In August of 2010, Davis MacIntyre & Associates Limited conducted an archaeological resource impact assessment of a shipwreck or derelict resting on the northern shore of Muggah Creek in the Sydney Tar Ponds, Cape Breton. Despite extensive research and consultation, the wreck could not be firmly identified as any vessel on record at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, the Heritage Division, the Beaton Institute, or the Nova Scotia Archives.

Investigative Stage

Background Research: 

A part of the vessel remained covered by the slag shoreline, which has been shown through historical records to have extended outward through dumping to meet the wreck in the mid-twentieth century. The wreck's presence could not be confirmed prior to 1948, but it appears to date to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, and originally had a central mast. It is speculated that the vessel was once used for sailing, but at the end of its life was stripped down and used for a coal barge before its final abandonment at what was then the middle of the mouth of Muggah Creek.

Local residents provided the names of several possible wrecks, including particularly HMS Pelican. However, many of these names have been ruled out, including the Pelican, which was sunk some 40 miles off the Sydney shore. Descriptions of the Lady of the Lake, the Neptune, and to a lesser extent the Magnolia broadly matched that of the wreck in question. However, upon review by former and current staff of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, these names were ruled out as the wreck's identity due to size and approximate date. Oral history suggested it may have been the Biddabee, but none of the possible spellings of this vessel yielded further information in available records.

Field Reconnaissance:
The wreck was thoroughly photographed and sections were measured and drawn for posterity, as the wreck will be removed prior to the solidification process scheduled to take place in the northern tar pond in the coming months. Archaeologists spent a week on site, working on the wreck at low tide in full safety equipment and Tyvek suits. 

The wreck consisted mostly of wood, held together with an unusually high number of wrought iron spikes. Although several ship's knees remained in place, the deck and much of the hull was rotted away, and all wood below the high tide mark was impregnated with coal tar. 

The stern of the vessel is now buried under slag, and so a full measurement of the vessel's length could not be established. The vessel's estimated dimensions are 10.9 metres (36 feet) in width by over 48.4 metres (159 feet). Can you help us to identify this wreck? Please email us if you have any information.

Mitigation Stage


In 2012 archaeologists monitored the removal of the wreck in question, and dewatering of the surrounding area revealed a second wreck of similar construction and age below the regular waterline. Like the first derelict, this vessel has not yet been identified.

A mid-twentieth century image of the wreck from the town of Sydney. Courtesy the Whitney Pier Museum.

An overview of the wreck from the south shore of Muggah Creek.

Three ship's knees with spikes to hold down the deck (now missing).

Ship's knees being measured and photographed for scaled drawings.

A large number of spikes held the wreck's hull and ceiling together.

An approximate overview of the wreck.

The wreck viewed from the east, including a large metal tank.

Ship's knees on the port side of the wreck.

An archaeologist in tyvek inspects the wreck at low tide.

Evidence of burning on the wreck, possibly related to hot slag dumping.

A cross-section of the hull, ceiling, and frame, partially buried in the slag beach.

A reconstruction of the hull, frame,
and ceiling in cross-section.

The bow of the vessel, stripped of an outer layer of wood or metal.

A chain still rests in a wooden box built into the bow.

Battery Point, with the wreck in the foreground.


Archaeologists originally inspected the wreck at high tide in 2008.

A scaled drawing reconstructing the bow.


A scaled outline of the existing knees.