Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
Shipwrecks of Lake Superior

Today’s post comes from our natural heritage education specialist (and history buff), Dave Sproule.

Thousands of boats, ships and canoes have been claimed by Lake Superior over the centuries. The Edmund Fitzgerald is simply the most famous and one of the most recent.

He Carlos Hebard was a wooden steamer with a crew of 14 that foundered on the rocks at Point Mamainse, just north of Pancake Bay, in December 1902, and was “wrecked to pieces by heavy seas.” The crew reached shore, while two of the three schooners she was towing reached the Pancake Bay shelter. The first of the crew to land set up a “bosun’s chair” with a rope from the ship to shore, to save the other crew members, including the ship’s cook, Jennie Barnes.

Aged photo of wooden steamer over water.Carlos Hebard

He William O. Brown, a 400-ton wooden schooner with a cargo of wheat, also ran aground on rocks near Mamainse while en route to Buffalo on 27 November 1872. A midnight gale broke one of the masts, leaving a hole in the deck . The hold filled with water and the ship eventually broke in two.

wooden schooner on waterWO Brown

Two crew members were swept overboard, but five managed to reach shore. Tragically, only three survived the snow and freezing cold. They later recovered and repaired a small boat from the WO Brown. After several days, they sailed the small boat to Batchawana Bay and found a logging camp and safety.

Lord Selkirk’s Canoe Brigade He approached Whitefish Bay in 1816, carrying several partners of the North West Company. These associates were being brought to Montreal to stand trial for their involvement in the Seven Oaks massacre in Manitoba. The settlers, including the governor of the Red River region, had been killed in a skirmish with buffalo hunters who supplied the North West Company with meat for fur traders and travelers. Lord Selkirk, a partner in the rival fur trader, Hudson’s Bay Company, arrested several NWCo associates at Fort William and had them taken by canoe to stand trial.

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Voyageur Canoe Brigade

As the fur-trading canoe brigade approached Whitefish Bay, a storm arose over the lake. The travelers took shelter behind Maple Island, on the south side of the entrance to Batchawana Bay. All but one of the canoes reached safety. The last canoe sank with nine men, including NWCo partner Kenneth Mackenzie. In an ironic turn of events, Lord Selkirk lost his court battle and was in turn sued over the incident. He lost his fortune and died two years later, devastated.

The Algoma Shipwreck Trail

Want to explore the historic remains of Lake Superior? Plan a trip to these three parks:

Pancake Bay Provincial Park

High above Lake Superior, the Edmund Fitzgerald Overlook at Pancake Bay offers sweeping, stunning views of Whitefish Bay to the south and Batchawana Bay to the east, as well as the rugged landscape of the Algoma Highlands. The Edmund Fitzgerald is located 18 km west of Coppermine Point, which is the closest landfall point and the best place to see where the great ship sank.

Man at Edmund Fitzgerald Lookout with sunset

To the west, the first overlook points directly to Whitefish Point in Michigan, home to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum and ship’s bell. An interpretive panel on the watch deck tells the story of Edmund Fitzgerald, with a compass rose pointing in the direction of the great ship. During the summer, park visitors who hike to the overlook (7 km round trip) can also watch Great Lakes freighters pass by as they head west to Lakehead, or south to Soo Locks.

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Lake Superior Provincial Park

Lake Superior Provincial Park Lighthouse at the Visitor CenterThe storms and shipwreck stories of Lake Superior feature prominently in this park’s visitor center and exhibit hall, aptly titled “The Power of the Lake.” Exhibits feature a scale replica of the lighthouse that once stood at the mouth of Gargantua Harbor, a model of one of the tugboats that plied the park’s waters, facts about the Edmund Fitzgerald, and many strange stories of ships on the Great Lake. . The park contains several shipwrecks, one of which can be seen in the remote port of Gargantua.

Neys Provincial Park

Check out other shipwreck stories here!