Below is a Roots to the Past column I wrote earlier this summer. I wanted to share it here to remember the men who were lost on the Mina Swim.
An Almost Forgotten Sea Tragedy
Diane Lynn Tibert
I first heard of the fishing vessel the Mina Swim about twelve years ago when my aunt showed me a newspaper article detailing its fate. I had been researching Thomas Taylor, my mom’s mother’s father. I knew very little about the man and because of his common name, I found many Thomas Taylors but never the right one. All I had to go on was he lived in Burin, NL and he was lost at sea when my grandmother was about twelve years old.
To many along the eastern seaboard of Canada and the United States, those three words – lost at sea – chill the spine and make hair stand on end. Those who make their living on the ocean are not divided by provincial or country lines. Their borders are defined instead by the shoreline. When one man is lost at sea, regardless of where he is from, it is equally felt in St. Anthony, NL as it is in Gloucester, Maine. In fact, many fishermen from Gloucester have been lost in Canadian waters and many Atlantic Canadians have been lost on ships out of Gloucester.
But to me the Mina Swim was different; my great-grandfather had supposedly died when it was lost without a trace at sea. My aunt said she had always been told Thomas Taylor had been aboard.
I began chasing after every piece of information I could uncover about the ship. The time period was right. My grandmother would have been eleven that early February in 1917 when the ten-dory banking schooner left Burin for the Grand Banks. One account I found listed a T. Thorne as a crewmember. Knowing the surname could have been a misprint or misspelling of Taylor, I dug deeper.
At last, I came in contact with Robert Parsons, the author of several books on sea disasters. He had researched the Mina Swim and had a list of crewmembers. He was certain Thomas Taylor wasn’t one of them though there was one crewman still unnamed. Could this mystery man be my great-grandfather?
Finding individuals or ships lost between 1917 and 1919 is easy; there were many. The difficult part is finding a specific individual. Eventually, all the possible ways of finding Thomas Taylor and the ship he was lost aboard were exhausted, and I put aside the search.
Last week a message arrived. It was from a distant relative who has also been searching for answers about Thomas Taylor and the Mina Swim. He informed me about the Mina Swim Memorial website (http://minaswim.com) by a Burin committee aimed at preserving and honouring the memory of the men who lost their lives on the vessel.
Visitors to the website can read newspaper clippings about the overdue vessel and the possibility that it may have been struck by an ocean liner. A detailed list of crewmembers is available.
Anyone with information to share, regardless of how little or seemingly insignificant, is welcome to contact one of the individuals listed on the website. It is my hope that by spreading the word about the project that every crewmember – perhaps even my great-grandfather – will finally be named.