1977 William Carson

The William Carson was commissioned in 1955, designed to service the ferry route between North Sydney, NS and Port-aux-Basques, NL. Because it was one of the largest boats built in Canada at the time, it initially sailed between North Sydney and  Argentia for its first three years until the Port-aux-Basques harbour was modified to accommodate its size. It could carry 260 passengers and 60 cars.

MV William Carson, 1959The William Carson in 1959. Photo from the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

In 1976, the William Carson was reassigned to the season service between Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Labrador and Lewisporte in Newfoundland. On its first run of 1977, it struck a small iceberg and sank. Fortunately, all 129 passengers and crew were successfully evacuated to lifeboats, from which they watched the ferry sink. Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers and Canadian Forces helicopters rescued the survivors.

Although not technically a “disaster” in that no one died, this event is included in this project because of its potential to have been a disaster. More importantly, the song is written in the tradition of the disaster song, with many of the elements that mark a typical disaster song, such as the name of the ship, the date of the event, and a description of the cause of the disaster.


For more on the sinking of the William Carson, see:

Unknown author. 1944. Survivors in Ferry Sinking Relate IncidentGadsden Times [Alabama], June 7, p 13.

Unknown author. 1944. Ferry Strikes Iceberg, Passengers, Crew SavedSarasota Herald-Tribune, June 4, p 5A.

Hinchliffe, Aethne. 2011. The Sinking of the M.V. William CarsonThe Gulf News, May 31. [reminiscence by the William Carson’s bar steward]


2 responses to “1977 William Carson”

  1. David Haas says:

    The William Carson is mention in the third verse of Roy Payne’s song “Trains Never Stop In Kingston”.

    It is not about the sinking, but while the ship was still in service:

    “I bet you’ll find some guitar picking Newfies at the bar
    Singing songs and drinking all the way
    Tomorrow night they’ll board that William Carson almost home
    Lord I wish that I was riding on that train”

    This is a song about a woman prisoner at the old Kingston Penitentiary for Women in Kingston, Ontario, longing to be on a train heading east from Kingston.

    The song was printed in a 1976 songbook, “Singing About Us”, a collection of songs by contemporary Canadian singer/songwriters.

  2. Heather Sparling says:

    Thanks, David, for letting me know about this other song about the William Carson. I was not aware of it! I have to admit that I didn’t expect to learn that there were multiple songs about this particular ferry. :-)

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