Les Iles De La Madeleine: The Island Of A 1000 Shipwrecks

Quebec’s the Magdalen Islands are remote and lie within the treacherous waters of the Gulf of Lawrence. An unusually high number of shipwrecks are found along the coast, and in the waters, around the archipelago of Magdalen Island.

In the past, vessels sailing through the gulf had to deal with strong currents, treacherous weather conditions, rough seas – and fog. The Magdalen archipelago became relatively difficult to see, and, in the past, there were no lighthouses on the islands to warn sailors, either. Tragically, over time, hundreds of vessels were wrecked in this part of the Atlantic. There are hundreds of wrecks, some can be seen on the beaches, and others lie in their watery grave.

The Magdalen Island: Island of shipwreck survivors

It has been reported that on one terrible occasion over 48 vessels sank during a single storm. (Charles Cormier, local coast guard.) Many generations of residents can trace their origins back to shipwreck survivors. The same last name, for example, is very common. There are three smaller islands – Old Harry, Grosse Illegal, and Entry Island. Clark, Clarke, and Dunn are common family names on the islands.

An island within an island…

The population is mixed – survivors were from Europe and Britain – and were venturing to the New World, traveling to Quebec, – hopeful immigrants, young men, and women hoping to start a new life in a new country suddenly found themselves stranded on these remote islands. Many chose to stay. Generations have been born on the islands since, preserving their religious beliefs, and establishing schools and starting businesses.

Today, tourism is a popular industry. To this day, English speakers have preserved their culture, and equally, French speakers have preserved their own. The English are more conservative, and their homes are painted with muted colors, while the French have brightly painted houses. People are not divided, an island resident reports, but choose to keep their heritage.

The island has a unique history, culture, and geography. There are homes that have been built using wood from shipwrecks, and many were painted green after Aristotle Onassis’s ship – transporting paint – ran aground. (1963)

The Great Lakes of America enter the Atlantic in the Gulf of Lawrence. The Gulf is a semi-enclosed sea that covers 91 000 square miles. The St Lawrence trench, deep water, changeable weather and strong currents make this part of the ocean a dangerous area to pass through. Within the gulf are a number of small islands. Many sea ferrying vessels, from the last century, as well as current modern ships, have run aground or sunk into the waters of Magdalen Island.

It has long beaches, high cliffs and the weather can change many times in one day. It is possible to dive and explore the wrecks, but it’s not for everyone. The Atlantic can be treacherous and it’s recommended to dive from a boat, and not from shore.