Tag Archives: history

‘The Waubuno’; A Georgian Bay Shipwreck

Georgian Bay is renown for the number of shipwrecks that are not only extremely well preserved, but also the fact that many lie very close to the surface. The cool and clear waters are perfect for keeping the remains of the mostly wood constructed vessels in such a good state of preservation.

The combined result has been the establishment of Canada’s first underwater national park. Located near Tobermory, Ontario, where Georgian Bay meets Lake Huron, Fathom Five National Park includes many natural and cultural highlights, including the wrecks of over thirty ships, making it popular with the diving crowd.

Local Wreck

For those of us that are more familiar with the eastern reaches of ‘The Bay’, or who don’t necessarily want to don full scuba gear, the Thirty Thousand region holds many treasures of it’s own. Located not far from the ‘world famous’ Henry’s Fish Restaurant in Sans Souci, sits Wreck Island. An easy dinghy ride from Henry’s, one can easily discover the remains of the paddle wheel ship, ‘Waubuno’, which was lost in a gale on the night of November 22, 1879.

The 'Waubuno

The side wheel steamer ‘Waubuno’. Photo credit: southchannel.org

History Noted

Although the specific reason for the ship’s loss was never determined, the overriding factor on that fateful day was the brutal weather. From all reports, a gale force wind was howling, with heavy snow thrown into the mix. Anyone who has ventured onto this part of Georgian Bay on a windy day quickly realize that this body of water is not to be taken lightly. With it’s full on exposure to the prevailing west winds, modern day boaters’ understand to be aware of conditions that are know to change quickly. I could only imagine what those poor souls aboard the Waubuno were thinking on that dark November night. . .

Speaking of that day, November 22nd is also marks the date that U.S. president John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. For that reason, I’m able to quickly recollect both tragic events.

Current Resting Place

The ship had set out from Collingwood, at Georgian Bay’s southern shore, and was destined for Parry Sound,  roughly 50 miles northeast. An historical plaque resides in ‘Anchor Park’ in Parry Sound to commemorate the loss.

Waubuno plaque

Historical plaque in Parry Sound, Ontario.

This anchor, which was recovered in 1959, is located next to the historical plaque in the park. It’s interesting to consider how many people pass right by this anchor without knowing any of the history, or how accessible the wreck is today.

ship's anchor

The recovered anchor.

On to the wreck site. Another bit of irony for those of you taking notes – the wreck is actually just off of ‘Bradden Island’ and not Wreck Island itself. Wreck Island is actually just a bit to the south.

We took our dinghy over for a look see and to take some pics and video to share. At the time of our visit, the remains were clearly visible just below the surface.

waubuno wreck

The remains of the Waubuno’s hull are easily visible form the surface.

I was amazed to see how much has survived after 130 + years;

130 year ol ship wreck

Amazing how much still survives

How Did it Get There?

Looking back westward from the wreck site towards the open Bay, one can see the two giant rocks that protect the remains from the full fury of Georgian Bay.

So, how did it get here, you ask? Remember that the water level has dropped roughly five feet (!!) in the past 20 – 25 years, so the conditions depicted in these photos would have been quite different from 1879. The storm gale that caused it’s demise would have resulted in a storm surge of three – five feet or more, so the ship would have been able to easily clear (or be pounded over) those rocks back in the day.

georgian bay rocks

These giant rocks now protect the ship’s remains.

Being is such close proximity of this place gave us both chills. The ship carried 24 passengers and crew, yet no bodies were ever recovered. Makes one think about whatever became of them.

Here’s some underwater video I was able to capture with my GoPro camera. This really helps to illustrate how much remains intact;