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Memorial to two lost War of 1812 schooners on Hamilton’s waterfront

August 2019

In Confederation Park in Hamilton, Ontario, just off Van Wagners Beach, is a unique monument to the loss of two American schooners during the War of 1812. Looking like a small cemetery, there are in fact no bodies buried beneath the stones that bear the names of the 53 sailors that were claimed by Lake Ontario over two centuries ago.

It’s a unique twist on a cenotaph; an empty tomb.

On 8 August 1813, two American naval schooners, USS Hamilton and USS Scourge, sank in a violent and sudden squall on Lake Ontario, off the shoreline near present-day St. Catharines.

Eight men survived from each of the ships, but 53 men lost their lives when both went down around 2am.

Both ships had originally been merchant schooners; the Hamilton had originally been an American ship called the Diana that was bought by the US Navy; and the Scourge had been a British ship called The Lord Nelson that was seized by American authorities in 1812 on suspicion of being involved in smuggling.  Both were converted into US Navy vessels when war broke out.

In 1973, an expedition was launched to find the schooners, with a suspected location identified in 300 feet of water approximately 10.5 kilometres northwest of the lighthouse at Port Weller near St. Catharines, Ontario. This was confirmed in 1975 using deep-tow side-scan sonar, which showed the two schooners lying perpendicular to each other on the lake bed.

The wreck site has been designated a National Historic Site and an amendment to the Ontario Heritage Act in 2005 gives the site special protection as the wrecks contain human remains.

Debate continues to this day as to whether any attempt to raise the schooners should be undertaken, or if replicas should be built to act as a tourist attraction and educational facility.

Sources: http://www.hamilton-scourge.hamilton.ca, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Scourge_(1812), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Hamilton_(1809), https://www.thespec.com/news-story/2255802-ceremony-will-honour-lives-lost-on-the-hamilton-and-the-scourge-in-1813/

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/memorial-to-two-lost-war-of-1812-schooners-on-hamiltons-waterfront/

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