The HMCS Assiniboine was one of the least dramatic of Prince Edward Island’s shipwrecks. There was no loss of life, dramatic rescues or any fatalities, in fact the vessel was “wrecked on her way to the wreckers’ yard” (Island Magazine 1997, 10).
The ship was originally named the HMS Kempenfelt but later was sent to Canada in 1939 and renamed the HMCS Assiniboine. “Assiniboine’s most famous exploit, though, was the ramming of the German submarine U-210 after a wild gunfight in August 1942” (Island Magazine 1997, 10).
In 1945, the vessel was sold for scrap metal but would never make it to her final destination.
The HMCS York was hired to tow Assiniboine from Sorel, Quebec, to Baltimore, Maryland. During the voyage, Assiniboine broke her tow-line out in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but was re-secured to HMCS York. Assiniboine was then towed stern first, around East Point. The ship anchored close to shore and the “HMCS York temporarily left her charge” (Island Magazine 1997, 11).
The York returned on November 7, 1945, to find a much different picture—a strong southerly wind was blowing and seas were now treacherous. But still the York attempted to tow the destroyer, not knowing that the anchor line was brought up before the tow-line was tightened. The wind pushed Assiniboine north, as HMCS York made way south. “The strain was too much, the tow-line broke, and Assiniboine was at the mercy of the sea” (Island Magazine 1997, 11).
The ship came ashore on the outer sandbar of South Lake, about five kilometres west of the East Point lighthouse.
Not a single life perished. All seven members of a civilian skeleton crew reached shore without incident. Assiniboine’s voyage was not quite over. Six days later a northeasterly wind briefly refloated her.
“Slowly, her bow swung around to westward, and she drifted landward across the sandbar to ground again well up on the beach, a scant 150 feet from shore. There she stayed” (Island Magazine 1997, 11).
The ship was seen as a treasure hunter’s haven and the one reported death associated with the Assiniboine was a man trying to salvage one of the propellers. It was even said that the York deliberately cut the nuisance free leaving her to pester the government even though she did not belong to them.
“Now she became something of a complicated nuisance, since access was difficult and guarding the site was impractical. Because the Assiniboine was no longer government property, no officials came from Ottawa, and it was a long time before representatives of the owners tried to take charge and posted one or two local “guards.” By that time, a considerable amount of “unofficial” salvage had occurred. People lost little time in boarding the ship and laying claim to all manner of goods” (Island Magazine 1997, 12).
There were one or two attempts to tow Assiniboine off of the sandbars. When these attempts failed, she was given up as lost. The valuable brass and copper were removed over the course of several years by scrap dealers, acting on behalf of the owners.
By the end of the 1940s, the salvage operations were over, and the shattered skeleton of the once-proud destroyer slowly sank into memory. In a very few years, Assiniboine will sink completely out of sight to rust away into history. After the Assiniboine finally completely sinks, her nickname ‘bones’ and the memory will live on.
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