- SARAH CHISHOLM - Fine Art & Photography | The Final Wreck of the Erie Belle
150 Firework Finale150 Firework Finale

The Final Wreck of the Erie Belle

January 05, 2017  •  5 Comments

  Last month (originally posted May of 2014), I wrote about the shipwreck that lies onshore just a stone's throw south of the Kincardine pier, the Ann Maria. This time I'm going to tell you about another wreck that lies onshore a bit more south of Kincardine, on Boiler Beach Road in Huron-Kinloss Township. All that now remains of the Erie Belle is the ship's boiler, which, ironically, was actually the catalyst to her ultimate demise. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's go back in time...
  The Erie Belle was a steamship built in Cleveland, Ohio in 1862, by Peck & Masters, and her adventures began from there, though "her" name was in fact Hector then. She was first used as a tugboat during the Civil War on Lake Erie (one of the freshwater Great Lakes in Canada and the USA), and after the war, she was a passenger ship until sinking for the first time in the Detroit River in 1873. After a time underwater, she was raised and rebuilt, and sold to a man from Windsor, Ontario, who renamed her the Erie Belle. (Apparently this man scoffed superstitions about re-naming ships. Oops.)  Unluckily, the Erie Belle was soon wrecked again (this would be only the second time) near Colchester, Ontario, on Lake Erie, but she was quickly rebuilt yet again and put back into service as a tugboat. She ended up in service on Lake Huron. 

  Autumn gales and storms on the Great Lakes have proved they can be incredibly powerful and destructive, and in mid-November 1883, Lake Huron was getting battered. A schooner named the J. N. Carter was loaded with timber, trying to brave the raging lake, when it overshot Kincardine harbour and made a turn back north for safety, ultimately running aground near the shore south of Kincardine. The Erie Belle tug was sent to the rescue, and arrived days later with tow ropes to pull the schooner from where it was stranded. It was not having much success, and the boiler filled with more and more steam as the ship struggled. It is thought somehow the steam was unable to escape from the relief valves, and as the engine began to overheat as well, the steam pressure inside the boiler reached the breaking point - there was a horrific explosion. 

Erie Belle, Huron ShoreErie Belle, Huron Shore
The boiler from the shipwreck Erie Belle

  The ship was blown to fine pieces, with only the boiler itself surviving in any recognizable form. Four of the twelve crew members were killed instantly, and the others were thrown far from the wreckage, but rescued from the waters by the very folk they were trying to rescue on the J. NCarter. (That ship remained where it ran aground for the rest of that winter, and in spring, it was finally rescued... though it sank before the turn of the century.)
  The tangled mess of the Erie Belle was stripped and pulled close to shore, and the boiler left. Years later, an unsuccessful attempt to steal it brought it closer still to shore. Today it rests mostly out of reach of the water line, though a powerful storm or wind like the one that brought about the events of the wreck can bring the water up to the boiler, as in the photos above and below. 

Erie, EerieErie, Eerie
The Erie Belle boiler during a winter storm 

  The boiler exploding is the cause of the Erie Belle's third, and most final, shipwrecking, so its presence almost mocks the tragic incident. Yet this piece of twisted metal is a marker for those four who lost their lives on Lake Huron that day, and a historic and iconic landmark for the Kincardine area. Be sure to visit Boiler Beach and the resting place of the Erie Belle when you are in town! You know, the sunset from Boiler Beach is usually quite spectacular too...

Autumn Storm Beyond the WreckAutumn Storm Beyond the Wreck
Sunset on Boiler Beach, Kincardine/Huron-Kinloss

A Ghost Of A FlameA Ghost Of A Flame
Winter sunset over Erie Belle shipwreck 

  I hope you're enjoying my bits of Kincardine Great Lakes history! Comments are welcome. Cheers.
Sarah Chisholm



Bob Tiffin(non-registered)
Loved your pictures and the history of the Erie Belle. We've been to the Boiler many many times over the last almost 30 years. It's a tradition to walk from Concession 12 to the Boiler and back on our last day of camping. One thing I am having a difficult time finding is the name of the men who died that November day. I would also like to know if any of them are buried in any of the local cemeteries.
Wendy Durnin(non-registered)
Wow Sarah, loved reading the history of this ship. Pictures are amazing too. I hope to visit some time and have a look for myself.
Sharon Arnold(non-registered)
Thank You for your story and great pictures. I still live in the area and drive past boiler beach daily always looking for the boiler. I have many happy memories of our fun times on the beach when we could drive along the water for some miles.
Bette McLeod haag(non-registered)
Yes I do love your historical stories. Sure do miss Kincardine and all the scenic sunsets. Memories. So many. Thanks you bring home back to me.
Eoin Mac Pherson(non-registered)
great pics and a very interesting story, I used to play on this boiler when I was a child...so nice to revisit it now through your work,thank you.
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