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LETTER: Neglect showing at historic Nancy Island in Wasaga

'I realize budgets are tight, but our culture and parks are so important,' says letter writer
Wasaga Beach is shown in a file photo.

BarrieToday welcomes letters to the editor at [email protected] or via the website. Please include your full name, daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). The writer makes reference to Lt. M. Worsley, who is also the namesake behind Worsley Street in Barrie

I am writing to request public support for Nancy Island Historic Site in Wasaga Beach. This site is the only battlefield of the War of 1812 in central Ontario and it is in rough shape.

In 1814, Lt. M. Worsley commanded HMS Nancy, the only British warship left on the Upper Great Lakes following the battle at Put-in-Bay on Lake Erie in 1813. The Nancy took supplies sent from York (Toronto) from the mouth of the Nottawasaga River to Fort Mackinac [in northern Michigan]. 

An American squadron led by the flagship USS Niagara discovered the Nancy and the ship was destroyed in the battle. 

The burning ship floated down the river and landed on a sand bar.

After the battle, Worsley rowed the length of Georgian Bay past American warships to Fort Mackinac, and with re-enforcements, captured two American warships, USS Tigress and USS Scorpion. While an elementary school in Wasaga Beach is named in Worsley’s honour, had the Victorian Cross been around in 1814, he certainly would have won it.

The burnt hull of the Nancy was rediscovered and a museum opened on Nancy Island in 1928. Numerous enhancements were made to the island in 1967 for the Canadian centennial as the island is a national historic site. 

Eleven years ago, a new welcome centre was constructed in time to celebrate the bicentennial of the battle with hundreds of re-enactors, and included a visit from the full-scale replica of the USS Niagara, stationed in Erie, Pa.

Since then, conditions on the island have deteriorated extensively. The lighthouse and bridge to the lighthouse have been closed for four years. The roofs of both the museum and theatre leak and there is considerable damage to the interiors of both buildings. The Bailey bridge to the island is restricted to pickup trucks, not tanks as it held in the Second World War, and it is uncertain what condition it will be in after this winter.

I am also concerned about what tourists will see if they can get to the island. The video shown in the theatre is 33 years old and its depiction of Indigenous Canadians is not appropriate. 

There is virtually no funding for the collection of artifacts, and since the island was flooded in 2020, killing all the evergreen trees planted by the Girl Guides, the need for landscaping is apparent.  

Staffing is also a major concern. This past year, for the first time ever, Nancy Island was closed in the spring and only open partially in the summer. 

Thankfully, funding was found for weekends from Labour Day to Thanksgiving, however, in the past, this has not always been the case. One summer student position went unfilled but with no spring opening, there were no university student applicants, and pay for high school students elsewhere in the Beach was much better than Nancy Island.  

In the past, the Friends of Nancy Island and the Town of Wasaga Beach have provided staffing as well as project support. But it is impossible to partner when the park doesn’t know its allocation. In addition, since there is no current Friends agreement with Ontario Parks, even if we use Canada Summer Jobs support as we have done in the past, we are not allowed to have our staff answer any questions regarding the park. 

In addition, we would like to promote the Island to Grade 7 students as this is part of their curriculum. However, this past year, Nancy Island was not open on a single day that students were in school.

I realize budgets are tight, but our culture and parks are so important.  

Please note that I am not in any way critical of park staff. They are fantastic. Other than the 11-year-old welcome centre serving the park and town, the facilities created in 1967 need significant repairs. There needs to be staff and collection support as well.

I hope your readers will support us by contacting their MPP and telling them to support Nancy Island.

Rob Potter,
Friends of Nancy Island and Wasaga Beach Park, president