Warship found in Lake Ontario

Times Staff Writer

A team of underwater explorers has found the remains of the HMS Ontario, a 22-gun British warship that sank in a storm on the southern shore of Lake Ontario during the last years of the American Revolution.

The 80-foot-long brig-sloop is one of the oldest shipwrecks discovered in the Great Lakes and one of the best preserved, its finders said Friday.

The ship is sitting upright and leaning to one side in 500 feet of water between Niagara and Rochester, N.Y., with both of its masts still in place, explorers Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville announced.

The team located the wreck early this month after three years of searching with side-scan sonar, then explored and filmed the remains with a remotely operated vehicle designed and built by Scoville.

Kennard and Scoville said they identified the ship by characteristic features, including the crow’s nests on the two masts, a “beautifully carved scroll bow stem,” and the quarter galleries on either side of the stern. The quarter galleries are windowed balconies enclosing the officers’ quarters.


Ontario was built in the dock at Carleton Island at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and launched May 10, 1780. Throughout the summer, it carried troops, stores and civilian merchandise around Lake Ontario.

But in the early evening hours of Oct. 31 of that year, it sank with more than 120 men, women and children aboard in a sudden and violent gale. The dead were thought to include 30 American prisoners.

The sails were found floating on the lake and six bodies washed ashore, but little else was found.

The explorers said they did not remove any artifacts because they considered the site a British war grave and that they would not return to it.

Kennard is an electrical engineer who designed and built the side-scan sonar and used it to locate more than 200 wrecks in the Great Lakes, Lake Champlain and the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.