Walker House optimistic it will keep “stolen” Erie Belle artifacts


By Barb McKay


The Paddy Walker Heritage Society expects it will be able to keep artifacts from the Erie Belle shipwreck, despite the fact the provincial government considers them stolen property.


Less than a week after the artifacts were turned over to the Walker House from Kincardine native and experienced diver Carl LaFrance, the heritage society’s president Bob Bullen received a phone call from Dr. Simmon Spooner, marine heritage advisor for the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture, notifying him that the Walker House should not be in possession of the artifacts.


Over the past few decades, LaFrance, a diver with an interest in shipwrecks had been retrieving articles from the Erie Belle ship, which exploded off the shore of Kincardine on Nov. 21, 1883. According to Bullen, LaFrance removed the artifacts, which included the brass casing of a compass, rigging chain and steam vent pipe, to prevent them from decomposing in the shallow lake water off the shoreline.


Bullen said the government does not take kindly to people removing parts from shipwrecks.


“He (Spooner) used the terms ‘stolen property’ and ‘looting’ several times,” he said.


Walker House was asked to provide detailed descriptions of the artifacts, along with photographs, which was done immediately, Bullen said.


But Bullen and other Walker House board members are optimistic they’ll be able to keep the items. The ministry was in contact Monday and indicated it is willing to work with the Walker House.


“It’s of more significance to the local community and the people who come to Boiler Beach than anyone in Toronto,” said Rick Clarke, of the Walker House. “There will be a lot more education about the Erie Belle about one kilometre from where it went down than in a Toronto store room.”


The heritage society hopes to hold an open house on Nov. 21, the 138th anniversary of the Erie Belle’s sinking, to allow the public to see the exhibit.