Ships 2

Erie Belle
Ships 3

Erie Belle

The Explosion Of The Erie Belle


By James Donahue

Even though it happened more than a century ago, the community of Kincardine, Ontario, Canada, has not forgotten steam tug Erie Belle that exploded its boiler and sank just offshore, killing four of its 12 crew members.

Not only are the iron boiler and other portions of the wreck still easily visible for visitors to view, they can drive to Boiler Beach from the south end of Kincardine. Also in the heart of the city can be found the Erie Belle restaurant which not only bears the name of the infamous wreck, its specialty is sea food.

The Erie Belle came to Kincardine in November, 1883, after a storm blew the schooner J. M. Carter aground. The Belle had a shallow draft and a powerful engine so it was chosen to try to pull the schooner back into deep water.

The tug arrived on November 20 and docked that night in Kincardine. The following morning the 112-foot-long tug was at the Carter. A tow line was attached and the Erie Belle was straining at full steam to drag the schooner off of the sand bar. It did not budge, however, and the crew of the Erie Belle put on more steam.

Something went wrong. The boiler suddenly exploded killing the four men in the engine room and blowing the upper deck and superstructure off the boat. They said debris was scattered in an area the size of a football field. What was left of the hull sank on the spot.

Another tug tried to pull the Carter out of the mud after that and failed. Oddly enough, the Carter spent the following winter frozen solid in ice, and in the sprint, it simply floated off into deep water. They said the hull sustained no damage.

The Erie Belle was built in 1864 as a tug and given the name Hector. It saw service in salt water along the east coast during the Civil War then returned to the Great Lakes.

There it was rebuilt as a packet steamer to carry passengers and freight and given the name Erie Belle.  It was put on a route between Windsor, Amherstburg and Pelee Island. In 1879 it struck a submerged anchor and sank in shallow water in the Detroit River.

After that it was raised and redesigned to operate once again as a tugboat.