Fascinating Shipwrecks In The Great Lakes

shipwreck lake ontario
Hans Neleman / Getty Images

When it comes to shipwrecks, often people assume that they occur out in choppy waters in the ocean, but freshwater lakes have claimed quite a few ships over the years as well. The Great Lakes are the largest fresh-water bodies in North America and are a key vessel of transportation for many ships. Over the years, they’ve become home to quite a few shipwrecks, some of which you are still able to dive to and explore. Follow along as we roundup some of the most fascinating shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. 

9. Charles S. Price (Lake Huron)

Of several ships that foundered in the Great Lakes Storm of 1913, the Charles S. Price was perhaps the most intriguing. A huge steel freighter was spotted upside down on November 10, 1913. The bow was about 30 feet clear of the water, but the stern dipped down so far it was impossible to determine the ship’s length. Originally presumed to be the SS Regina, it was determined to be the Price two days before it finally sank, on November 17. The wreck, located near Lexington Harbor, MI, was discovered in the 1960s. It’s one of the most popular dives in the Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve, with the propeller reachable at a depth of approximately 47 feet, and its collapsing hull at 64 feet.

8. HMS St. Lawrence (Lake Ontario)

Although sunk intentionally rather than wrecked, HMS St. Lawrence is a popular dive because it’s one of the few remaining warships from the War of 1812. A first-of-the-line warship, St. Lawrence gave the British undisputed command of Lake Ontario. St. Lawrence had to be assembled in Kingston, ON because ships of this class were too large to navigate the Saint Lawrence River. The ship never saw battle and was decommissioned in 1815, after only a few months in service. In January 1832, the ship was sold and its hull was used as part of a pier for years, until it was sunk in 30 feet of water. That makes it a great dive for anyone just getting their feet wet in the diving world!

7. Miztec and Myron (Lake Superior)

The Myron and Miztec are located very near each other in Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve. How the 2 ships came to be there is a most interesting tale: The Myron sank in a storm in 1919, 2 years before the Miztec met her end. The Miztec was with the Myron, but amazingly survived. In 1921, the Miztec, still in service, was being towed by another ship. When a storm sprang up, the crew decided to head for shore, but the tow line broke, stranding the Miztec. The wreck was originally discovered near a shipping lane, but it’s believed that the Miztec’s cargo of salt dissolved and the ship moved along the lake bottom to deeper water, eventually coming to rest near her longtime companion, the Myron.

6. Lady Elgin (Lake Michigan)

Considered one of the most horrific maritime accidents ever recorded, the Lady Elgin sank after colliding with the schooner Augusta of Osewgo on September 8, 1860, during a gale-force storm in the early hours of the morning. Almost 400 people passed in the accident, leading to public outcry and a change in regulations, as well as exaggerated rumors, such as the claim that 1,000 children were orphaned by the wreck. To this day, the sinking of this sidewheel steamship holds the record for greatest loss of life on the open waters of the Great Lakes. Today, the wreck site is privately owned, although divers can obtain a permit to explore the remains of the Lady Elgin where they lie, under 50 to 60 feet of water.

5. C.B. Lockwood (Lake Erie)

For decades, the exact location of the wreck of the C.B. Lockwood has been known to researchers, however the ship isn’t there. The Lockwood, a 285-foot wooden steamer, sank during a storm on October 13, 1902. The ship was sailing between Duluth, MN, and Buffalo, NY, when it sank just east of Cleveland, OH, 13.5 miles out of Fairpoint Harbor. Within days, the wreck had been found and was marked with buoys. Then the Lockwood disappeared. For years, divers and researchers were confused; where could the wreck have gone? The answer is that she sank again, beneath the floor of Lake Erie, into a glacier-formed valley. You can still dive to the site, although there isn’t much to see since the lake bottom has buried the remains under sediment and silt.

4. SS Regina (Lake Huron)

The SS Regina was found in 1986, upside-down in approximately 80 feet of water but largely intact, and has since become popular with divers. The ship was lost for more than 50 years after her sinking during the Great Lakes Storm of 1913. After encountering stormy seas near Pointe aux Barques, MI, Regina turned south toward Port Huron, MI, but got snagged on a shoal and began taking on water. As they approached Lexington, MI, the crew weighed anchor, then evacuated. Only the captain remained aboard, and ultimately went down with his ship when she capsized, just 35 minutes after anchoring. Unfortunately, the crew didn’t escape the waters of Lake Huron, however; only 12 bodies were ever found, 10 washed ashore and 2 with a capsized lifeboat.

3. John B. Cowle (Lake Superior)

The “tin pan” John B. Cowle sailed Lake Superior for 7 years, until disaster struck in 1909. A heavy fog had settled on the waters near Whitefish Point, so the Cowle’s captain ordered her half-speed and began issuing fog signals. Another ship, the Isaac M. Scott, came upon the Cowle at full speed. Despite the Scott’s captain calling for reverse and a hard left, the Scott rammed the Cowle, splitting her in half. The ship sank in 3 minutes, taking 14 of her 24-man crew with her. The wreck lies just 1.5 miles from Whitefish Point, 220 feet deep, which is a depth suitable for experienced divers only. Despite being looted upon discovery in 1972, the Cowle remains one of the most well preserved Lake Superior wrecks.

2. Mary Alice B. (Lake Huron)

The Mary Alice B. lies 92 feet under the waters of Lake Huron in the Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve and she ended up in this spot due to suspicious circumstances. The wreck of the Depression-era tugboat is a popular one for divers, as many parts of the ship are still accessible, including the wheelhouse and the wheel is even still intact! The tug was a fair-sized ship built in Duluth, MN, in 1931. In 1962, she passed into private ownership and continued working until September 5, 1975. That day, she was being towed behind another tug and sank for no apparent reason. Some reports say the hull was breached; when the wreck was located in 1992, open valves were spotted, which indicates the ship was sunk purposefully, although the owner claimed he had no reason to sink her.

1. SS Edmund Fitzgerald (Lake Superior)

Who hasn’t heard of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald? It was made famous in Gordon Lightfoot’s 1976 song. The Fitzgerald is both the largest ship to have sunk on the Great Lakes and the last, sinking on November 10, 1975. Though the wreck was found 4 days later, the depth of 530 feet makes it impossible to dive. Despite this, the Fitzgerald has been the site of many surveys, because nobody knows what happened. Theories abound, but all that’s known for sure is that she sank abruptly, about 17 miles from Whitefish Bay. The night of November 10 was a stormy one, and though the Fitzgerald had reported difficulty earlier, she issued no distress calls before her 29-man crew went down with the ship.

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