June 3, 2023
Cover Photo: Charlotte, Jill and Kayla visiting Barbara Carson
One of the most influential women that has inspired me to dive is Barbara Carson. She is a legend in the Great Lakes Shipwreck diving community.
Growing up in the fifties, Barbara heard many shipwrecks tales and was driven to explore for herself beneath the waves. When her cousin Lloyd Shales started selling the first scuba gear in the area, Barbara trained herself to dive and over the next several years dove shipwrecks in the region.
In 1963 the YMCA started a scuba diving training program, Barbara who had already been diving for many years, decided that these “C-Cards” may take off one day, so she decided to get certified. The irony is that she had more experience than her instructor.
Now certified, she started researching the archives of old Kingston newspapers in hopes of identifying areas to search, so that she could discover a wreck for herself. Barbara was very skilled in both research and boating, so it was just three short months later she would make her first discovery, The CITY OF SHEBOYGAN.
Over the years she would go on to discover many more, including The WILLIAM JAMIESON, The ALOHA, The GEORGE A. MARSH, The ANNIE FALCONER, The KATIE ECCLES and The bow section of the MONOLA.
One of her most significant discoveries, which took over ten years to identify, was the R.H.RAE. In 1976, Barbara along with her close friend Audrey Rushbrook were searching for the wreck of the BURT BARNES. They discovered an intact schooner which appeared to match the BURT BARNS but lacking a name board or bell, she was unable to confirm the identification.
After the dive, they decided to keep the location of the wreck secret in order to protect it. Barb and Audrey both were instrumental in the founding of the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston, so they applied for and received the salvage rights from the Canadian Government. This allowed them to remove artifacts from the wreck with the purpose of putting them on display at the museum.
Plans were made for photographing and documenting the wreck, unfortunately Audrey became ill and passed away the following year, so the work of documenting the wreck was put on hold.
Several years later with the wreck still unidentified, Barbara learned that famed underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau would be visiting the Great Lakes, with his converted World War II Minesweeper the Calypso. He was planning to dive the famous 1812 shipwrecks of the HAMILTON and SCOURGE. Barbara made an offer to Cousteau via the Kingston Marine Museum, to explore her wreck. Her hope was to get access to the footage and photographs that would be taken in order to help with her research on the wreck.
So on September 3, 1980 Barb Carson and Doug Pettingill meet the Calypso and lead the ship out to the wreck.
During the Cousteau dives, the ships wheel was removed along with many other artifacts that after conservation would be displayed at the Kingston Museum along with the site map that Barbara had the whole dive team sign,
Shortly after the Cousteau visit, Barbara became close friends with Rick Neilson who used the patent markings uncovered during the restoration of the wheel to continue the research.
It would take him another five years, but in the end he was able to positively identify the wreck as the R. H. RAE.
Barbara is a true diving legend and her passion for shipwreck exploration has left a legacy for generations to come.