Postcard from the John Stefani Collection

The poor old Aquarama, which met her fate in the scrapyards in Turkey in November, 2007 had acquired the nickname “Crusherama”, due to her terrible turning radius in the narrow ports of the Great Lakes. In her day she smashed into a few different docks.

While pouring though some old Windsor Star Microfilm at the library, I came across some news reports from the day she made Dieppe Park her victim.

The photos below appeared in the Wednesday, August 22, 1956 issue of the Windsor Star. By odd coincidence the day I decided to post this story that I’ve had for a few months, it works out to be, 52 years to the day since the incident happened. It must be a sign of some sort…


Crunches Concrete – A moment before the S.S. Aquarama rammed a seawall this morning on Windsor’s waterfront, Star Photographer Cecil Southward realized what was about to happen and caught the impact from the newsroom window. The Great Lakes passenger ship is seen crunching its way through the breakwater as fishermen scramble to safety. No one was hurt aboard the Aquarama and there was no panic among the 1,200 passengers. It took about five minutes to free the ship, which backed away without assistance. The luxury liner had been attempting to make a U-turn in the Detroit River as it moved from its mooring on the Detroit waterfront where it had been a featured part of the Riverama. The ship continued its voyage into Lake St. Clair.

Three fishermen had to jump to safety as the 520-foot cruise ship Aquarama crashed into the Civic Centre seawall at the foot of Ferry St. today.

A. H. St. Louis, of Windsor, and two young companions, Stanley and Terry Jackson of North Bay, were sitting on the seawall quietly fishing when the cruise ship neared the Canadian Shore.

“We saw the ship turning and realized it was coming right toward us.”

“Someone in the bow of the ship shouted through a megaphone and told us to run.”

They were fishing from some steps which form a break in the decorative fencing and were only about 75 feet from the point where the ship struck the wall.

“We jumped off the wall and ran back in time to see the ship strike the wall,” Mr St. Louis added.

“We probably had a good minute to get away, but that is the closest I ever want to be when an ocean-sized ship is coming in my direction.”

Charles Neilson, a Parks Department employee, was working in the area directing trucks which were hauling backfill to the site.

One truck was unloading dirt at the point where the ship struck the wall.

He saw what was likely to happen and shouted to the truck driver to get his truck out of the way.

SEAWALL DAMAGED – A 25 foot hole was torn in the breakwater by the Aquarama. Windsor Parks Department employees were dumping fill behind the seawall at the time of the accident, but they managed to race away in a truck moments before the ship’s prow cut through the solid reinforced concrete wall. Persons fishing nearby also escaped.


The next day, August 23, 1956, featured the following photo with the headline:


SURVEY RUINED SEAWALL – Damage to the city’s breakwater caused by the S.S. Aquarama Wednesday morning, was inspected today by William Gravett, parks manager, left, and Raymond J. Desmarais, Commissioner of Works. It is estimated that it will cost $30,000 to repair the hole and Mr. Gravett said work on the Civic Centre waterfront park may be delayed to next year.

Place Cost of Repairs at $30,000

Ships Owners Pledge To Repay in Full Any Claim by City

Not only will it cost $30,000 to repair damage caused to Windsor’s breakwater by the S.S. Aquarama Wednesday, but the Civic Centre park development will be delayed until next year.

The estimate of damage was made this morning by Ray J. Desmarais, commissioner of works, who emphasized that it was impossible to make an accurate calculation.

“All we can do is take the amount that it cost us to build it per foot, and estimate how much it will cost to tear out a section and rebuild it. Right now it looks as though we’re going to have to take out about 50 feet of the breakwater.”

“It may cost twice as much to repair it as it did to build it because of the extra work involved.” Mr. Desmarais added as he completed his personal inspection of the damage caused by the ship’s crash Wednesday. He said “That figure I gave you may be too low.”

William Gravett, parks manager, also made a tour of the waterfront this morning. “We won’t be able to finish work on this end of the park this year,” he said indicating that portion west of the broken breakwater.

“This is where part of the material from the Old City Hall was to have gone. Now we’ll have to leave room for construction truck to move around in, and we won’t be able to fill in this area until after the wall is rebuilt, and that probably won’t be this year.”

Prompt settlement of any claims was promised Windsor Wednesday by Lee J. Barrett president of the Michigan-Ohio Navigation Co., owners of the Aquarama. “I called up the Mayor to express our concern, but he was out of town,” Mr. Barrett said.

“However I talked to the City Solicitor and assured him we would do everything that’s necessary. We’ve already turned the matter over to our underwriters.”

Mr. Barrett said the ship’s invasion of Canada was due to natural conditions and not because the Aquarama is unmanageable.

Earlier marine experts said the new superstructure on the converted C-4 freighter acts like a huge sail and since it is concentrated at the front of the ship, the vessel cannot be turned against the wind. They cited earlier problems in Detroit and in Cleveland.

“The area in the Detroit River has something to do with it,” Mr. Barrett said. “You’ll notice there is a shallow area not far from where our ship sails out, marked by a buoy. Usually, too. there are some ships docked there.”

“The Captain found himself because of these conditions, out too far.”

“As far as stability goes, the Aquarama’s gone though two very severe storms in Lake Michigan, and it rode like a duck. The best marine engineers in the country have planned this ship, and we have every confidence in it.”

Mr. Barrett said the in leaving Cleveland’s harbour “could have happened to anything bigger than a yacht. You ask any yachtsman on the lake, and he’ll tell you the same thing.”

No estimate has been made of the damage to the ship’s prow, which was slightly buckled in the accident. Mr. Barrett claimed it could be repaired with a can of paint.

The Aquarama owner denied water had seeped into the hull and the ship left on a morning cruise today on schedule. However when the Aquarama docked in Detroit after Wednesday’s accident, the landing ramp had to be lowered 18 inches, indicating that the boat was riding that much lower in the water.

Followed with the above editorial cartoon by Ivan Johnson 🙂


You know as well as I do, if an “accident” like that took place in 2008, there’s no way the boat would have backed out of the seawall, and sailed away 🙂

Also of note, Commissioner of Works Raymond Desmaris, is the man the senior’s high-rise at Riverside Drive and McDougall, in front of the new Casino addition is named for.

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