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Hope Island wrecks offer glimpse into Ontario’s marine heritage

Lottie Wolf, Marquette and Michigan are all interesting shipwrecks off the shores of northern Simcoe County

It has been claimed there are 10,000 wrecks in the Great Lakes. And each year, with modern technology, more and more of these lost vessels are being found.

In Lower Georgian Bay, in the area of Hope Island near Christian Island, there are three that have been known for decades and since then have been visited by hundreds if not thousands of scuba divers.

Located in the shallow, clear waters, these three wrecks represent an interesting glimpse into  Ontario’s rich marine heritage.

The story of the vessels and their loss can be quite fascinating. These wrecks, with the exception of those at Tobermory, were some of the first wreck dives that I completed in the early 1970s, and have since continued to be interesting sites to visit after all those years.

The wrecks of two sailing vessels lie relatively close to one another off Hope Island. One is the Lottie Wolf and the other is the Marquette.

The Lottie Wolf sailed the waters of the Great Lakes for many years before she was lost. She was built in 1866 in Green Bay, Wis., and was 126 feet in length.

The vessel enjoyed a long life on the lakes, but was sunk after a collision with a large boulder, later named Lottie Wolf Shoal, off the north shore of Hope Island in October 1891. She was carrying corn, and no lives were lost. It was reported that many old-time sailors who had previously sailed aboard her lamented her loss as if they had lost an old friend.

Today, her remains, spread out and flattened on the bottom, offer a good look at the construction details of a mid-1800s sailing vessel. Among the wreck can be found a sail winch, capstan and other pieces of equipment.

Just around the corner of Hope Island lies the remains of the second sailing vessel — the Marquette. This was discovered by chance in the mid-1970s within sight of the lighthouse, and was quite an exciting find.

For many years it remained unidentified until a researcher came across the details of her loss in November 1867.

The Marquette was built in 1856 at Newport, Mich. At the time of her loss, she was carrying a cargo of 20,000 bushels of corn from the port of Chicago, destined for the Gooderham & Worts Distillery. She was caught in a snowstorm and, according to her captain, Thomas Fountain, she hit a reef. They had anchored to do some repairs, but a wind shift caused further problems and she foundered in 25 feet of water. No loss of life was recorded.

When the Marquette was found, she was sitting upright and all her ship's equipment was intact.

Unfortunately, divers visiting the site stripped all the deadeyes and anything else they could, leaving it in a much-reduced state.

The Marquette became the focus of a five-year study by the Ontario Marine Heritage Committee that documented these changes. Still, she sits proudly on the bottom, her anchors stretched out off the bow, and interesting to visit. Her centreboard case is still upright and a capstan and winch for raising and lowering the centreboard are still present, but either partially or fully covered with sand.

On the north side of Hope Island lie the remains of the Michigan. She was built in 1890 at Bay City, Mich., originally as a car ferry, and measured  297 feet in length.

Later, she was converted to a barge and was being used as a salvage barge when she was lost in November 1843.

The Michigan had been brought by tug to help unload another vessel, the Riverton, that was stuck on the rocks with a cargo of grain when she herself was carried onto the rocks and, despite efforts, could not be rescued. She sank quite near Lottie Wolf Shoal. Her twisted metal hull and her large salvage equipment remain on the site and make for some great photographs.

Our dive club last visited these three wrecks a few years ago and, as always, they remain quite interesting to dive on. Shallow, clear water make them great for novice divers.

David Gilchrist is a retired teacher who lives in the Niagara-on-the-Lake area and is a longtime diving enthusiast.