SI2015-D-5: “How Many Vessels Have Wrecked at Sable Island” – Aaron Mior

Partially due to its alluring environment and cultural history, Sable Island has found a place within the Canadian psyche. Stories and tales of shipwreck lore have been told and re-told since the 16th century with the Island gaining the well-deserved moniker “Graveyard of the Atlantic”.

A significant amount of literature is available detailing the variety of cultural events on Sable Island, especially during the years of the Humane Establishment in the 19th and 20th centuries. Although written for a variety of audiences, these historical sources provide invaluable insight into the details and circumstances of specific maritime events and disasters occurring at the Island. In an effort to quantify the level of maritime disasters on the Island, some sources have attempted to determine the number of shipwrecks at Sable Island, with estimates ranging from 185 to over 500, although the estimate most commonly published in recent times is “over 350 wrecks since 1583”.

Having consulted over 300 primary source documents and more than 50 published secondary sources, this paper will critically assess the historical sources documenting Sable Island shipwrecks and will evaluate the ability to determine just how many vessels actually wrecked at Sable Island.