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The Shipwreck Of The SS Ahern Trader

Frederickton, Near Gander Bay

Date Last Modified: November 15, 2015

Located in the community of Frederickton is what remains of the cargo vessel, the SS Ahern Trader. The Ahern Trader once transported cargo between coastal communities in Newfoundland and Montreal. In 1960 strong winds and ice forced the ship aground to where it remains today. Like many shipwrecks in Newfoundland many people see it as an eyesore that should be removed, but also like many other shipwrecks it has become an icon to the community and is another story of a ship lost to the North Atlantic. 

The Ahern Trader was launched in Scotland in 1922. The steel-hulled ship was 61 metres long and weighed 744 tonnes. It began its career as a coastal supply vessel that delivered goods to the British Isles. During this time it sailed under several different names including; "Lurcher", Ulster Coast", and "Scottish Coast" [3] until the vessel was purchased by the Ahern Trading Company and renamed the SS Ahern Trader. 

On the morning of January 8, 1960, the Ahern Trader arrived in the town of Frederickton with a shipment of hay. At the time the ship is believed to have been under the charter of the Canadian National Railway and was on the last voyage of its journey to deliver hay to communities on the north shore. As the ship docked at the government wharf in the community the crew unloaded the hay and prepared to set sail once again to Victoria Cove. 

However, as they were preparing to leave, a storm containing 120-130 km/h winds and heavy snowfall [2] approached the community. As the storm began to hit, the heavy surf began pushing the ship into the wharf. Out of fear of damaging the wharf the Captain made the decision to set sail and anchor further off shore until the storm had passed. 

In rough seas and low visibility, the ship left the harbour and proceeded to launch its anchor to keep it stationary. It was not long after this though that the anchor (either its flukes or chain) broke causing the ship to be pushed ashore onto the jagged rocks. 

Immediately after realizing they had run aground, the ship's crew began blowing the whistle and launching flares to signal for help. An article in the Gander Beacon [2] reported that many of the communities residents were attending a church service when the sounds of the ship's whistle began disrupting the service. Many of the residents ran to the shore to offer help in any way they could. Fortunately, all the crew managed to get off the ship unharmed.

The crew remained in the town until the following week when they were given permission to return home. The Captain, first mate, and chief engineered stayed in the town until March of that year to oversee salvage operations. Several tugboats were brought in from St. Johns to help pull the ship off the rocks, but after at least 4 unsuccessful attempts [1] and $70,000 in rescue operations, the decision was made to leave the ship where it was.

Over the years the sea took a toll on the ship. After rusting over completely, pieces began to break off beginning at the stern. In 2011 after decades of being battered by storms the ship finally toppled over onto its side. 

Today it remains in this position and although some see the rusty chunk of metal as an eyesore, the SS Ahern Trader has become a symbol of the community. Every year tourist come from all around to take pictures of the old cargo ship. The ship lies just 40 metres from shore giving any one of interest a close look at the ship. 

There are some conflicting stories about what actually happened to cause the ship to enter Frederickton. Some say it was forced into the harbour due to oncoming weather while others say it was meant to dock in the community. There seems to be similar confusion about whether the ship actually left to avoid damaging the wharf or was leaving on her next voyage when it was pushed ashore. 

Sources

[1] "The Daily News" Will Try To Refloat (St. John's, N.L.), 1960-03-05 

[2] Steamship beached for 51 years gets new angle on life - Gander Beacon - The Telegram - Jan 7, 2011 by: Andrea Gunn

[3] Maritime History Archive - "Ahern Trader"

[4] The Town Of Carmanville