Vancouver's most famous shipwreck now has a museum – in Ontario


Mark Garner is related to Charles McCain, who bought the salvage rights for the ship

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The SS Beaver ran aground on the rocks off Prospect Point in Stanley Park on July 26, 1888, becoming Vancouver's most famous shipwreck.

It lay on the rocks for four years before sinking in June 1892. Many Vancouver residents visited the ship, took photos, and took wood, metal, and artifacts from it to make all kinds of souvenirs.

Mark Garner owns the world's largest collection of these animals. He wants to share them with the world, so six months ago he opened an SS Beaver museum in Hamilton, Ontario, where he lives.

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Unfortunately, the museum is located about 3,400 km from the beaver's final resting place in the First Narrows.

“It's not ideal, but that's the way it is,” said Garner, 51, an auto mechanic.

“It's actually a garage that I converted. I insulated it, put drywall on it, carpeted it, and put LED lights in it.” Garner said the space is about 15 feet by 20 feet with 10-foot ceilings.

Inside is a treasure chest containing what he calls Beaverabilia.

“I have dozens of original photographs,” he said.

“I have a whole wall of pictures of the SS Beaver. I have wooden artifacts made from the wreck. I have a chair, four walking sticks and things like that, made from teak, African oak and greenheart (on the ship) – all good hardwoods.

“I removed the starboard paddle shaft from the Beaver,” a piece of cast iron almost six meters long and weighing over 1,000 kilograms.

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A commemorative coin made from metal recovered by Charles McCain from the steam engine of the SS Beaver in 1892. Courtesy of Mark Garner. Sun

His largest collection consists of commemorative Beaver medals made of brass, bronze and copper that Charles Wesley McCain recovered from the ship. He also wrote a collectible book about the Beaver.

“The largest collection I could find is 15, and I own 100 of them,” Garner said. “So I own more than all the maritime museums combined.”

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Why would a man who has lived his entire life in Ontario be obsessed with a shipwreck in British Columbia? Because McCain is a distant relative and Garner has been fascinated by the Beaver since he was a child.

“My grandmother told me the whole story when I was five and I never forgot it,” he said.

“One of the commemorative medals that was passed down in the family belonged to my grandmother. I finally got it when I was 25 and that's when I started collecting the beaver.”

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He began searching for beaver artifacts on eBay, which he still does every day.

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“You never know what will show up,” he said.

“Sometimes two years go by without seeing anything, and then maybe some things pop up out of nowhere.”

He also travels to BC every year to look for beaver stuff. This year he came with his wife and two children.

“I’ve traveled up and down the coast,” said Garner, who also runs a private Facebook group called SS Beaver Museum.

“I've been to Haida Gwaii four times, I've been to Prince Rupert, all over the island and on the mainland. I have contacts everywhere who pick up and store things for me.”

In the course of his search for artifacts, he became an expert on the Beaver and advises maritime museums about the ship. That's how he came across the Beaver's paddlewheel shaft – the Vancouver Maritime Museum had two of them and wanted to donate one to another institution.

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The starboard paddle shaft is the largest object in the SS Beaver Museum in Hamilton, Ontario. Courtesy of Mark Garner. Sun

His extensive knowledge of the Beaver is astonishing, especially considering the medals McCain made after acquiring salvage rights to the ship.

“He was mainly after the semi-precious metals from the steam engine,” Garner said.

“Most people just chopped pieces of wood. McCain didn't take much wood, he took all the brass, bronze and copper he could get his hands on.”

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McCain had the metal melted down and made into roundels, round metal disks that can be minted into coins. He sent them to Toronto to have them minted with a beaver motif and made three versions: large, medium and small.

“He only made 226 of the first size before the die broke,” he explains.

“So they're super hard to find and very rare. The second one he made, for the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, he made 700 of them. On the third attempt, he knew he had to save space and time, so he took all the remaining medals, melted them down again and made (12,000) small medals.”

The Beaver was originally a Hudson's Bay Company boat that sailed the Pacific Northwest starting in 1836. As a result, its artifacts are also popular among Americans. The coins typically sell for $150 (small coins) and $300 (large coins).

Garner's dream is to move the museum to the West Coast, but he's a working man and doesn't have endless money, so it may take a while. In the meantime, he's still on the lookout for more artifacts.

The Holy Grail is considered to be the original logbook from 1836, which disappeared in the early 20th century, as well as a stash of 2,000 small coins that McCain sold to the Washington State Historical Society in 1910 for a museum exhibition.

They have both been missing for more than a century, but he believes they are still out there.

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Mark Garner with commemorative brass, copper and bronze coins recovered from the SS Beaver. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
Vancouver, BC: MAY 30, 2024 – Mark Garner with an old photo of the SS Beaver, complete with salvaged rope as a frame. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
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Vancouver pioneer Charles McCain, who moved to Vancouver from Port Colborne, Ontario in 1888 and bought the salvage rights to the SS Beaver when it ran aground off Prospect Point in Stanley Park on July 26, 1888. From McCain's 1894 book, History of the Hudson's Bay Company's SS Beaver, digitized and posted online by the UBC Library's Open Collections division. Sun
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Part of the SS Beaver Museum in Hamilton, Ontario. Courtesy of Mark Garner. Sun
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A second commemorative medal, made from metal salvaged by Charles McCain from the steam engine of the SS Beaver in 1892. (Three were made.) Courtesy of Mark Garner. Sun
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Commemorative medals made from metal recovered by Charles McCain from the steam engine of the SS Beaver in 1892. (They came in three sizes.) The medals are displayed in a photograph of the Beaver on the rocks off Prospect Point in Stanley Park. Courtesy of Mark Garner. Sun
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Part of the SS Beaver Museum in Hamilton, Ontario. Courtesy of Mark Garner. Sun
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