With the popularity of technical diving it seems more and more people want to do the hard stuff, but every once in awhile you just want a dive to be easy. The Morrison in Barrie is a good dive for those days.
Located just 80 kilometers north of Toronto, the Morrison was only three years old when she caught fire in 1857 and was cut loose to keep the docks from getting torched along with her. She burned to the waterline as she floated into the bay and now rests in 30′ of water approximately 300′ offshore (usually) under a large yellow buoy.
Take into consideration over 140 years of wind, waves and ice and it is not hard to imagine that this wreck has been flattened like a watermelon dropped from a 10-storey building (imagery courtesy of David Letterman). But even a squashed melon has neat stuff to look at. In this case it includes a "boiler", parts of the paddle wheels, and plenty of fish (particularly on a night dive.) What most people call the "boiler" (see first vertical photo below) is actually part of the effluent system from the water treatment plant across the street.
There is a line from shore along the bottom to the wreck but tall weeds sometimes hide sections of it. A large yellow buoy marking the wreck is tied to the stern post where the line from shore also terminates.
The wreckage is entirely encrusted by zebra mussels, but the small Save Ontario Shipwrecks plaque attached to the wreck which features a casting of items previously found at the site is usually cleaned off by divers and quite legible. (Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find that plaque - it’s approximately 5" by 11".)
The Morrison rests close to Barrie’s boat launch so there are jet skis aplenty who love to use a dive flag or the marker jug as a turning buoy or souvenir so be extra cautious here. Perhaps the most dangerous boats are the sailboats with their long keels and silent-but-deadly tactics.
Even in the winter this can be a dangerous place, as the driver of the car pictured towards the bottom of this page found out. Feb 19, 2005, he drove over the thin ice above the exhaust outlets from the water treatment plant where warm water is vented into the bay, having one front wheel break through the ice, trapping the front wheel drive car which fell through minutes later. The car, complete with ice auger, cooler and ice fishing rod was removed within two weeks after the ice had melted, preventing the oil and gas from polluting the bay.
Kirkfield quarry is a staple of the diving industry in the Toronto region similar to the way Innerkip quarry is in the London/Hamilton area.
They share many of the same qualities: maximum depth of around 30′, decent visibility, items purposely sunk around the bottom (he said redundantly), easy entry, water that warms early in the season, no current, no waves, and HIGHLY popular.
On the down side it is not the greatest site for more advanced or technical divers due to its lack of depth or underwater features.
It does feature a 14′ fiberglass boat, several cars, an interesting (read: pornographic) arrangement of ceramic turtles, eerie looking sunken trees, and more than a few fish. The owner of this quarry is so diver-friendly he does not allow boats or fishing here - whatta guy!!
Bottom composition ranges from weeds to rock to the kind of silt so fine it can be disturbed from 10 feet off the bottom.
The newest addition to the quarry floor is unique in all of Ontario diving: a 20′-long diver statue made of sheet metal. Previously used as a parade float by the Trident Underwater Club of Peterborough, "Big Archie" reportedly took considerable effort to sink here in 1999. It may be the single greatest danger at this location however, but in no time you will have mastered the art of laughing your ass off under water.
There are no facilities on this site, no buildings, or other conveniences (unlike Innerkip) so ice diving is not as common here. Despite its lack of development this is an extremely popular site for training dives and there is little chance you will be alone here on any summer weekend.
The beach area offers a decent amount of parking and the access could not be much easier. A gradual slope ends at a ledge 40 feet from shore where it drops drop from 4′ to about 15′.
There is a $5 entry fee per diver.
Lake Muskoka, Ontario
Built in nearby Gravenhurst, she was named the "Mink" at the time of her christening in 1912 but later named "Waome" (the Ojibwa Indian word for "Water Lilly") after a refit in 1927.
The most remarkable thing about diving this site might not be the wreck itself but the colour of the water which is accurately described as… tea coloured (reddish brown caused by tannic acid in the surrounding soil). It is dark until your eyes adjust, and perpetually cold, but a very decent dive.
The Waome has suffered at the hands of divers for years and been picked hospital-clean. Rumor has it that some dive shops who used her as a training site even removed portions of the wreck (like walls) to make it "better".
Due to the number of divers this site attracts and the conditions in Lake Muskoka the amount of silt is very low compared to most wrecks which makes it a good location for divers who might not have quite the control over their technique that they would need for more advanced locations.
Thanks to the large windows, doors and other openings there are numerous light sources as well as entry and exit points which help make this quite a safe wreck to swim around inside (compared to most) but reportedly the lower deck is no longer suitable for penetration due to deterioration in recent years. Lean on one of the posts supporting the top deck and the entire deck seems to sway, indicating how unstable it has grown.
While the maximum depth may only be 70′, in my estimation the cold and darkness place this slightly above the level of novice divers.
This site is usually buoyed with lines at the bow and stern. Because the lake can be exceptionally calm these lines can become slack and easily get entangled in a diver’s gear (as in the photo above-left). As an added bonus you can go to Gravenhurst to see what the Waome looked like in her prime. Tours on the lake are available on her sister ship Seguin, still in beautiful condition.
It is believed that wind and wave conditions combined with an open loading door towards the front of the ship caused the Waome to take on water and sink in very short order. Of the seven people onboard at the time four managed to swim ashore, two went down with the ship, and the captain died of a heart attack while struggling in the frigid water. The ship claimed another life in 2004, a diver who ran out of air - a reminder that all dives should be approached with great caution.
After diving in Lake Superior for the first time all I can say is… what took me so long?
This particular wreck had just about everything that can be right with a wreck: shallow for long bottom times, penetration potential, artifacts to find (just don’t tell anyone they’re fake), and is extremely in tact for a mid-nineteenth century wreck in only 25′ of water. If the dive boat had a buffet I don’t think I’d ever leave.
The Bermuda originally sunk miles away from its present location, was raised, moved, had her cargo partially salvaged, sunk again, was victim of an unsuccessful raising attempt and stayed put at the bottom of a well-sheltered bay which should protect her (if the salvers will only leave her alone.)
The wreck is actually quite safe now with the creation of Michigan’s 113 square mile Alger Underwater Preserve which protects wrecks and their artifacts. Unfortunately the only artifacts to be found here aren’t genuine. There are pottery shards in the hold with a 1980’s date marking, and a barrel which may be a remnant of a keg party a century ago but was not originally from this ship.
Her rail is quite in tact aside from a section believed to have been torn down by dive boats in the years before a mooring was put in place. The only real danger here is having to evade the frequent glass bottom tour boats
If you visit this site not only will you be able to tell your co-workers you went to "Bermuda" for the weekend, but also about the draught markings, fully in tact rudder, neat steering gear, abundant fish hiding in the bow, deck damage from the failed salvage attempt, and the transom which still has the original pain between the boards. You can also tell them there are no zebra mussels - if you see their eyes light up you’ll know they’re divers.
Port Colborne, Ontario
It won’t rank at the top of anyone’s Favourite Wrecks list, but the Benson isstill a nice site to visit.
Like most wrecks this one has a focal point, and in this case it is the ship’swheel which is still attached to the steering gear at the stern.
Aside from that… there is not a lot that is spectacular at this site.
Found not too many years ago, the Niagara Divers Association (NDA) has obtainedan archeological permit to survey the wreck and has placed many tags and devicesto assist their efforts… you can’t miss ‘em.
There are still pulleys to be found on the wreck along with deadeyes, bilgepump, part of a mast and numerous other details, but the perhaps the most uniqueare the yawl boat davits at the stern which are still in surprisingly goodshape.
Like most Lake Erie wrecks this site is entirely encrusted in zebra mussels tothe point seeing bare wood is just about impossible. When I visited this sitethe Niagara Divers Association had placed a garbage bag over the bilge pump in an attempt to kill thezebra mussels on it and avoid any damage that might be caused by scraping themoff.
The bottom composition here is silt over clay, and the mild current has dug atrench in the clay around the stern exposing just a little more of the hull.
Cornwall, Ontario, Canada
Belly Dumper on its side
There’s always something that feels just a little bizarre about diving a site where you know someone has died, and for some reason when you know it was a diver it has an entirely different meaning. The Belly Dumper and Barges are such a dive. Not a particularly spectacular dive, with limited visibility (6-12 on average) and an exceptional amount of darkness despite not being very deep, this location does present the opportunity to go for a decent swim. The four wrecks located here are all lined together which makes it easy to swim from one to another but make sure the boat you’re diving from knows to pick you up at the last one or it could be a long swim back in current to your point of origin.
The barges are kinda neat with a sizeable winch and boiler, with the ability to just barely penetrate if you’re into that kinda thing. The Belly Dumper is fairly featureless and lies disorientingly on its side, having capsized after only one of its bottom-mounted cargo doors opened, causing it to destabilize and go over.