Shipwrecks, both as historical events and artifacts, have sparked the imagination and an interest in the maritime heritage of Canada. The discovery of the War of 1812 wrecks Hamilton and Scourge, found in Lake Ontario in the 1970s, and the discovery of the Titanic in the 1980s, served to heighten public awareness of underwater archaeology and history.
Whether you are a wreck hunter on the trail of a lost vessel, or a new shipwreck enthusiast eager to explore images and documents that preserve the epic tales of Canadian waters, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has something for you.
Starting your research
First, gather as much information as possible about the shipwreck(s) you are researching. Specifically, you will ideally want to obtain the following information (in order of importance):
- Name of Vessel
- Location of accident
- Date of accident
- Ship’s port of registry
- Ship’s official number
- Year of vessel’s construction
The Ship Registration Index is a helpful resource. The database includes basic information about more than 78,000 ships registered in ports of Canada between 1787 and 1966.
Can’t locate all of the information listed? There’s no cause for concern! Not all of the information is necessary, but it is essential that you know the name of the vessel. All Government records relating to shipwrecks are organized according to the ship’s name.
What is Available?
Using Archives Search, you can locate the following types of material:
- Consult the How to Find Photographs Online article for more help.
- In Archives Search, under “Type of material”, select “Maps and cartographic material” to narrow your results.
All records listed are found in the documents of the Marine Branch (Record Group 42) and/or Transport Canada (Record Group 24).
Official Wreck Registers, 1870‒1975
- Wreck Reports, 1907‒1974
- Register of Investigations into Wrecks, 1911‒1960
- Marine Casualty Investigation Records, 1887‒1980
Important: Government records contain information about shipwrecks that occurred in Canadian waters, and include all accidents involving foreign vessels in Canadian waters.
Please note: this is not an exhaustive list of resources, but rather a compilation of some of the major sources of documentation available on shipwrecks held at LAC.
You can find a number of digitized photographs, maps and documents on the Shipwreck Investigations virtual exhibition. More specifically, check out the collection of digitized Official Wreck Registers in the Shipwreck Investigations Database. Simply check if the name of the vessel you are researching is listed.
Another excellent source of information on shipwrecks is local public libraries. There are many maritime histories and bibliographies that offer reference points to begin your shipwreck research.