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Learn more about the SS Ithaka

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The SS Ithaka is a steam freighter that has sunk off the Hudson Bay coast not far from Churchill, Manitoba. She was initially constructed in 1922 as the lake freighter Frank A. Augsbury for the Canadian George Hall Coal & Shipping Corporation. She then sailed for a number of different owners in various locations, receiving a number of name changes along the way, including Granby in 1927, Parita II in 1948, Valbruna in 1951, Lawrencecliffe Hall in 1952, Federal Explorer in 1955, and finally Ithaka in 1960, before being sunk later that year.

She was built by Fraser, Brace, Ltd. of Trois-Rivières, Quebec as the lake freighter Frank A. Augsbury for the George Hall Coal Company and launched on October 21, 1922. Frank A. Augsbury was a ship with a gross tonnage of 2,051 and dimensions of 251 ft 2 in (76.6 m) by 43 ft 1 in (13.1 m) with a draught of 18 ft 1 in (5.5 m). It was propelled by a triple expansion steam engine with a horsepower rating of 1,000 kW and coal-fired Scotch marine boilers. In 1927, she was bought by Canada Steamship Lines, who changed her name to Granby. The Ministry of War Transport took control of her, and France, Fenwick and Company oversaw her operations during the Second World War.

The British MV Atlantic City and the Granby collided off the West Goodwins (Kent England) on June 28, 1945, leaving Granby holed above the water. After being transported to the Downs, the tugboats Empire Larch and Empire Mary tow Granby to Gravesend on July 2, 1945. She was towed out of Gravesend on August 3 and foundered in the River Blackwater. She was bought by the Italian shipping company Lloyd Mediterraneo S.p.A. di Nav. in 1951 and given the new name Valbruna after being sold to the Panamanian company Cia Naviera Parita S.A. in 1948 under the new name Parita II. The Hall Corporation of Canada, Ltd., the original owners’ successor business, purchased Lawrencecliffe Hall in 1952 and brought her back to Canada as Lawrencecliffe Hall. In 1955, the Federal Commerce & Navigation Co., Ltd. purchased her once more, and they gave her the new name Federal Explorer.

She served as a supply ship for settlements along the Canadian Arctic coastline for Federal Commerce and Navigation, which twice chartered her to the Clarke Steamship Company in 1956 and used her to launch the Federal Intercoastal Line in 1957. In 1956, the Federal Explorer and her captain, Captain Simon Bouchard, transported fuel oil to RCAF stations in the Arctic as well as parts for a new nickel mill that was being built in Rankin Inlet. In 1958, she delivered grain from Churchill, Manitoba, to Montreal in late October after transporting nickel concentrates to Churchill, Manitoba, for rail delivery to Fort Saskatchewan.

SS Ithaka
Peterfitzgerald, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Ithaka Shipping Company bought Federal Explorer for the last time in 1960, and her owner, a Greek named J. Glikis, registered her in Nassau, Bahamas. She left Churchill on September 10, 1960, carrying supplies for the settlement and the nickel concentrate that the Clarke Steamship Company had chartered her to deliver from the Rankin Inlet nickel works. During the journey, she was caught in a strong gale and lost her rudder. On September 14, she dropped her anchor, but the anchors did not hold, causing her to run aground in Bird Cove, about ten miles east of Churchill.

The storm slammed her against the gravel bank, ripping her bottom completely out. Although the insurers, Lloyd’s of London, declared the ship a total loss and declared the grounding to be suspicious, they declined to pay the insurance claim. On September 18, the CCGS William Alexander of the Canadian Coast Guard rescued all 37 members of the crew, who then landed in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Due to the shallow water she grounded in, visitors could easily walk to the wreck during low tide, and her navigating equipment, as well as a large portion of her cargo, including two generators and some plywood panels, were salvaged.

Since 1960, the MV Ithaka has been resting upright on that reef.

Discover Churchill Tours offers guided hikes through the heart of polar bear territory to the SS Ithaka shipwreck at low tide from June 21 to September 21.

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About Author

Kathy is the owner of Kirk Scuba Gear, a passionate Scuba Diver, Ocean Advocate and Managing Editor of The Scuba News Canada

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