SS Algoma was completed in March was ready to begin operations in May, 1884. The ports of call on the first voyage were to be Cleveland, Detroit, Windsor, and Sarnia. The ships drew a little over 7 feet when light and could carry 1,000 tons on 12 feet of draft.
As the 1885 season drew to a close, it was clear it would be a poor one for Lake transportation. Severe competition, low rates, and smallpox were listed as the principal causes of the worst season on the Lakes in years. Several lines of steamers were laid up during the season.
Algoma left Owen Sound for Port Arthur Thursday, Oct. 5, 1885, loaded with cargo and the fewest passengers it had ever carried. There were seven cabin and six steerage passengers aboard; the cargo consisted of 134 tons of general merchandise, and 297 tons of railway supplies. The light passenger list could be attributed to the lateness of the season and to the general decline of passenger traffic as a result of the opening of the “all rail” route around Lake Superior earlier in 1885.
According to Capt. Moore, Algoma passed through the Sault Ste. Marie canal on Friday Nov. 6, about noon. The steel steamer ran into a heavy gale and blinding snow storm at the halfway point of crossing Lake Superior. The storm increased in intensity until it quickly reached hurricane proportions. The storm of Friday night and Saturday morning was “beyond a doubt one of the greatest hurricanes that have occurred during the last 5 years.
The storm racked ship was rolling so severely that the first mate ordered the sails set to steady it. Under sail and steam combined, Algoma made 15 miles an hour or better, but was drifting to leeward off the set course. A lookout was posted about 3 a.m. to sight the Passage Island light. The steamer maintained its speed until about 4 a.m. when the captain ordered the sails down and a change of course. The engines were stopped while the sails were lowered and the new course set. At 4:40 a.m., less than five minutes after the engine telegraph bells sounded to go ahead, there was a crash. Algoma was aground on Isle Royale.
The vessel was salvaged; the engines and boiler were refitted in the vessel Manitoba. Parts of the stern are all that remain. Wreckage is widely scattered with no major sections intact. Bow section not yet located. This remains the largest loss of life on Lake Superior. Buoy on a sinker in 50 feet.
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