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Build 2000

Trent Research Associate To Excavate Oldest Great Lakes Shipwreck

On the shores of Lake Huron in May 2004, a shipwreck, believed to be the oldest ever discovered on the Great Lakes, is to be fully excavated under the direction of Ken Cassavoy, marine archaeologist and a Trent University research associate.

The excavation, to start May 17 at Southampton Beach - 35 kilometres west of Owen Sound, has recently been the subject of nation-wide news coverage. Mr. Cassavoy says the wreck, dated to the late 1700s, is probably the merchant schooner "Weazell" built in 1786 at Detroit and lost at Southampton in 1798.

Low Lake Huron water levels and a spring ice scour in April of 2001 uncovered about a dozen ship frames pushing up through the sand of Southampton Beach. Since then, two short periods of test archaeological excavations on the site have revealed the presence of substantial remains of this earliest wreck, buried under the sand.  During the 2002 work, excavators found a small-bore swivel cannon lying in the hold of the wreck - a unique find on a Great Lakes merchant ship. (To read about this find, visit

On May 17, the excavation team is to begin opening up the entire interior of the vessel as well as the full exterior on the starboard side of the schooner. Mr. Cassavoy says the excavation, to be carried out under his Archaeological License from the Ontario Ministry of Culture, will take about eight weeks to complete and will provide full details on how this historic merchant vessel was constructed. It also will provide details necessary for the possible lifting, conservation and museum display of the wreck.  At the same time, the work may provide artifacts that could help confirm the date and identity of the vessel. The work will be done by volunteer excavators working under the direction of volunteer professional archaeologists.

"I doubt this kind of major archaeological excavation could be done anywhere except in a community such as Southampton and Saugeen Shores. The volunteer support of the general public, as well as area businesses and agencies is absolutely unbelievable. Without that kind of help we simply couldn't do the work on this extremely important shipwreck," says Mr. Cassavoy.

The research and excavation of the shipwreck is supported by a number of businesses and institutions including the Trent University Symons Trust Fund.

Anyone wishing to volunteer to work on the excavation can e-mail the Southampton Beach Shipwreck Project at

Posted April 14, 2004


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