Divers discover J. H. Jones coastal steamer lost during storm in 1906 in Georgian Bay

In 1906, the J. H. Jones coastal steamer was caught in a storm and sank in Georgian Bay, killing all 30 of its crew members and passengers.

For nearly 112 years the steamer remained lost somewhere in the bay, reportedly last seen by a lighthouse attendant off Cape Crocker.

However, on July 1, 2018, the steamer was located by American divers Kenneth E. Merryman and Jerry Eliason, with the help of Canadian researcher and historian Chris Kohl.

Also on board at the time of the discovery was Robert Crawford, the great-grandson of the ship’s captain, J.V. Crawford.

According to Merryman, the endeavour began when Crawford’s great-great-grandson, Dan Crawford, reached out to him for help.

“Dan reached out to me and said, ‘hey, would you like to hunt for my great-great-grandfather’s ship?’”

Merryman says the J. H. Jones had always been on their radar, but Dan’s request made it “high priority.”

When Dan Crawford was unable to renew his passport in time to join the search, he sent his father, Robert Crawford in his place.

While the ship remained lost for more than a century, Merryman says it took the team just three passes with the sonar to locate. He says this was due in large part to Kohl’s extensive research on the wreck.

“It’s really a team effort,” Merryman said, “Chris was the researcher on this one and so I just let him pick the path.”

Merryman says in his research, Kohl had strung together a number of details which helped to narrow down a location the ship could be.

According to Merryman, the shipwreck was ultimately found in Georgian Bay in the general area of Cape Croker, under approximately 160 feet of water.

When they came across the remains of the J. H. Jones, he says a large portion of the ship was intact.

“The hull and the main deck is intact,” said Merryman. However, he says the upper cabins, including the pilothouse, are gone.

A portion of the side planks is also missing, which allowed the divers to see inside part of the ship.

Merryman says divers did not see any human remains, and a large portion of the cargo from the ship had washed ashore in a storm in 1913.

According to Merryman, due to diving restrictions and in order to preserve the integrity of the site, divers did not enter the wreck, opting instead to use imaging software and drop-cameras to capture footage of the ship in its resting state.

“We like to promote that you don’t take anything, that goes without saying,” he said. “But you also do your best not to disturb it. A lot of these sites are fragile.”

Merryman says they were able to stitch images together using a technique known as photogrammetry to create a 3D rendering of what the wreck looks like.

But, what made it a truly remarkable find, was having the captain’s descendant on board.

According to Merryman, it was the first time they had a descendant on board at the time of discovery.

“The Jones has a great history, and you know we have a connection to that history with the Crawford family,” he said. “They were ecstatic about us finding the shipwreck and about being involved when we found it.”

The J. H. Jones wreck is now a registered marine archaeological site and is protected under the Ontario Heritage Act.

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