a chunk of it home,” said Burgess. “The wreck is protected by provincial legislation and the RCMP has been informed, so they know people may be trying to take souvenirs and they're going to be out there watching, and we don't want to get anybody in trouble.”

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