HMCS Armentieres, wrecked with Salvage King

© Maritime Museum of British Columbia

Introduction

Many attempts have been made to set up systems for rescuing ships and shipwreck victims on Canada’s Pacific coast. Specialised equipment, organisations dedicated to saving lives, and a chain of lighthouses standing guard along the coastline have made ocean travel around Vancouver Island safer, but still not without danger.

Collecting the remains of wrecked ships, called salvaging, is an industry that many have participated in, both legally and illegally. Once those aboard wrecked vessels are safe or accounted for, crews go out to help the boat limp back to safe harbour, or, if the worst occurs, to take what cargo they can before the ocean does.

Underwater archaeology has become an important field in discovering our maritime history and unlocking the secrets to mysteries that began long ago.

Divers dedicate themselves to the compelling and inspiring quest for shipwrecks. They may use SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) gear to descend to the ocean floor, or they may send an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) or other kinds of submersibles as part of their explorations. Sometimes special equipment and training is essential, while other wrecks require only basic diving certification and a love of maritime history.

The quest for knowledge about shipwrecks begins while divers are still on land. Underwater archaeologists, like those with the Underwater Archaeology Society of British Columbia (UASBC) research in archives, libraries, books and newspapers to learn exactly what they are looking for and where the vessel might be located. While under the water, they make drawings, notes and measurements and take photographs to record the wreck, the objects around the wreck, and the impact of the sea and marine life on the vessel.

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