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7 Stops on The Shipwreck Trail: Harbour Grace to Cape Race

Shipwrecks have longed captured the imagination of the public. Shipwreck stories, historic and fictional, contain many of the themes of interest: man vs. nature, courage, survival, tragedy, hope, life, and death. Newfoundland and Labrador, with 500 years of nautical history, has its fair share of shipwrecks – perhaps more so, given the amount of historic sea traffic, the province’s position in the north Atlantic Ocean, and the foggy and stormy weather. Indeed, some estimates place the number of shipwrecks off the coast of Newfoundland in excess of 10,000!

Each and every shipwreck has its own story, and you can easily discover many as you travel across the province. You’ll find these stories on interpretative panels, in museums, along our coasts, and under the water. Shipwrecks are an integral part of our culture and heritage, and one well worth exploring during your visit.

While you won’t find a brochure or guide book for our “unofficial” Shipwreck Trail, you can certainly follow this guide to learn more about some of the shipwrecks along our coasts, beginning in Harbour Grace on Conception Bay and ending in Cape Race overlooking the vast expanse of the North Atlantic.

SS Kyle, Harbour Grace

If you begin your journey in Harbour Grace, you’ll see one of the most famous shipwrecks in Newfoundland. The Kyle was part of the famed Alphabet Fleet that traveled our shores throughout the 20th century. But this is not why it’s famous. It’s famous because it is still there. In fact, since it ran ashore in 1967, it has become an icon for the Town of Harbour Grace, and one of the most photographed attractions in the Conception Bay North region.

The SS Kyle at the heart of Harbour Grace

SS Charcot, SS Southern Foam, and SS Sukha, Conception Harbour

Heading south from Harbour Grace, you’ll find the small community of Conception Harbour. There, you’ll spot the rusting hull of a ship protruding from the water at a severe angle, as if the ship is still sinking but frozen in time. This is the SS Charcot, whose name was recently discovered by the Shipwreck Preservation Society of NL. You may see only one ship from land, but next to it are two more, fully underwater: the SS Southern Foam and the SS Sukha. If you are a scuba diver, they make for an excellent dive from shore. In fact, these were just three of a fleet of five whaling ships. The other two sank further away, their current whereabouts still unknown.

The SS Charcot in Conception Harbour.

SS Saganaga, SS Lord Strathcona, SS Rose Castle, and PLM 27, Bell Island

Just off the shore of Bell Island in Conception Bay, German U-Boats sunk four iron-ore carriers: the SS Saganaga and SS Lord Strathcona on September 5, 1942, and the SS Rose Castle and PLM 27 (PLM stands for Paris-Lyons-Méditerranée) on November 2, 1942. Dozens of men lost their lives in the attacks, and the nearby Lance Cove has a monument to their sacrifice. The Bell Island Museum contains many artifacts from the ships, recovered by divers over the years, and many artifacts owned by Captain Rolf Ruggeberg, including logs, documents and two Iron Crosses awarded by Adolf Hitler for the sinkings. If you are more adventurous (and have your advanced scuba diving certification), you can join Ocean Quest for daily scuba charters to the four shipwrecks, which still stand in amazing condition over 70 years later.

Diving on the SS Rose Castle. Photo Credit: Ocean Quest.

SS Florizel and SS Calypso, Admiralty House, Mount Pearl

The Admiralty House Communications Museum in Mount Pearl tells the story of Mount Pearl and the province's communications history. Among its exhibits is a fairly significant one concerning the SS Florizel. Commissioned in 1909 as a passenger liner for the Red Cross Line, it sank near Cappahayden on Newfoundland’s Southern Shore. The story of the wreck, loss of life, and its survivors is told in the museum, complete with a recreation of the radio room. St. John’s Bowring Park has a Peter Pan statue near the large duck pond, erected as a memorial to the passengers of the wreck. The Admiralty House also has a “Calypso Room”, dedicated to the HMS Calypso, later the Briton, that was used as a training vessel for the Newfoundland Regiment. It was later abandoned and its hull is still visible near the Town of Lewisporte, some distance from our Shipwreck Trail!

The Florizel exhibit at Admiralty House Communications Museum, featuring recovered artifacts. Photo Credit: Admiralty House Communications Museum.

RMS Titanic, St. John’s

The most famous shipwreck of all time, the RMS Titanic has a significant Newfoundland connection – the province received the SOS from the sinking ship (more on this below). To commemorate the connections between the island and the history’s most infamous shipwreck, the Johnson Geo Centre features an extraordinary Titanic exhibit including its history, its ill-fated journey across the Atlantic, its current grave at the bottom of the Atlantic, and its unique place in world-wide popular culture.

The Titanic Exhibit at the Johnson Geo Centre. Photo Credit:  Johnson Geo Centre.

SS Torhamvan, Ferryland

Along the shore of Ferryland, at low tide you can spot the boilers and various other mechanical debris. These are the remnants of the Torhamvan, named for Toronto, Hamilton, and Vancouver. In 1926 it was provided regular service between St. John’s and Halifax, but ran aground in Ferryland in the dense fog, and has remained ever since. The ship has largely disappeared over the years, but pieces still remain and can be explored at your leisure.

The SS Torhamvan before it ran argound and broke to pieces in Ferryland.

RMS Titanic, Cape Race

While the exhibit at the Johnson Geo Station is significant, it is not the only place you can learn about the Titanic. Indeed, you can visit the place where the SOS was received as the ship slipped beneath the waves. Cape Race was the closest point of land to the ship on the ill-fated night it sunk, and the wireless station near the Cape Race Lighthouse received its cry for help. The Myrick Wireless Interpretation Centre, a replica of the 1904 wireless station, now tells this story.

These are only a handful of the hundreds of ships lost between Harbour Grace and Cape Race – the most visible and well known. If these has spurred your imagination, any bookstore in Newfoundland and Labrador will have a “local” section, where you will find dozens of books, telling the stories of these and many more shipwrecks.