Famous shipwrecks in or near Ontario Parks

There is a fascinating book called, “Mysterious Islands: Forgotten Tales of the Great Lakes”.  It mentions thousands of wrecks that lie at the bottom of the lakes which have been sailed since the 17th century. Many Ontario Parks are near these huge ship graveyards and in one park visitors can actually visit a wreck dating back to the War of 1812.

 

Illustration of the HMS Speedy

There is a poster on the wall in the office of Long Point Provincial Park on Lake Erie,  called the “Ghost Fleet of Long Point”. The poster has a map showing 300 ships that have disappeared in and or around Long Point Bay over the past two centuries.  One name stands out. The Edmund Fitzgerald,  a 41 metre (135-foot) schooner that ran aground off of Long Point on November  14, 1883. A second Edmund Fitzgerald?  And almost a century earlier than its famous namesake.

 The “other” ship was the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, a massive cargo ship that plied the waters of the Great Lakes. Immortalized in a 1976 hit ballad by Canadian folk artist, Gordon Lightfoot, the big freighter sank in a horrendous Lake Superior gale on November 10, 1975. Twenty-nine lives were lost. The stretch where the famous ship went down is known as “the graveyard of the Great Lakes”.  Nobody knows for sure how many wrecks are here but marine historians figure there are hundreds.  Pancake Bay Provincial Park’s Lookout Trail has amazing views of this notorious part of Superior. The park is also home to one of the best beaches on the Great Lakes.   A life ring from the ship washed up onshore in the Slate Islands Provincial Park and was donated to Neys by the former lighthouse keeper there.  It can be seen in the Visitor’s Centre at Neys Provincial Park .

 The story of the HMS Speedy is told at Presqu’ile Provincial Park  on Lake Ontario. HMS Speedy was built in Kingston, Ontario in 1798 as a British warship (when Canada was a British colony). Leading up to the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States, the ship transported government officials and supplies to small lakeside communities.  In October 1804, the two-masted wooden schooner set sail from York (now Toronto) for the Village of Newcastle for a big murder trial. On board were some influential Upper Canadians, the trial judge, and the accused. The 90-foot ship had just passed Presqu’ile Point near Brighton, Ontario, when she ran into a Nor’easter in what is known as the Sophiasburgh Triangle, a strange part of the lake that, for whatever reason, messes with the magnetic field.  With only a compass to guide him, the captain mistakenly steered the ship into a huge stone pillar that historians believe ripped her to pieces.  She sank and all on board perished.  Near the Presqu’ile lighthouse which has been preserved in the park, there is a historic plaque dedicated to the loss of the Speedy.

Remains of the Nancy

The Nancy was a private schooner built in 1789 to serve the fur trade on the Upper Great Lakes. Today, you can visit the remains of her hull, one of the Cool things at Wasaga Provincial Park on Lake Huron  The Nancy was a masterpiece of craftsmanship. Her carved figurehead was of a woman dressed in period fashion wearing a hat with a feather. The ship was likely named after the wife or daughter of one of the ship builders. During the War of 1812, The Nancy was pushed into service as a British naval supply ship. On August 14, 1814, three American warships lay in wait for her at the mouth of the Nottawasaga River near Georgian Bay, Lake Huron but The Nancy and her crew were already in hiding. Seamen from the US ships out searching for wood happened to find her and a battle ensued. Badly outnumbered, Nancy’s crew decided to set fire to their ship before it could be taken captive by the US forces. A blockhouse near the ship however was hit first by American cannon fire setting The Nancy on fire. The British force which was made up of 22 seamen, 23 Ojibway, and 9 French Canadian Voyageurs managed to somehow escape. On August 31, they set out to paddle and row an astonishing 360 miles (579 kilometres) to British Fort Mackinac. Then only a few days later, on September 3, the commander and 92 men in four rowboats returned to surprise, attack and capture the two US warships that had been left to intercept fur trade vessels and their supplies.