Mystery revealed: The historic Jean-Richard, abandoned shipwreck in the Ottawa River

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(Andrew King is an Ottawa-based artist and storyteller.  Back September, we shared his story and photographs of an abandoned shipwreck in the Ottawa River. Since then, he’s been trying to find out where this boat came from, and why it’s still there. Earlier this week, a ship name referenced in an old library book led to a few Google searches, leading eventually to a map of Ottawa shipwrecks, and finally an answer to the mystery.  Andrew tells the story in this special guest blog post. -GG.)

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UPDATE – AUGUST 17: 
Jean Gagnon’s family was a previous owner of the boat. He sent along some additional photos of the Jean-Richard, when it was still a hard-working industrial vessel. He tells us:

“After the death of Paul-Émile Carré, my father, Guy Gagnon, bought the boat and ran it until 1971. Being young, I spent my summers on the boat.
Because the opening of new roads on the lower north shore of the St Lawrence and the fact that the paper companies decided to operate their own ships (Anglo Pulp, Consolidated Bathurst, Reed Paper, etc.), these small wooden boats rapidly became obsolete compared to bigger steel ships. So, that was nearly the end of [small family-owned shipping boats] on the St. Lawrence.

Presently there are only two “goélettes” that have been renovated. They lie at St-Joseph-de-la-rive on the site of the museum dedicated to the construction of these beautiful boats. Their names are St-André and Jean-Yvan. The captain and former owner of the St-André (Fernand Gagnon) passed away last year at 93 years old and was one of the last survivors. These men oon their boats who often were the only link between small localities.

Note: If you compare the picture, you will notice that the top of the mast has been cut away. The reason was that the Jean Richard had to pass below the bridge to reach McMasterville on the Richelieu river to pick up loads of dynamite for Sept-Iles and Havre St-Pierre at the time of the construction of barrages on the north shore.

Arriving at Pte-au-Pic, spending a few hours home (La Malbaie) and waiting for tide.

Departing from La malbaie

Waiting for spring time at anchor off La Malbaie wharf.

Departing from Montreal with a cargo of fret for the lower St-Lawrence

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UPDATE – FEBRUARY 2:  Here are some photos of the Ville de Vanier taken by René Beauchamp and republished here with his permission. He’s an amateur ship historian and has been taking photographs of boats like these since 1966. He’s particularly interested in boats that were involved in the shipping industry along the St. Lawrence Seaway in Quebec.  
Ville de Vanier on the Ottawa River, March 14, 1982. Photo by René Beauchamp.

Ville de Vanier on the Ottawa River, March 14, 1982. Photo by René Beauchamp.
Ville de Vanier on the Ottawa River, July 20, 1980. Photo by René Beauchamp.  (The boat in behind is EXPLOREUR II, formerly a tugboat built in Lauzon in 1919 named BUSY BEE.)

Ville de Vanier on the Ottawa River, July 20, 1980. Photo by René Beauchamp.
Here’s another one that Beauchamp sent along, taken by the late George Ayoub, a marine historian who lived in Ottawa. It is dated March 31, 1986.
Photo by Gus Ayoub

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UPDATE – FEBRUARY 1: We reached out to Robert Desjardins, a researcher who runs the excellent website “Les Voitures d’Eau: Le cabotage artisinal sur le Saint-Laurent”.  It’s full of research and photography about Quebec’s boating heritage.  He provided some additional information and corrections/clarifications:
  • The Jean-Richard had a series of owners.  The original owner was Paul-Émile Carré, who owned it from its launch in 1959 until he died 1963.  Guy Gagnon from La Malbaie owned it from 1965-1971. From 1971-1974 it was owned by the Banque d’expansion industrielle / Transport Maritime St-Bernard Ltée. Claude Longrin of Montreal owned it from 1974-1975, then Jean Fournier owned it from 1975-1977.
  • Jean Fournier, was from Ville de Vanier near Quebec City (actually now a part of Quebec City.)  
  • Desjardin’s records show that the boat was re-christened “Ville de Vanier” in 1977 before it arrived on the Ottawa River.  The boat had major modifications done in 1976 (at Bassin-Louise, Quebec City). 
  • It was owned by Enteprises Maritimes Vanier Inc. at Ville de Vanier, Quebec from 1977-1979.
  • It was eventually sold to Jean-Paul Barette of Hull in 1979, where it operated as a pleasure craft. 
  • Desjardins’ notes indicate that the boat was abandoned in 1985 after a fire near Gatineau Boom Co., and was destroyed in 1986. 
  • Mr. Desjardins also suggests that we should not be using the term “goélettes”, which should only be used to refer to boats that use a sail.  He prefers the term “caboteur en bois”.
Another bit of information that we didn’t originally publish is that the Jean-Richard was named for Jean-Richard Carré, son of the ship’s original owner and captain, Paul-Émile Carré.  He would likely be in his 60’s today.  Anybody know him?
Paul-Émile Carré (left) and Philippe Lavoie, 1959. Still from the National Film Board documentary.

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UPDATE – JANUARY 26: Since publishing this story yesterday, we’ve had a massive amount of feedback from our readers.  Many of you have seen this boat from the Gatineau side of the river, some of you have even climbed on it and fished from it in the past.

We spoke with Marc Laplaine of Gatineau. He volunteers with the Outaouais Chapter of the Navy League of Canada. They’re aware of the Jean-Richard and his group is doing some research into other shipwrecks and historical sites in the Ottawa River.  As far as he knows, the Jean-Richard / Ville de Vanier was on its way to be put into winter storage in 1987 when it was disabled by fire and was left abandoned in the narrow channel where it sits now.
Jane Morris sent along these photos she took around 1990. As you can see, wreckage from the boat piled over onto the neighbouring shore. 
Photo by Jane Morris.
Photo by Jane Morris

Another interesting link that reader Ian Brown sent in was this Ottawa Citizen article from 1980 that makes reference to the infamous John Turmel.  Apparantly he used to conduct illegal crap games on the Ville de Vanier.  The boat was raided by the Quebec provincial police while on the Ottawa River.
When Andrew made his initial visit to the wreck in September 2013, one of the photos he took showed old blue paint on a piece of wood.  It’s a close match to the old photos of the Jean-Richard published below.
A few other leads we’re following up on:
  • Who was Jean Richard?  Was the boat named after someone?
  • Did the Quebec Ministry of Culture investigate the wreck in the 1980’s/90’s?
  • Did the NCC or another tourism agency have a role in bringing the boat to the Ottawa River?

Readers who know the answers to these questions, or anything else about the boat, are encouraged to get in touch via feedback@ottawastart.com



***
Once the subject of a 1959 National Film Board documentary, the Jean Richard now lies shipwrecked in the Ottawa River, only 5 minutes from downtown Ottawa.

DISCOVERING THE WRECKI am fascinated by maps. Maps can reveal a great many things about our region’s history, especially if you study them closely enough. Current satellite maps, old maps of the city and vintage road maps all reveal details we may otherwise miss from a ground perspective. After scanning an aerial photo of downtown Ottawa I noticed what appeared to be the outline of a ship’s hull along the shore of the Ottawa River.

Satellite image showing what appears to be the submerged hull of a ship.

With the Ottawa River being a major supply route for hundreds of years, I’ve heard of many shipwrecks lying below the river’s surface so I thought this could possibly be one of them. Aerial maps can be deceptive, but this clearly looked like a ship half submerged in the water, so I decided to see what was actually there and confirm if it really was the remains of a ship. The only way to find out was to pack an adventure bag, a lunch, and call the girlfriend to see if she wanted to join me in finding shipwreck.

Another map “bird’s eye” view shows a possible ship’s hull submerged in the Ottawa River.
INTO THE WOODS
Heading into the woods near the shore of the Ottawa River we used an iphone mapping system to pinpoint where the remains of this possible wreck would be. A gorgeous, sunny warm fall day, we trudged through thin brush and following a small path, hiked in about 20 minutes from the nearest road. Pushing aside some branches at the river’s edge we stumbled across a magnificent scene….a half submerged, 100 foot wooden hulk of a shipwreck.

(We’re purposefully being a bit vague about the exact location, to discourage people from disturbing the boat.)

After a short hike we parted the trees and sure enough, there was a shipwreck.

EXPLORING THE WRECK
In awe that there was a large shipwreck sitting in about 8 feet of water in a hidden inlet off the Ottawa River, I quickly changed into swim trunks, grabbed the camera and climbed aboard to record this amazing find. Obviously I was not the first one to know about this wreck, as a bike path is nearby and remnants of field parties were strewn about the area.

The wooden hull listed to one side in about 8 feet of water.

Approximately 100 feet long and using wooden timbers and what seemed like ship building techniques from the 1800’s, the shipwreck was miraculously well preserved sitting in the water.

Looking at the bow of the ship.

A sketch showing the hull shape and overall dimensions.
Interior of the shipwreck showing ribs, deck planks.
At almost 100 feet long, the wreck is an impressive sight in the water.


I sketched and measured the ship’s hull shape and filmed whatever I could to determine later what this shipwreck was and why it is just sitting here in the Ottawa River. As we took a break to eat our packed sandwiches, a muffled animal sound came from the woods and a starving, abandoned kitten appeared.

We fed the emaciated little kitten some sandwich cheese and packed up our gear; me with tons of photos and questions, my girlfriend with a new kitten.


WHAT IS THIS SHIPWRECK?
After scouring the internet, books, and libraries trying to find out what this shipwreck was, I contacted my good friend Glen over at OttawaStart about the shipwreck. Always one to help out and promote local history, Glen made sure to spread the word through his popular website in a bid to gather more information from readers who may know more about the wreck and why it’s sitting in the shallows of the Ottawa River. The Ottawa Citizen and CBC News caught wind of the wreck story and proceeded to do their own research, even calling in a representative from the Eastern Ontario Chapter of “Save Our Ships” which has an extensive catalogue of recorded shipwrecks. The story was deemed a dead end for the media, and the shipwreck remained a mystery. I contacted the Great Lakes Maritime Museum in Kingston, Ontario to see if they had information on our Ottawa shipwreck but received no response to my requests. The ship seemed doomed to remain a mystery….that is, until this week.

IT’S ALL IN THE NAME
Almost four months after the initial discovery of the shipwreck I received a Twitter message from Glen that included an old map he had found showing various shipwrecks in the Ottawa River. Composed by the Underwater Society Of Ottawa, the map shows many shipwrecks that lie at the bottom of the river, and miraculously, the shipwreck we had come across four months earlier was clearly marked.

THE JEAN RICHARD. We now had a name to our ship. The research into the Jean Richard could now begin…

THE JEAN RICHARD
It turns out this ship has quite an interesting past and that the Jean Richard has a special place in Canadian naval history.

At Petite-Rivière in Quebec on May 23, 1959, St. Lawrence sailors launched their last wooden schooner, the Jean Richard. It was built by Philippe Lavoie, carpenter, Paul-Émile Carré at Port-au-Persil.  Carré was the original owner and captain.


With most of the wooden ship building techniques giving way to the longer lasting and easier to maintain steel hulled ships, Petite-Rivière wooden ship builders knew their boat building techniques was coming to an end after almost 200 years. The National Film Board also knew this was a dying craft, and in 1959 sent a film crew to record the building of the regions’s last wooden schooner, The Jean Richard.

A small riverside village approximately 100kms upriver from Quebec City in the Charlevoix region, it was responsible for building the majority of the wooden schooners, freighters and other ships that travelled throughout the St. Lawrence river from the 1800’s to the early 1960s.

These wooden boats, known as “goélettes“, were an important part of the heritage and culture of the St. Laurence River, and only a couple of them still exist. There’s a series of roads in Charlevoix (north of Quebec City) that are named after these goélettes, including one called “Chemin de la Jean-Richard”.

THE NATIONAL FILM BOARD
Produced by Ottawa’s very own production company, Crawley Films, a film crew set off to document the centuries old construction process of building the region’s last wooden freight schooner. Known as a “goélette” in French, these wooden boats were being replaced by steel ships and the NFB wanted to record this important part of our Canadian heritage for future generations.

The NFB kindly couriered a copy of their film to me featuring our ship, the Jean Richard.

I quickly contacted the NFB head offices in Montreal to see if they had a copy of this film, and they courteously couriered the film to me which I immediately watched, studied and compared to the Ottawa shipwreck photos. It was indeed a match. The 96 foot long, 28 foot wide Jean Richard, shown in construction in this film was built with true old world techniques and pride of craftsmanship.

A still from the NFB film “Jean Richard” showing workers using adzes to shape the timbers for the ship’s hull.

An annual event where the fisherman in the village gather to build a ship, the Jean Richard is shown being built from its inception as logs chopped down in a hillside forest. Then, using axes, adzes and steam boxes to shape the timbers in the same way they built ships over a century ago. All the ship’s details observed on the wreck were clearly shown in the film.

Building the hull of the Jean Richard in the winter of 1959.

Inside the hull of the Jean Richard attaching hull planking.

The last wooden schooner made in Petite-Riviere, the Jean Richard was documented by the NFB in 1959, and released as short film in 1963.  Photo: Fonds Pierre-Perrault, Université Laval, via goelettesduquebec.ca

The last wooden schooner made in Petite-Riviere, the Jean Richard was documented by the NFB in 1959, and released as short film in 1963.

The 30 minute film ends with an all night party and the Jean Richard is launched at dawn into the St. Lawrence to serve the sailors who ply its waters carrying cargo, fish, and other supplies up Canada’s arterial waterway.

TO OTTAWA
After it was launched in 1959 the Jean Richard served for almost twenty years on the St. Lawrence then brought down the Ottawa River and converted into a cruise ship and renamed “Ville de Vanier”.

In this photo, the boat passes under the Pont de Quebec near Quebec City. (Photo by Claude Robillard, via Flickr)

The Jean Richard sailed to Ottawa and was re-named “Ville De Vanier” in 1976 when it became an Ottawa River cruise ship.

Operating out of Ottawa/Gatineau waters from 1976 onwards, the Jean Richard was then converted into a floating cottage. A fire is said to have scorched the wooden ship in 1987. Its charred, lifeless hulk was hauled off to rot in a concealed inlet off the Ottawa River, abandoned and left to decay into history where it now lies.

Once the cherished subject of an NFB film, the Jean Richard now lies in decay on the shores of the Ottawa River.

How did this historic boat end up abandoned in the Ottawa River, and remain there in plain sight of passers-by for over 25 years?  This once sturdy old ship was the last of its kind, worthy enough to be documented by the NFB 55 years ago, a vessel that is an example of old world Canadian ship building techniques that have since been lost in time. A wreck of great nautical importance now lies slowly decaying in 8 feet of water, half submerged in the Ottawa River only five minutes from downtown Ottawa. It needs to be saved, recognized and preserved for the sake of future generations much like the NFB did when they filmed it being built long ago.

OttawaStart readers with more information about the Jean-Richard / Ville de Vanier are encouraged to get in touch via feedback@ottawastart.com

–Andrew King


See also: Ottawa History Guide
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Andrew King

Andrew King is a local artist, explorer and storyteller. He’s a frequent contributor to OttawaStart.com and has a great blog about local history called Ottawa Rewind: https://ottawow.wordpress.com

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21 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much Andrew King and Ottawa Start for this fascinating article. For about 25 years I have been detouring off the bike path once or twice annually to look at this wreck. I am always happy to see that it is still visible, and like you have wondered how it came to be there and why it has been left to slowly rot on public property. I have only ever viewed it from the far side of the

  2. DaniGirl says:

    This is fantastic! I love love love quirky Ottawa stories like this. Bravo to Andrew and Glen for following your curiousity and sharing this wonderful story.

  3. Once again Andrew has found himself a great story and something to show up in his future art perhaps? I hope so. I would love to see how he translates this to one of his paintings in his fabulous style!

  4. Mark says:

    While it's cool to come across this wreck (as I did many years ago), it is interesting that someone could just dump a burnt boat in public waters and get away with it. Try that with your car…

  5. Anonymous says:

    Great story! Thanks for your work in finding out what it is.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Great detective work and a very interesting bit of history. But to call the Jean Richard a "schooner" is clearly incorrect. This vessel could not have been intended to be powered by sail. The single mast forward was there for the cargo boom only, and it is unlikely there was ever a second mast. Perhaps this was an error in translation from French.

  7. Anonymous says:

    And the kitten&#39;s name is … Jean Richard???<br />More seriously, does the NFB film tell you who Jean Richard was? Was the ship named after a local or someone of note? Maybe someone in that ship-building community would know either specifically for this vessel or what the tradition was.<br />

  8. Dan says:

    I remember that ship, been on it a few times with my grandma in summer, thank you for memories.

  9. Glen Gower says:

    Thanks for all the comments from readers. We&#39;ve heard from a few of you via email too and are exploring some of your leads and suggestions.<br /><br />Re: schooner / goélette — you are right, &quot;Goélette&quot; seems to be used to describe a wide variety of boats, including the Jean-Richard and what we would call &quot;schooners&quot; in English.

  10. Lynn says:

    Great tale – like a real detective story! Love Andrew&#39;s historical explorations of Ottawa, keep them coming :).

  11. Anonymous says:

    when summer comes u should take a swim in side like we did .

  12. The best way to find this is to paddle on the Ottawa River by canoe or kayak to the bay directly across from the Rideau Falls, where there is a small island at its entrance. There is an inlet where people often fish and where there are flower pot like structures in the water sticking out with mature trees that were used to anchor log booms up until the 1990s when the logging period ended. The is

  13. Anonymous says:

    I used to have a 25ft boat. About 6 years ago the wife and I went into that canal to anchor off for the night. I remember like it was yesterday when we entered that canal and came across that wooden ship wreck. As we ever so slowly went pass the wreck, I thought what a shame to see something like that rotting away and what was it`s History. How did it get there and why it was left there. I

  14. Some government authority will probably see this as a public nuisance and order it broken up for &quot;public safety.&quot; Like they did with the schooners Hesper and Luther LIttle in Wiscasset, Maine.<br /><br />The underwater portions of the wreck might be in decent shape. This is important heritage that should be conserved in some manner.<br /><br />Not like what was done with the following

  15. Mac says:

    Jean-Richard Carré was the son of the original owner, Paul-Emile Carré of the village of Port-au-Persil, QC. His father proudly named the ship for his young son, and he can be seen in the NFB film as a nine or ten year old.<br />Jean-Richard aspired to be a mariner like his father and most members of his extended family going back for generations. He went on to do marine studies and was hoping to

  16. Anonymous says:

    Kayaked around this wreck many times, always wondered, now I know.<br />Looking forward to going back there in this summer, will view it through different eyes. Thanks.

  17. Edith says:

    What a great story! I love these types of stories of local history, once lost, now found again. It’s great to see pictures associated as well. Fascinating!

  18. Steve Lindsey says:

    Ironic the Norwegians spent huge sums to rescue the remains of the Maud from Canadian Arctic waters yet this heritage is allowed to rot 5 minutes from downtown Ottawa….

  19. ferro da stiro con caldaia opinioni says:

    An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a colleague who
    has been conducting a little homework on this.
    And he in fact bought me dinner due to the fact that I discovered
    it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this….
    Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending time to discuss this topic here on your blog.

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