The province of Saskatchewan is located in the middle of the Canadian prairies and is best known for its vast expanses of land. Commonly known as “The Land of Living Skies”, it is perhaps the last place that anyone would expected to hear about a shipwreck.
Horatio Hamilton Ross
Horatio Ross was a wealthy, eccentric, Scottish Nobleman who founded the Ross Navigation Company and was the owner of many riverboats, including the S.S. City of Medicine Hat. Ross was known to be an experience seaman and was captain aboard the ship when she sank.
The S. S. City of Medicine Hat
The S.S. City of Medicine Hat was a 130 foot flat-bottomed stern wheeler, a river steamer. While not an uncommon ship in its day, she was set apart by her lavish decor. Horatio Ross was said to have spared little expense with this ship, creating a luxurious experience for his guests. The vessel had an oak and brass interior and fine crystal was used in serving those who travelled aboard.
The Final Voyage
The S.S. City of Medicine Hat was destined for Winnipeg, MB after leaving Medicine Hat, AB. Travelling on the South Saskatchewan River, her course took her through the downtown district of the young city of Saskatoon. Captain Ross managed to navigate his ship beneath a rail bridge located outside the city but due to high water levels, his rudder snagged on a telephone wire that had been strung across the river. There was little Captain Ross could do as his ship was caught in the river current and slammed against the Traffic Bridge and sank on June 7, 1908.
Horatio Ross made no attempt to salvage the S.S. City of Medicine Hat in 1908 and she had nearly been lost to history when her cast iron anchor was found at the bottom of the South Saskatchewan River nearly 1000 feet north of the Traffic Bridge. The 5 foot, 150-pound cast iron anchor was discovered by the Saskatoon Fire and Protective Services divers during a training exercise in August of 2006. After the chance discovery brought light back to the story of the sunken ship, a team armed with metal detectors scoured the river from September 8 to September 12, 2008. In a path between the Traffic Bridge and the anchor, divers discovered valve springs, links of chain, a section of pipe, a gasket, a chunk of brick thought to be from a firebox, a padlock, and an ornate blue enamel heating grate.
Like many archaeological discoveries, the wreck of the S.S. City of Medicine Hat was discovered by chance and it is thanks to this discovery that an interesting chapter of the history of the City of Saskatoon was restored. A documentary titled The Last Steamship: The Search for the S.S. City of Medicine Hat was released in Saskatoon in September of 2010 and will help to ensure that Saskatchewan’s shipwreck is not forgotten again.