MV Abegweit Comes to the Rescue, January 9, 1963

Many people who travelled between Borden, PEI and Cape Tormentine, NB on the original Abegweit ice breaker car ferry between 1947 and 1982  have fond memories of the ship. The ship was classified as the largest ice breaker in the world when she was commissioned for service.

MV Abegweit, (hippocard.com)

Figure 1: Postcard of MV Abegweit (From Hippocard.com)

The powerful ferry occasionally conducted other missions such as rescues in the Northumberland Strait. In the early morning of January 9, 1963, a call was made for the ferry to come to the rescue of a boy from Summerside who had gone adrift on the ice the previous day. Two boys were in  their smelt shack fishing on the Summerside Harbour when with a terrifying roar, raft ice jammed the ice pan on which they were fishing tearing it loose from the bord ice anchored to the harbour walls. Sixteen-year-old, Kenneth Blacquiere and his friend, fourteen-year-old George Paynter were in the hut at the time and Paynter quickly jumped toward the bord ice as the small ice floe with smelt shack was being torn away by an outgoing tide, toward the entrance to the harbour. Paynter made it to another ice floe which also started toward the mouth of the harbour, but he was rescued about 9:00pm by one of the five fishing boats conducting the search. Young Blacquiere, now trapped on the ice floe which was only 20 feet square was heading toward Sea Cow Head lighthouse and efforts by local fishermen in their lobster boats to find him failed. As darkness came, rain squalls and fog rolled in and the prospects of rescue for the boy were dwindling.

At 2:16 am on January 9th the Abegweit, with Captain Gideon Kean in control,  headed toward Summerside Harbour in search of the boy adrift on the ice. The Captain had made calculations considering the currents and wind direction. When the ferry reached the Sea Cow Head area it was dark and foggy, Officer Helge Larsen, picked up the floating shack on the ship’s radar when the ship was 2.5 miles (4 km) away. It was only about one hundred metres from where the Captain had estimated. The ship’s crew were able to spot the boy with the searchlight from the Abegweit and the shack was 2.5 miles (4 km) offshore. The boy started running across the ice toward the ship when mate, Ken Merriam used the big ship’s loud hailer to tell the boy to stand still. Captain Kean stopped the stern propellors to enable the 7,000-ton vessel to gradually come close to the ice floe, and then crew members on the rail deck threw him a lifebuoy and he was able to walk up a ladder to the fantail by himself. The Captain stated, “We gave him a hot meal straight away, but he did not seem too much affected by the ordeal.”

Sources: Guardian, January 9, 1963; Guardian, January 10, 1963;  http://www.trainweb.org/oldtimetrains/CNR/Abegweit.htm; http://members.shaw.ca/colinluv/echo3.htm (2014); postcard, hippocard.com

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