When the ‘Witch of November’ Comes Calling
By: Lyle Dillabough
Old-time mariners in Canada have a saying that states: “don’t go out on the waters in Canada during the month of November because, “the witch of November lies waiting.”
And they have good reason for saying this too because history proves them right.
“… the big freighters go, as the mariners all know, with the gales of November remembered.” (Gordon Lightfoot)
Over the years many a doomed craft has succumbed in to sudden stormy waters that strike upon them like an enchanted spell.
And though some say this is all predictable many others say it’s the ‘witch of November’ at work.
Either way, there is no denying that the whole subject is captivating and many have gone to great lengths to investigate what they see as darn good intriguing mystery.
Here are three better known examples of the ‘witch of November’ at work. One of which happened right here in the Ottawa Valley.
The MAYFLOWER: (November 12, 1912-Lake Kamaniskeg-near Barry’s Bay, Ontario)
One of the most bizarre events ever to occur in the Ottawa Valley happened on November 12, 1912 on Lake Kamaniskeg near Barry’s Bay.
On that date (just seven months after the sinking of the infamous TITANIC) the steam ship MAYFLOWER mysteriously sank within seconds killing seven people instantly. Four others were left to struggle by desperately clinging to a coffin. It was a true case of the “dead saving the living.”
A day earlier, (Nov.11th) was the closing date of the shipping season on Lake Kamaniskeg. (this was the era or, “grand age of steamships” on Ontario lake ways and most sizable bodies of water were bustling with steamship travel).
However, the boats owners were persuaded to make one more voyage to accommodate the Brown family of Palmer Rapids. Their son John was accidentally shot (there was a lot of “that terminology” used to describe many ‘sudden deaths’ in those days) in Saskatchewan and the family was eager to have the body returned for burial before the ground froze up.
To this day it all remains a mystery as to why the steamer sank (and sank as it did) and despite several investigations and an Royal Enquiry know one really knows why it went down.
The boat set out under cloudy skies and within minutes Captain John Charles Hudson and Wheel man Aaron Parcher noticed the vessel listing but it was too late.
The ship went down like a stone.
Seven of the eleven people on board died instantly. the remaining four managed to cling to the coffin containing the dead man and they manged to float to a nearby island where one of the four men died due to exposure. Miraculously the remaining three somehow managed to light a fire and were able to survive until rescued.
It was truly a case of; “DEAD MAN SAVES THREE” as the next day’s headlines read in the OTTAWA JOURNAL. (‘Dead man saves three’ or; ‘dead man takes eight with him’ depending on how you look at it) Article from The Ottawa Sun, 2012
The sinking of the MAYFLOWER was the nations biggest inland waters disaster up until that time.
Could this be a case of “the witch of November” at work? It would seem so.
The 107 foot long J.H. JONES was originally built as a fishing boat to sail the waters on Lake Huron in 1888. Later it was converted to be an all around use vessel and that’s what she was being used for when she mysteriously sank on November 22, 1906.
Again, know one really knows why she sank as she did that day.
True, there was a storm out on the open waters but searchers believed she never ventured too far from the shore.
It remained a mystery until the wreck of the J.H. JONES was found just off the Crocker Bay in the summer of 2006.
Again: the “witch of November”..??
Which brings us to the most famous of all: “THE WRECK of the EDMUND FITZGERALD.”
On Lake Superior on November 10, 1975 the Great Lakes mightiest iron ore carrier, THE EDMUND FITZGERALD went down mysteriously during a storm on Lake Superior.
Succumbing into the deep, dark,frigid waters of “Gitch-a-goomie” this tragedy has been immortalized in song by Canadian Troubadour, Gordon Lightfoot who sang: “.. Superior it is said, never gives up her dead, when the gails of November come early.”
Perhaps one should listen to those wise old-timers and stay off the waters of Canada in the month of November.