In its heyday, the Mayflower steamship would ferry freight, mail and passengers from North Hatley to Ayer's Cliff on Lake Massawippi in the Eastern Townships.

The lack of roads in the 1890s meant the ferry's roughly 14-kilometre trek across the lake was a necessity for people living in the region.

The Mayflower was also known for entertaining guests well into the night and taking passengers on cruises around the lake, said Michèle Gérin, a member of Everblue Massawippi, a local organization that works to protect the lake.

"These marvelous evenings, you know, with a piano and parties and everything," Gérin explained.

Massawippi Lake

The Mayflower steamship would ferry passengers on the Massawippi Lake from North Hatley to Ayer's Cliff in the Eastern Townships (Christine Bureau/Radio-Canada)

It was after one of the Mayflower's moonlit tours back in 1894 — amidst the piano playing and partying — that the steamship is said to have disappeared to the bottom of Lake Massawippi.

It struck land near Black Point and sank in more than 15 metres of water. Fortunately, no one died.

Nearly 125 years after the Mayflower's last voyage, what's left of the steamship appears to have been located, Gérin said.

Another dive needed to confirm

Divers recently located a shipwreck near where the Mayflower is thought to have sunk.

Other divers have stumbled upon it over the years. But it wasn't formally marked with proper diving flags or buoys to indicate to people above water what lay below. 

"It's been known for quite some time that there is a wreck, most likely the wreck of the Mayflower in that very teeny, tiny bay," Pierre-Stéphane Lafrance, one of the divers, said. "But because of the very specific visibility under water of Lake Massawippi, it's always been a challenge to find it."

Lafrance marked it on a map and installed a buoy and a cable leading to it.  

"You can literally be metres away from the wreck and not find it."

Lafrance isn't entirely convinced the wreck is the Mayflower, however. He's not certain if the recovered ship is the same width as the Mayflower or if it had a porthole.

The Mayflower's wreck

Divers aren't yet sure if the wreck they've found in Lake Massawippi in the Eastern Townships is that of the Mayflower steamship.

"When you look at older pictures, at least the ones we've been able to see, there don't seem to be any portholes on the Mayflower," Lafrance said.

He plans to revisit the site in order to take measures and prove once and for all if what's been found is indeed the Mayflower. A second dive is expected to take place in the coming weeks.

For historic site?

Gérin, for her part, believes there's a "99 per cent" chance it's the ship. 

If it turns out the ship is the Mayflower, Gérin says she wants the waters around the wreck to become a protected historic site.

The area would be marked off with buoys so boats can avoid the area and divers can explore it, she said.

With files from Radio-Canada and Quebec AM