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Published: Saturday, 8/22/2009

Shipwreck buffs slate showing of Ontario

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

It had been a quest, one that shipwreck hunters had sought for decades.

And when the HMS Ontario was discovered last year in the icy depths of Lake Ontario, it became international news.

Today, the men who discovered the British warship that sailed the Great Lakes during the American Revolutionary War will for the first time show video footage during a 9:45 a.m. presentation at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Toledo.

The images of the ship will give area history buffs and shipwreck divers the first chance to view the ship last seen more than 200 years ago when it sank Oct. 31, 1780, in a violent storm.

"It brings maritime history to people like they've never had before," said Jim Kennard, 66, of Fairport, N.Y., who with Dan Scoville, 35, of Houston, discovered the ship. "The Ontario is something that Great Lakes enthusiasts can be proud of."

Mr. Kennard and Mr. Scoville are independent shipwreck researchers who have searched the waters of Lake Ontario for several years. Together, the pair have found more than a dozen shipwrecks. Mr. Kennard, who has been looking for shipwrecks since he began scuba diving in 1970, has found nearly 200, he estimates.

The Ontario had been an on-and-off goal for the pair. In early 2008, it became a focus.

The two researched the ship's history and zeroed in on a location. In May, they got an image return on a side-scan sonar and dispatched a remote-operated vehicle to investigate.

The images, Mr. Kennard said, were awe-inspiring. The wooden schooner was found upright and tilted in more than 400 feet of water. Its masts and crows' nests can be seen; cannons and anchors also are visible.

The ship's bell, with its name visibly etched, rests on the deck.

But the thrill of the find was made somber by the thought of the 120 people, including men, women, children, and prisoners of war, who died when the ship sank, Mr. Kennard said.

"We were happy in a way to find it, and at the same time we knew that this was a war grave and the greatest single loss of life in Lake Ontario history," he said.

"This is the oldest shipwreck that has ever been found in the Great Lakes. It's the only fully intact British warship from that period that has ever been found...."

The program is being held in conjunction with the Great Lakes Historical Society in Vermilion, Ohio, which is focused on furthering and sharing Great Lakes history.

Also today, an exhibit of maritime artifacts will be on display at the Toledo Maritime Center, 1701 Front St., at the city marina.

"Toledo and the Great Lakes Our History Your History - A Selection of Artifacts from the Collection of the Great Lakes Historical Society" will be open to the public for a $3 admission.

The fee also will allow visitors into an antique boat show and marine antique flea market as well as onto the Willis B. Boyer Museum Ship.

Among the items on display is an artifact from the Toledo lighthouse; visitors will be invited to guess what it was used for.

Other items include an original Greyhound figurehead from the Greyhound passenger boats that operated out of Toledo before 1932 and the original ship's wheel from the David Dows, the first five-masted schooner in the world built in Toledo in 1880.

Christopher Gillcrist, executive director of the Great Lakes Historical Society, said the Ontario presentation is an unusual opportunity for area residents because it is the only time the video will be shown to the public before it is made into a documentary to be broadcast on national television.

"Great Lakes history is not just your backyard. Great Lakes history is about the history of this country," Mr. Gillcrist said.

"We have the largest repository of shipwrecks per square mile than anywhere in the world. Our goal has always been to elevate the appreciation of Great Lakes history as part of our national culture, and these types of discoveries help that happen."

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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