The 80ft sloop of war sank with more than 120 men, women, children and prisoners on board during the American revolutionary war in October 1780. Bad weather rather than cannon fire put paid to her. As she was crossing the lake from Fort Niagara a gale swamped her decks and sent her to the bottom.
The following day some of her boats and hatch covers drifted ashore, along with a few hats. A few days later her sails were found adrift. It was a further nine months before six bodies were washed up 20 miles away.
The ship is in deep water, in such an extraordinary state of preservation that two of its windows are still in place and its masts still stand 70 feet above the deck. It would be in even better shape were it not for the invasive zebra mussels that infest the great lakes, Lake Champlain and ever more US waterways and encrust the wreck. Canadian author and historian Arthur Britton Smith said;
“If it wasn’t for the zebra mussels, she looks like she only sunk last week.”
And Jim Kennard, who with his partner Dan Scoville found the wreck, said;
"Eight of the 22 guns were on the deck. Some are still in place. You can't see the others because the gun ports are closed. It's hard even to see the ports because the hull has a lot of mussels on it. The most prominent parts of the ship are the quarter galleries, a sort of windowed balcony, one at each side of the stern. That was the captain's quarters."
Nasty things, those mussels.
HMS Ontario, a 22 gun brig sloop, is the oldest confirmed shipwreck ever found in the lakes, and its discovery is an incredible achievement. It is considered a war grave and though it lies in US territorial waters somewhere between Rochester New York and Niagara, it is still British property. And the mussels.