The Cursed Steamer

A look back on The Erie Belle explosion

November 2020 Feature Shandra Batemon

There are many ways that local attractions are named. Some are named after founders of the nearby town or of a historical moment. This is no different for Boiler Beach in Kincardine, Ontario. The beach itself was named after the boiler that had washed ashore from the steamer ship The Erie Belle.

The Birth Of A Ship

The Erie Belle was originally built in 1862 for the Northwest Insurance Company as a towboat and was named The Hector. The Hector first started operating during the time of the American Civil War under the ownership of a Captain Morgan. After towing boats and cargo for a full season in Boston, Mass., it was taken back to Oswego and sold to Captain CH Cary.

Under the command of Captain Cary, The Hector was turned into a passenger boat after the war and was used to transfer people between cities and ports on the Great Lakes. These ships were outfitted to give comfort to the passengers as they crossed the sometimes angry waters. 

With storms sweeping in unexpectedly during the changing of seasons, the ships sailing the Great Lakes had to be prepared for these unexpected storms and choppy waters. Luckily, our cursed little steamer had not encountered any mishaps during its time under the command of Captain Cary.

The Beginning Of Disaster

After a few years under the command of Captain Cary, The Hector was sold to Noah Whipple. Whipple continued to run he steamship as a passenger ship as well, but then the curse started to set in. It wasn’t long until the first tragedy in the steamer’s history struck the ship and her crew.

In 1873 the ship caught fire on her deck, igniting the tar and dry rope, burning her hull and even some of the machinery. The smoke was thick as the wood and tar burned for hours and the crew desperately tried to put out the flames. Rescuers were eventually able to put out the fire and dragged the ship on land to be looked over, and potentially scrapped. But this was not the end of The Hector.

After the flames were put out and the parts that could be saved salvaged, the burnt hull and engine parts were bought by Captain J. Laframboise, who had ironically just lost the passenger steamer The Lake Breeze after a fire broke out onboard, sinking the ship. Captain Laframboise rebuilt and outfitted The Hector as a passenger ship to replace The Lake Breeze.

Now, there is a superstition that a ship should not be renamed, that it ensures tragedy for the ship and her crew. Captain Laframboise either didn’t know about this superstition or didn’t care, because while it was being rebuilt, the burnt ship was renamed The Erie Belle

The steamer ran between Windsor and Pelee Island for a few years under the command of Captain Laframboise until changing captains yet again in 1877. The new owner of The Erie Belle was Odette and Wherry, a fishery in Canada. She continued to carry passengers all over the Great Lakes without incident and a bright future before her, or so it seemed. Eventually the curse that seemed to follow The Erie Belle struck again one cold evening, changing her future yet again.

In 1879, while running her route, the steamer ran across a schooner’s anchor that lay unseen below the waves of the lake, tearing into her hull and filling the ship with about ten feet of water. Under any normal circumstance, this would spell the end for any ship, no matter how beloved it might be to captain and crew.

This was not the case for The Erie Belle. She had not been long submerged before being dredged out of the lake water and repaired. This time, as a tugboat.

The Making Of A Landmark

Repaired and ready for adventure, The Erie Belle went back to work, pulling boats and cargo across the cold waters of the Great Lakes. One night in 1883, a schooner by the name of JN Carter was caught in a terrible autumn storm causing the boat to start floundering. The captain shot off a flare, signaling for assistance from the shore and The Erie Belle was sent to tow her back in. This would be the last time the cursed steamer set out on the autumn waters.

While trying to tow the schooner back to shore, her boilers (that had just been upgraded the year prior) malfunctioned causing the steam to not escape. As the pressure built, the metal started to expand while at the same time trying to contain the steam.

The crew didn’t seem to notice anything was wrong until it was too late. The boiler exploded, instantly killing four of the crew and causing the other eight crewmembers to go flying overboard.

The crew members who were sent overboard were rescued along with the crew from the JN Carter a little later in the evening, but there was no way to salvage The Erie Belle. The boiler ended up being pushed by the tide onto the beach near Kincardine, Ontario, creating the popular local attraction Boiler Beach.

Picture Perfect Scenery

With beautiful sunsets and gorgeous sandy shores, Boiler Beach is a “must-see” location for anyone in the area. Many photographers have spent time documenting the breath-taking vistas and the wreckage that lies on the beach. So, if your summer plans take you close to Kincardine, make sure to stop and see the grave of the cursed steamer The Erie Belle.

 

Photo by Sarah Chisholm.

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