Sunday, April 19, 2009

Return of the Wolfe

Last year, I wrote about the discovery of a 200-year-old shipwreck thought to be the Wolfe, the flagship of Sir James Lucas Yeo, commander of the British fleet on the Great Lakes during the War of 1812.

Unlike many of her contemporaries, the Wolfe survived the war, though just barely. She was heavily damaged in a battle with the American fleet on Lake Ontario known as the "Burlington Races." The battle was essentially a draw, but the fact that the British fleet survived meant the lake stayed in British hands, at a time when the war on the lakes was not going very well for the His Majesty's navy.

Ironically, the Wolfe met her end because she was no longer needed. With the signing of the peace treaty at Ghent in 1814, the British scaled back their naval presence on the Great Lakes. British interest in North America fell even further when Napoleon escaped from exile just eleven days after the treaty was signed and restarted hostilities on the continent. So the venerable old Wolfe, stripped of her armaments, was sent to the bottom of the lake she played such a key role in defending.

But she would not be entirely forgotten. Last summer, it was announced that divers had found wreckage they believed to be the remains of the Wolfe. To protect the wreck, her location was kept secret, but the discovery came on the heels of the discovery of HMS Ontario, an even older British warship that went down during a storm in 1780, at the height of the American Revolution. The Ontario is now the oldest identified shipwreck on the lakes.

This summer, a group of volunteer divers from Kingston, including a professor from Queen's University, will get to work trying to positively identify the remains as those of the Wolfe. If they do, the news will come at an auspicious time; 2012 marks the two-hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of hostilities, and just when the continent begins to turn its eyes back to this long-ago conflict, the Wolfe will rise again.

For the full piece on the efforts to identify the Wolfe, click here.

To read about last year's discovery of HMS Ontario, click here.

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