Sunday, April 29, 2007


Wreck of the 'Hera' a heritage site loaded with 107-year-old beer


By Sandra McCulloch
April 29, 2007

TOFINO, British Columbia -- A historic shipwreck and its cargo of 107-year-old bottled beer is expected to draw divers from around the world to Tofino, now that it's been designated an official heritage site.

The wreck of the Hera was inaugurated on the weekend, its location marked by floating buoys, while plaques on the shore and underwater tell how it came to be there.

The U.S. schooner Hera sank after it caught fire off Tofino in November 1899. She had been heading to Hawaii with a cargo of 60,000 quarts of Rainier beer, a prefabricated schoolhouse and 11 grand pianos.

The wreck was forgotten for decades but was located and identified in 1974, after snagging countless crab traps. It was designated B.C.'s first underwater heritage site.

The Hera's anchor is now on display at Grice Park in Tofino.

The wreck "is a really important heritage resource that needs to be protected and promoted," said David Griffiths, executive director of the Tonquin Foundation.

"Through this, we hope to encourage divers to come and explore the site and enjoy the diving here."

There are hundreds of shipwrecks off the West Coast but the Hera is so close to Tofino, it makes sense to let people know it's there, said Griffiths. "It's less than half a mile from the waterfront here."

Griffiths is a diver and has been a full-time resident of Tofino for three years. The diving in the area "is very good. There are lots of currents and open ocean and a wealth of marine life and shipwrecks.

"We get our fair share of whale-watchers and fishermen. This is just another way of promoting diving to quite a large scuba-diving public."

There were 1,000 barrels containing the quart-bottles of beer, which make for an interesting sight on the sea floor, Griffiths said.

"Some of the bottles still have labels on them."

He tried drinking the beer a few years ago "and it wasn't very nice at all. You couldn't get close to it."

The fire burned to a point high in the hold, preserving everything below that line. "What's left of the hull is really well preserved. The structure of the ship is still evident."

This ship was the first underwater wreck to be designated as a heritage site, Griffiths said. "Now pretty much every shipwreck in the province is designated, but years ago they used to do it one at a time, as people lobbied or it."

A good crowd of Tofino residents turned out for the ceremony Saturday, he said. "I think that people like to see their history interpreted in this way."


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