December 14, 1922: Tug Reliance sinks on Lake Superior, four dead

On this day on Lake Superior in 1922, the tug Reliance became stranded off Lizard Island off the Canadian North Shore on the eastern end of the lake. The Reliance was owned by the Spanish River Paper Company and was taking supplies to its logging camps when she struck a rock, breaking her wheel. Two days later the news out of Saulte Ste. Marie was that she had sunk and that 36 crew members and passengers, including 20 lumberjacks and captain D. A. Williams, were missing. The previous story was clarified: not only had the vessel lost its wheel, but it went down “almost immediately” in a blinding snowstorm. By the nineteenth, newspapers reported that the tug did not sink but was stranded, and that all of the missing had been located except for four men: John McPherson of Booth Fisheries, Fred Regen of the Superior Paper Company, passenger Gus John, and an “unidentified Finlander.” Immediately following the stranding, several men, including Captain Williams, manned two life boats and an auxiliary launch to find help in the blinding snow. A group of nine trekked 16 miles in the snow before their safety was ensured, but along the way they were forced to abandon the tug’s cook and his wife after she was overcome with exhaustion (they were later found and saved). After four days of waiting for help, fireman Billy Gow volunteered to jump into the icy waters and swim to land carrying a rope tied to the tugboat. The rope would was then used to pull a small makeshift raft from the tug to shore so the remaining passengers could reach the shore. Eventually other vessels arrived to save the passengers.

The Reliance. (Image: Great Lakes Vessel Index)

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