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The mystery of the protruding timbers

Photographs posted to social media have generated quite a debate over what low tide reveals on a beach near Jacques Cartier Provincial Park in Kildare. The most common theories are that it is the remains of either a shipwreck or a fisherman's long-abandoned private stage or wharf.
Photographs posted to social media have generated quite a debate over what low tide reveals on a beach near Jacques Cartier Provincial Park in Kildare. The most common theories are that it is the remains of either a shipwreck or a fisherman's long-abandoned private stage or wharf.

KILDARE -- Is it a ship? Is it a wharf? Maybe some sort of old breakwater? Social media wants to know.

Whatever it is, photos Brae resident Ellen MacLeod posted on Facebook last weekend showing a row of timbers protruding from the beach sand between Jacques Cartier Provincial Park and Alberton Harbour have generated quite an online discussion.

Alberton resident Alex Leard is convinced it is the remains of an old shipwreck, maybe even one that resurfaced and washed to shore in that area 15 to 20 years ago. He said the structure that’s generating the recent interest has been visible at low tide over the past two years

A fellow Alberton fisherman, John Weeks, is equally convinced the timbers are that of an old ship, but he doesn’t think it’s from the old wreck Leard recalls. He said that one was uncovered closer to Alberton Harbour.

“It’s definitely a ship; that’s how the boat was built,” he said referring to the way the timbers are shaped.

Weeks said he visited the site Thursday and did some digging around and came across a metal object which he suspects had been used to hold a mast in place.

Stepping off the length of exposed timbers, Weeks said the structure is over 40 feet long. He’s certain the curved section is the bow of the boat, but he doesn’t know of the stern section is in place, so whatever washed ashore could have been even longer.

Both Weeks and Leard have pieces of that old shipwreck from 15 to 20 years ago and they said the planks were held in place with wooden dowels.

There are also indication there were wooden dowels used in the structure that recently appeared. Weeks doesn’t think dowels would have been used to put up a stage, suggesting fishermen simply would have lashed their private structures together with ropes.

Local historian, Dr. Allan MacRae who now lives in Charlottetown, is not yet convinced the structure that MacLeod photographed is a ship at all. “There are no ribs,” he said. He speculates the timbers are the remains of an old wharf or stage. He suggested the timbers might have been driven into the ground and used as the foundation for a lobster packing plant. Such structures were once common all around Prince Edward Island, MacRae said. He has no documentation to show there were any in the area photographed. He acknowledged he’ll have to do research to find out more about this structure and try to determine what it is.

Whatever it is, Weeks is convinced it has been in place for a long, long time. He said it was a long walk across the sandhills to the outside shore when he was a boy, suggesting the sand has since eroded away to reveal what it had hidden. If that is so, then the structure would have gotten there before the sandhills grew, likely in the 1800s, Weeks said.

MacRae also agrees the structure didn’t just arrive there recently. 

The structure is visible only at low tide and can be reached from Jacques Cartier Park, about a 45-minute walk along the beach.

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