In search of... The wreck of the Mary Ward

By Shawn Giilck Craigleith - The Enterprise Bulletin


The wreck of the Mary Ward is proving to be as elusive to discover as the Holy Grail.

The search for the wreck has led me on to the waters of Georgian Bay several times over the last three years.

While being on the water is always enjoyable, the lack of success finding the wreck has left me feeling more than a little like the Flying Dutchman on its eternal cruise... and sometimes a lot like Gilligan in the midst of his apocryphal three-hour tour.

The search is a pleasant way to combine a mania for kayaking with a passion for history.

There's nothing quite like ghosting over a shipwreck in a small craft, pondering the awesome power of Georgian Bay and the appalling speed of its changes from mirror-calm to murderous maelstrom.

Previously, I had kayaked over several wrecks, notably at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula in Fathom Five National Marine Park. On such occasions, it's not difficult for the imagination to run a little wild as you listen for the sighing voices of the dead.

The sad tale of the Mary Ward is likely one of the best-known and most interesting of the many shipwrecks on Georgian Bay.

On Nov. 24 in 1872, in a raging early-winter gale, the ship foundered on one of the many limestone reefs infesting the Craigleith-Collingwood area after mistaking the lights of a boarding house offshore of Craigleith for Nottawasaga Island and Collingwood.

Eight people on board a lifeboat desperately trying to reach shore drowned in the shrieking black night, while only a heroic rescue effort by local fishermen led by Frank Moberly and Capt. George Collins saved the remaining survivors.

Most people, however, don't know the exact location where the wreck occurred. Like myself, most people think the ship went down and was pounded to rubble just west of Nottawasaga Island. The reality, though, is rather different.

Milligan's Reef, or the Nottawasaga Reef, as its also known, is actually straight offshore from Craigleith Provincial Park, Richard Bowering told me last week as I eyeballed making my latest attempt at finding its resting spot.

That was very helpful, as I was intent on making my way out onto the bay from Northwinds Beach at Craigleith on what passed for a decent summer's day this year.

Bowering operates Eagle Adventure Experiences, an outdoors outfitting company that rents kayaks at Northwinds. One of his "feature experiences" is a trip out to the Mary Ward.


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Mary Ward Georgian Bay Flying Dutchman Craigleith Collingwood Nottawasaga Island