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Homeschooling-Lessons of Opportunity: The Shipwreck

Updated on October 28, 2015

Summer Geology Lesson

Our kids were participating in a summer craft class program for the local children in Silverwater, Ontario. My wife Francine and our children made friends with Mrs. Smith the instructor, who was a long time Manitoulin Island resident.

We decided to spend an afternoon hiking along the rocky beach at Cook's Dock with her. This was a moment to kill two birds with one stone. The kids would have a chance to study the local rocks with a knowledgeable guide and we could pay a social visit to a friend. The afternoon provided us with more than we imagined it would.

Well into our walk, with our hands full of small worn stones and sticks chewed by the local beaver population, we spotted a big rusty chunk of metal sticking out of the sand between the rocks. Mrs. Smith didn't know what it was, but she suggested we take it along so her husband could have a look at it. Eighty plus year old Mr. Smith was born and raised on the island and might be able to shed a little light on what we had found. In the photo above, I'm holding it on my lap.

Mr. Smith had no difficulty identifying our mystery find. He said it was a steam valve from an old ship. Back when he was a boy a ship bringing supplies to the local communities caught fire in the bay and sank. He said if you went out onto the bay in a boat when the water was calm you could see the wreck resting on the bottom of the bay. We never got the opportunity to go out in a boat to have a look, but if you look at the google satellite screenshot I've included with the article you can make out part of the outline of her hull in the water well off the dock. It's not easy to see but it is there.

He told us that the boat was also carrying a new pastor and his family for the local church. No one was killed in the sinking but the church piano or organ went down with the ship. I haven't been able to confirm many of the details he gave us. Not a great deal of information is available online for this shipwreck. The disaster was a local problem and there were no casualties, so of all the boats on the bottom of Lake Huron this one hasn't gotten that much attention.

He also mentioned an abandoned village not far from Cook's Dock. We found that on another hike. There wasn't much to see though. We were able to identify a few heavily overgrown basements and that was it.

We left the steam valve with him. If I remember correctly, it was donated to the museum in Meldrum Bay where there are the remains of an old sailing ship once thought to be the Griffon on display.

Click the Satellite option on the map

Spot the Wreck

If you switch the map above to satellite view, it is possible to see a faint outline of part of the hull of the S.S. Michipicoten. Most of my friends at work were able to make it out.

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The S.S. Michipicoten

The Owen Sound Transportation Company Limited was formed in 1921 and acquired a vessel named the S.S. City of Windsor. They renamed it S.S. Michipicoten an Ojibwe word meaning "big bluffs".

The ship was put into service as a freighter between Owen Sound and Sault Ste. Marie. Back in the 1920s many of the communities along the north shore of Lake Huron and on Manitoulin Island were quite remote. These communities relied on this service for many of their supplies as well as shipping their own goods to markets further south.

On October 11, 1927 the Michipicoten caught fire on its way from Gore Bay and sank off Cook's Dock before unloading her freight. To lose a ship load of supplies that late in the shipping season was a serious loss for those communities.

I did locate a photograph of the ship but the picture is from a private collection. Because of its age it could well be considered in the public domain but I don't want to break any copyright laws. I have begged my artist wife to do a drawing of it, which I would add at a later date. Failing that I may attempt to do an artist rendition myself.

A later great lakes freighter named S.S. Michipicoten was built in 1952. It was sold for scrap, but sank in a storm, while being towed across the Atlantic Ocean in 1972. I remember seeing the 1952 namesake traversing the Welland Canal, while I was growing up.

Sources included Wikipedia, https://www.flickr.com/photos/23655958@N03/3271107470/, and the account from our friend Mr. Smith who has since passed away.

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