CM March 1, 
1996. Vol. II, Number 20

image Ninety Fathoms Down:
Canadian Stories of the Great Lakes.

Mark Bourrie.
Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1995. 208pp, paper, $17.99.
ISBN: 0-88882-182-4.

Subject Headings:
Shipwrecks-Great Lakes-History.
Great Lakes-History.

All grades / All ages.
Review by Marsha Kaiserman.

**1/2 /4


The Great Storm of 1913 had just about every kind of powerful atmospheric element known to the Great Lakes region: blinding rain, hail, sleet, snow, hurricane winds. Some of the lowest barometric pressures in the history of Canadian meteorology were recorded in the midst of the storm but most barometers in the worst of it ended up on the bottom of the Great Lakes. At the time it raged, nobody had any idea of its severity. Communications between the cities of the Great Lakes were knocked out on the first day of the storm. Bits of news made it through by telegraph, when messages were rerouted on lines away from the main blast of the storm, but not enough information got through for people to understand the storm's power. No one, especially along Lake Superior and in southwestern Ontario, needed news reports to realize they were in the middle of a disaster.

image The passage above describes the worst single disaster on the Great lakes when at least forty ships were sunk and 248 sailors lost their lives. Included in the losses were the James Carruthers, one of the largest freighters on the Great Lakes, on her third voyage. Another ship, the lake freighter Matao, beached three hundred meters from shore and would require more than a year to refloat on Lake Huron.

To those of us who have not lived on the shores of the Great Lakes it is hard to imagine the fury that can suddenly occur during the fall. Indeed, even for those of us who have, it is hard to imagine what the sailors on these lakes must face. Most of us are familiar with the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald but how many of us have heard about the Inkerman and the Cerisoles, two French minesweepers that disappeared without a trace into Lake Superior on their maiden voyage in November 1919? Or the Noronic, last of the Great Lake luxury liners, which burnt on the night of September 17, 1949 in Toronto Harbour at the cost of 118 lives?


The Great Lakes have been an important part of both Canadian and American history from their first discovery by the Europeans in the early 1600s. From the fur trade battles to the War of 1812, from the immigrant ships to the era of the great freighters, author Mark Bourrie has a rich legacy to choose from and he has chosen well. He also tells the tale of a real mutiny -- the story of the Marquette and Bessemer No. 2, a coal-car freighter on Lake Erie. There is even a story of espionage and hijacking from the U.S. Civil War.

Mark Bourrie is a newspaper correspondent with experience in a wide range of subjects. He has a B.A. in history, but Ninety Fathoms Down is rarely academic; it reads like a series of newspaper feature articles about various incidents and disasters on the Great Lakes. This is even more evident in the skimpy bibliography provided. While this is not a scholarly book, it makes for some exciting and interesting reading. Given the general lack of interest in Canadian history, I don't think we can ask for much more.

Ninety Fathoms Down is for anyone, including children, interested in learning more about their history, especially the history of the Great Lakes.

Highly recommended.

Marsha Kaiserman is Head of Conferences Cataloguing at Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI) in Ottawa.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364