La Grande Hermine sits forlornly in the marina basin at Jordan Harbour, adjacent to the QEW. DON RICKERS

Jordan Harbour’s grand wreck, La Grande Hermine poses danger

Travelling along the QEW by Jordan Harbour, it’s hard to miss.

La Grande Hermine looks like an abandoned pirate ship. Its masts and bowsprit are still in place, but it has no sails or hardware, and is clearly weather-worn and dilapidated.

The 141-foot, steel-hulled vessel’s name translates to the rather inelegant “Big Weasel” in English. Since 1997, it has been an icon — some would say an eyesore — in the marina basin behind the Beacon Harbourside Hotel. In 2003, the ship was set ablaze by arsonists, which hastened its deterioration.

Launched in 1965 as a life-sized replica of the sailing vessel in which French maritime explorer Jacques Cartier embarked on voyages across the Atlantic and down the St. Lawrence River in 1530, the ship was featured at the Montreal Expo in 1967. La Grande Hermine was later converted into a floating restaurant in Quebec, and was eventually purchased by a businessman who had a tug tow it to Jordan Harbour, with the intention of converting it into a floating casino in Chippawa. However, the owner passed away before the permits were approved, and the boat was left abandoned.

The Canadian Coast Guard assessed the ship in the spring of 2021, and found it to be in poor shape, and a risk to both the environment and the public. Accordingly, Fisheries and Oceans Canada issued an RFP (request for proposal) in October to have the rotting, rusting hulk’s masts removed, and the access points sealed as safety precautions. Bids were accepted until November 9. There is a possibility that the ship may be removed completely.

The RFP lists the owner of the boat as “not determined.”

The Town of Lincoln, not wanting to lose what has become something of a tourist attraction, has reached out to the federal government, via the Canadian Coast Guard, in an effort to save the ship. At a council meeting on November 9, Lincoln councillors voted unanimously to ask the Canadian Coast Guard to save the three masts of La Grande Hermine.

Over the years, various groups have shown an interest in taking ownership of the boat, with some keen to sink the vessel so it could be explored by scuba divers.