Queen of Nassau

Deep water shipwreck, blue water divers with lights
The Queen of Nassau wreck site lies in 230 feet of water. Photo: Doug Kesling/NURC-UNCW

The Canadian Government Ship (CGS) Canada was built in 1904 by Vickers Sons and Maxim Ltd. in Barrow-in-Furness, England as a one-of-a-kind cruiser for the Canadian Fisheries Protection Service. The 200-foot-long steamship was the first armed, steel-hulled vessel owned and operated by the Canadian government. After serving Canada for nearly 15 years the vessel was decommissioned in 1919.

Bought by a Florida millionaire developer to be a ferry to the Bahamas, the newly named Queen of Nassau proved to be worn out. On its last voyage, approximately 50 miles south of Miami, the crew reported water flooding into the ship's lower compartments. After an hour and a half battling the oncoming water, the captain gave the order to abandon ship. Within moments of the last crewmember getting into a lifeboat , Queen of Nassau sank off of Islamorada, Florida on July 2, 1926.


At the beginning of the 20th century, Canada's fisheries needed protection from foreign interlopers. Construction of the fisheries protection cruiser CGS Canada was deeply rooted in historical conflicts over these fisheries. Its primary station was off the Nova Scotia coast, patrolling both the eastern and western shores. The CGS Canada operated seasonally from May until December, the traditional Atlantic fishing season, covering nearly 10,000 miles each year chasing foreign trawlers attempting to operate within the 3-mile limit, destroying illegal lobster traps, confiscating illegal fishing gear, and protecting Canada's coast. The CGS Canada operated under the Department of Marine and Fisheries until 1915 when it was commissioned into the Department of Naval Services at the outbreak of World War I. After 11 years of training cadets in gunnery and navigation, preparing Canadian naval officers and crew for service, the newly titled His Majesty's Canadian Ship (HMCS) Canada was finally allowed to raise the White Ensign and become an official naval warship. It continued to perform as a fisheries cruiser enforcing fisheries regulations, while at the same time conducting coastal patrols for German warships, U-boats, and mines. HMCS Canada continued in this capacity until the war's end in 1919 when it was decommissioned.

Canadian warship at anchor.
HMCS Canada during the First World War. Photo: Royal Canadian Navy

Barron Gift Collier, a Florida millionaire and advertising magnate, bought the vessel in 1924. The ship was refurbished and put into service as a first-class inter-island passenger steamer between Miami, Florida and Nassau, Bahamas and was renamed Queen of Nassau. After a brief two years of service, the vessel was again for sale. With investors interested the ship lifted its anchors in Miami and headed to Tampa for a final inspection. On the night of Wednesday, June 30, 1926, Queen of Nassau anchored outside Miami Harbor in anticipation of the voyage to Tampa. The next morning under the command of Captain Peter P. Songdahl, the vessel began heading south, but under low steam-pressure because of the decrepit state of the boilers ignored during its long anchorage. Crawling along because of the weakened boiler tubes, the vessel was forced to anchor off Alligator Reef on the morning of July 2 to make repairs. Beginning at 3am the engineers labored for 13 hours to make engine repairs. The crew noticed a minor bilge leak, but it was not enough to cause alarm.The make-shift repairs were completed by 4pm and Queen of Nassau began moving slowly southward. Not long after getting underway the small leak turned into a torrent of incoming water leading to the steamship foundering.


Seventy-five years later, in 2001, Queen of Nassau was discovered in 230 feet of water, approximately 7 miles from Lower Matacumbe Key by divers from the Association of Underwater Explorers. Its hull was completely intact with no visible breaks or damage and the divers noted an abundance of clearly visible artifacts. Recognizing the significance of this find, the divers reported the site to Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The site was a favorite fishing spot and its location was known by local charter boats who called it the "220 Wreck," but didn't know its history. NOAA archaeologist Tane Casserley set out to identify the shipwreck.

The initial diver reports and follow-up investigations by NOAA researchers documented aspects of the site that led to its identification. One particularly diagnostic feature was the vessel's ram bow. The bow was plumb at deck level, but it began to jut sharply forward as it neared the keel. The shipwreck's riveted steel construction, ram bow, and high length-to-beam ratio (10:1) pointed to the site being an early 20th century steel warship. Historical research by Casserley ultimately linked the reported loss of Queen of Nassau to its history as CGS Canada and the historical data on Canada's construction matched the general features and dimensions of the wreck. Modifications were found to the wreck site that were consistent with a warship's conversion to a passenger steamer.

(Casserley, 2002)

Site Map

Side view drawing of the shipwreck
Queen of Nassau site drawing. Credit: Tane Casserley/NOAA