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.
Little Tub Harbour, Tobermory, Ontario
Flattenned and Scattered
The Robert K. is one of four wrecks that met their fate in Little Tub Harbour.
She is likely the first one you will encounter as you suit up at the specially built platform designed to make it easier for divers to access this extremely popular site. In fact, as you walk into the water if you wander just a few steps to the left you will likely walk right over the Robert K.
This wreck is shallow and pretty broken up, with nothing particularly spectacular about it, but for ALOT of Ontario divers who do their open waters in Ontario this is the first wreck they ever see.
Also in this bay you will be able to find the broken up remains of the Alice G., Bob Foote, and Joan and Alex, along with some debris that has been dumped here over the years.
Shore dives are popular with divers everywhere, and the Stacked Hulls are one of the best in the Kingston area. It’s roughly a 20 minute swim from shore just behind the marina, off a rocky little "beach".
On the way out to the wrecks you will follow a series of lengths of pipe which magically turn into a line on your way to a huge anchor - be sure to check out the reversed swastika on the left fluke of this anchor too large and new to be from any of the wrecks here (insert mystery theme music here). Just beyond there you’ll pass a lawn chair before starting the part of the swim to the wreck.
The wrecks themselves are one small boat on top of a much larger one, or two. There are some who believe there are actually three wrecks here: your mission is to dive the site and decide for yourself. The hulls themselves are not entirely spectacular but there’s enough structure to make for an interesting dive.
Alexandria Bay, New York
Upright on starboard side
The Islander is the kind of wreck most people will do once and consider that enough - typical of most ships that burned before sinking. There is nothing truly spectacular here but it could be worth seeing once.
A 60′ section of the bow and mid-section remains, containing the engine and some frames, but little else. Divers have collected much of the broken pottery, plates, bottles and shoes that remain, and created a pile on the starboard side towards the back of what remains.
Brockville or Rockport, Ontario
The number of decent shore dives in Southern Ontario is very small, and people are always asking about a cheap alternative to renting a boat. Well, here ya go.
Just off the shore in Rockport, in front of the Boathouse Restaurant and hotel, is a site that just about anyone can do. There are the remains of an old wreck called the Sophia, a rowboat, ladder, propeller, what could be a barge, miscellaneous bottles and even a kettle.
If you are really adventurous you can make the swim to the Kinghorn from this location, but it is a lengthy swim from shore and there can be a slight current.
Brockville or Prescott, Ontario
Sunk in a collision, dynamited for practice, and in a current at shallow depth for more than a century, you’d expect that there would be little left of such a wreck. But the Rothesay believes differently. Once called the "Greyhound of the St. Lawrence" for her speed and graceful lines, the paddle-wheel steamer still makes for a nice dive, which can have some current to contend with.
The signature item of this wreck could be the sizeable twin boilers but is likely the remains of the two paddle wheels (see upper left photo). Just forward of the wheels the wreck has been flattened by explosives, and there is considerable damage to the lower stern (from the collision) and the lower portion of the bow which allows you to look up through the structure of the ship.
After colliding with a tug (which also sank) and her barge which did damage to two separate areas, it was believed the Rothesay could be raised and repaired, but high wind and waves tore the ship apart within days.
If you’re up for a challenge, see if you can find the information plaque on the wreck, which is visible in one of the photos on this page. Save Ontario Shipwrecks has produced a diagram of the site which can be seen at http://www.saveontarioshipwrecks.on.ca/Diverguides/dguide5.html - while it may appear from the drawing that the paddlewheels are still upright, that is not the case. A buoy and a line from shore make the wreck easy to find.
Near Howe Island
As shore dives go, the Cora Post is about… average. If you can access a wreck from shore it usually means it’s close to shore, and if it’s close to shore it’s probably shallow, and if it’s shallow it’s probably beaten up. Welcome to the Cora Post.
Sunk in 1891 when it collided with the steamer Prince Louise, it went down like a load of bricks, partly because it was carrying… a load of bricks (about 15,000).
The wreck was rumoured to have some relief (ie. it stuck up off the bottom more) a couple of years before we dived it for survey practice in the spring of 2005, so in a few years it could be completely covered.
The site is not particularly spectacular, but you can see the outline of the top of the hull, some of her cargo, a bowl of sorts, windlass, and what looks like a barrel stay.
Little Tub Harbour Tobermory, Ontario
Upright with a list to Starboard
It’s not much of a stretch of the imagination, but I’m guessing this is likely the most dived wreck in the entire Fathom Five National Marine Park.
Its easy shore access, platform for suiting up, and shallow depth make this an exceptional site for beginners, conveniently located close to the Parks Canada office where divers must pick up a tag and pay a minimal fee for diving in the park.
There are actually the remains for three boats near this site, with this one being in the best shape.
The stern of the Alice G and the boilers are the best parts.
Park officials, in their efforts to track the rate of deterioration, have gone a little overboard with putting markers and measuring devices on this wreck but you get the idea how much they want to monitor these resources.
Being a small ship that has been under the waves since 1927 it is rather broken up. Once you’ve covered the major items of the site it can be interesting to check out the details like nuts, bolts, nails, building techniques, or try to envision what the wreck was like in a former life.
On the plus-side, after having dived in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario it is amazing to see WOOD on a wooden wreck like you can in Tobermory. If that sounds a little strange… take a look at the pictures on this page, and those on other pages… look Ma…. no zebra mussels.