Windsorites reflect on vessel that capsized underneath Ambassador Bridge 60 years ago

·2 min read
The Montrose freighter capsized in the Detroit River 60 years ago. Large crowds were drawn to the riverfront to take in the stranded boat.  (CBC News - image credit)
The Montrose freighter capsized in the Detroit River 60 years ago. Large crowds were drawn to the riverfront to take in the stranded boat. (CBC News - image credit)

Even though Neil Cornwall was only nine years old, he remembers how big of a spectacle it was when a large freighter capsized on its side in the middle of the Detroit River 60 years ago.

On July 30, 1962, a British freighter called the M.V. Montrose hit a barge in the shipping lane of the Detroit River as it was backing out of the Detroit Harbour Terminal.

The collision created a huge hole in Montrose's hull causing water to pour in and the propeller rose out of the water, causing the freighter to become stranded underneath the Ambassador Bridge.

In the months it took for the vessel to be removed from the waterway, it drew large crowds of people from both sides of the border who wanted to take in the unusual sight.

"Everybody and anybody wanted to go and see this thing that was sunk in the middle of the river," said Cornwall, who previously worked at CBC News.

WATCH: Windsor Port Authority harbour master describes the incident

At the time, pedestrians could pay to walk across the Ambassador Bridge and that's exactly what Cornwall and his brothers did.

"It was bizarre. You walked out there and you leaned over and here was this ship literally on its side you can see the hull, you can see there was stuff that had come out of it that was floating around, but it was just a bizarre, bizarre circumstance," he said.

The 122-metre, 7,000-ton ship was new and cost between $6 million and $8 million. It cost $750,000 to salvage the freighter, which stayed on its side in nine metres of water until October.

It left Detroit on Nov. 9, 1962.

Windsor Port Authority harbour master Peter Barry said that although he didn't experience the Montrose situation first-hand, he's familiar with the story.

"During those times it was much more common for vessels to get into trouble, but for a collision of this type, very, very unusual," he said.

He said it likely slowed down shipping traffic in the Detroit River, but wouldn't have stopped it completely as it wasn't large enough to do so.

This event, he said, changed the way ship traffic was managed in that area where they focused more on navigation in the channel.

"You can hear now as the vessels go under the bridge, the horns, the three horns as they go by, indicating they are passing underneath the bridge and coming to that turn so everybody's aware that there's another vessel or there's a vessel coming," he said.

In the end, Barry said the Montrose did sail again under a different name. But, he added, it ended up sinking a second time in Cleveland and was eventually it became a barge.

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