This Month's Diver Magazine Looks At Canada's best sites from sea to shining sea

Best Dive Sites In CanadaThis month's Diver Magazine is completely dedicated to showing divers were the BEST spots to dive in Canada.  I contributed with the best sites in Ontario.  Due to space reason, not all the sites made it into print.  What follows are  all my 5 favourite spots to dive in Ontario - two that you would not have seen if you  read the Diver Magazine article. 

Best/Easiest Shore Dive in Ontario

What:         The wreck of the twin side-wheeler Rothesay

Where:         Shipwreck near the shore. North side of the St Lawrence River. Prescott, Ontario.  Town of Prescott has made it easy for divers to visit the wreck. There is free parking, a port-a-potty and a privacy wall for changing. This park for divers is at the intersection of Highway 2 and Merwyn Lane, west of Prescott. Divers can see the markers for the wreck from the riverside park.

Why:                  The 61 metre long Rothesay is a very popular checkout site for divers from Quebec, Ottawa, Kingston and upper New York State. Free. Ample parking.  There is a strong iron staircase leading right to the water’s edge and directly facing the wreck. The site is well marked. It is a 10-metre dive and the visibility is very good. The Rothesay is an interesting 19th century wooden shipwreck with parts of its hull still intact.

This is a dive site that is busy year round. Night dives. Winter dives. Checkouts and photo shoots, keep the parking lot full every weekend. This is the site preferred by picture taking divers in the know. 

The Rothesay was launched in 1867 and sank in 1889 after colliding with a tugboat.  In the early part of the 20th century cadets, from the nearby Royal Military College in Kingston, blasted away part of her deck.  Now much of the ship’s upper decking lies scattered on the rocky bottom around her hull.  The wreck attracts large schools of fish. The Rothesay is considered a very safe dive site.

She is a scant 50 metres from shore. There are floating markers on the bow and stern and a line run from the midsection to land. She is easy to find and is usually void of current. In the summer and fall the water is warm and the Viz usually good. In winter, with ice floes drifting by, dry suits are preferred.

How:          Change in the riverside park maintained by the town. Take the strongly enforced steps down to the River and walk in.  There is a rope that leads right to the wreck.  The site is well out of the shipping lanes – you might hear the big grain boats chugging up and down the Seaway but rest assured they are a long way away.

More Information:


The Wreck of the Arabia

What:          One of the most picturesque deep water wrecks in the Fathom Five Park in Tobermory.  The Arabia is a classic 19th century wooden barque.  She is found in deep and cold water, and as a result the shipwreck is in very good condition. The bow section and bowsprit are intact. The windlass and anchors make for perfect pictures. The masts lie on the deck and the rock bottom nearby.

The Arabia was built in 1853. She was an ocean going 3 masted barque some 40 metres long.  She regularly sailed between Ontario and Europe. She sank due north of the town of Tobermory (which is situated at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula) and now lies on the bottom of Georgian Bay in an upright position. 

She is the poster child for Fathom Five diving – Fathom Five being the name of the shipwreck underwater park maintained by the Federal Government in the waters of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay near Tobermory.

This is considered the best wreck dive in the province. However, prior to advent of drysuits and robust all-temperature regulators for sport divers, there were a large number of dive deaths on the Arabia and she was labeled a death ship. The cause of the accidents was in part because of the depth 37+ metres, the numbing cold (temperature at bottom can approach zero), currents and a lack of light. As a result Parks Canada, which administers the Park, lists the Arabia as only recommended for advanced diving groups under the direction of a dive master.

Where:         Most Ontario divers consider Tobermory the end of the earth.  The village is at the tip of The Bruce Peninsula. There is a highway running from Tobermory to Owen Sound and eventually, 4 hours later, Toronto.  Tobermory is also the terminus for a ferry service that links the mainland with the huge Manitoulin Island, and on up to the city of Sudbury

The Arabia itself is near Echo Island. Because the Arabia lies in the Fathom Five Park all divers wanting to visit the Arabia must register with the park and purchase passes.  There are hotels, restaurants, campsites, public launch ramps, dive charter boats, a dive boat and a hyperbaric chamber in the village of Tobermory.

How:                  The Fathom Five dive registration area is open 7-days a week. Annual tags may be purchased for $20. Two day and one day passes are also available. Divers can use their own boat but must have passes prior to getting in the water. The sites are well policed by Parks Canada. As well there are charter boats servicing the wreck. It is strongly recommended that divers reserve their spot on the boats.  Weather can be bad (hence all the shipwrecks) and as a result, the Arabia is not always open for diving.  However there are other wrecks in the park and there is good shore diving too!  Diving is all-year round. Dry suits are recommended.

Dive Site: The Caves

What:         There is virtually no sport cave diving in Ontario. What few caves and sumps that can be dived are considered dangerous, cold and difficult to locate, with little to see or to enjoy.  In Fathom Five Park there is a site called the Caves that is dove either from shore or by boat.  The Caves are in reality a large Grotto with some areas open to the skies above.  The Grotto was created over time by waves crashing into the limestone wall that lines the shore.
Dive boat moored near the entrance to the "Caves"

The entrance to the Caves is through a passage 6 metres underwater. It leads to an open area inside the cliff and there are short hidden passageways leading off from the Grotto.  The visibility is always good. Recommended for all levels of diving experience, and snorkelers too. 

It is a safe, picturesque dive, except on a hot summer’s day when people like to climb down to the edge of the caves and cannonball into the water!

WHERE:         This a favourite second dive for visitors to the Fathom Five Park.  The caves are east of Tobermory along the limestone cliffs that line the south shore of Georgian Bay.  Divers and snorkelers can take a half hour hike from the Cyprus Lake campgrounds along a well-marked trail to the cavern, but most prefer visiting the site by boat.
Most Overlooked Diving Region in the Province

WHERE:         Prince Edward County, Lake Ontario.  PEC is a large peninsula jutting out into Lake Ontario.  In the 1ate 1800s, a canal was dug separating the land mass from the mainland,  making the area technically an island complete with 500kms of shoreline.  The Canadian Forces Trenton Air Base, Trenton and Picton are on the island.  The cities  of Toronto, Belleville, Kingston and Ottawa are relatively close.

Ignored for most of the 20th century, Prince Edward County (PEC) has quietly become an artists’ retreat, a new wine region, a boater’s paradise and a centre for deepwater sport and technical wreck diving.  In the waters off Prince Edward County shipwrecks continue to be discovered, and, more and more divers are coming to see and photograph a number of well marked sites.

WHAT:   According to the Prince Edward County tourist board over two-thirds of the shipping accidents that took place during the early steam era took place east of the island.

Due to this large number of sinkings, the area has been dubbed the Graveyard of Lake Ontario.  PEC’s imaginative tourist board refer to it as the Marysburgh Vortex because of the number of unexplained marine disasters recorded (and also because of many reported UFO sightings too!)

There are over two dozen identified shipwrecks that divers have noted.  As well, there are new wreck discoveries that are being studied and photographed in hopes of identifying the remains.  There is one dive lodge – Ducks Dive – operating in Prince Edward County at the southeastern tip of the island. There are public launches throughout the PEC. Dive shops from Kingston, weather permitting, will head down the St Lawrence and into the Lake to visit these wrecks.

Best known for their intactness, beauty and visibility are: Annie Falconer – a 2 masted 37 metre long schooner that sank  in 1904 close to False Duck Island. This upright wreck sits in the mud rock bottom at a depth of 27 metres. She is in good condition complete with deadeyes, anchors and the ship’s wheel.
City of Sheboygan - photo Warren Lo
The City of Sheboygan was a 45 metre long 3 masted schooner  built 141 years ago.  She sank in 1915, with considerable loss of life.  At 32-meters, this is a deep wreck, located near Amherst Island (between PEC and Kingston). Because of the cold and the depth, she is in amazing condition with parts of her masts, riggings and railings all still on board.  There is a thick layer of zebra mussels covering her deck winch. The wreck attracts dive boats from both Kingston and Prince Edward County, dependent on the weather.
The Kate Eccles is a new wreck as far as Lake Ontario sailing vessel sinkings go.  She went down in 1922, and at the time was one of the last sailing schooners working the waters around Prince Edward County and Kingston.  She sits upright, in 33 metres of  dark cold water near the southeastern end of PEC (Point Traverse).

The Kingston based Preserve Our Wrecks  has been maintaining a buoy on the 2-masted schooner, and as a result it is a popular wreck for dive groups from  both  Prince Edward County and Kingston.  This is only for divers equipped to dive deep in extreme cold water conditions.
The ship itself sits on a stone and mud bottom, more out of the mud than in it.  The deck, covered in zebra mussels in mostly intact. The bowsprit is still attached and points menancingly to approaching divers. Divers have recovered artifacts from inside the ship and from a debris field beside the ship. Pots, china and tools have been left on the deck for divers to see!

How:         There are dive charter services in Kingston and Prince Edward County that offer trips to the wrecks from late Spring to the Fall. There are hotels, campgrounds and cottages for rent throughout the region. There are launch ramps on PEC and up and down the St. Lawrence River.


Where:         There is no good reason that the huge island of Isle Royale is part of the United States.  The 60km long island, located at the west end of Lake Superior is just off shore of what is clearly Ontario.  The City of Thunder Bay is nearby. And, while we are complaining about our land-grabbing neighbours, let us say that the island is about 16 kms from Minnesota yet is part of Michigan, 80 kms away!
5 Finger Tug. Photo - National Parks Service, Isle Royale
If it wasn’t for the map challenged British back in 1783, and overly generous Ojibwa tribal elders (1842 Treaty of La Pointe), divers wouldn’t have to pack a passport to visit this cold water wreck Mecca.

Isle Royale is a huge island, third largest in the US, and second only in size in the Great Lakes to Mantioulin.  The land was rich in copper and as a result there was considerable marine traffic to the island in the 19th century. And, because of treacherous close-to-the-surface rocks and unpredictable weather (remember “the gales Of November” often come early) a lot of ships have sunk close to shore.
Henry Chisholm wreck. Diver examines the  engine.  
180ft down. Photo NPS, Isle Royale

WHAT: The US government has created a National Park and protects the wrecks found underwater nearby.  There are nine notable shipwrecks that are buoyed and dove by charter boats and individual divers.  The diving is always cold, the water is clear and the experience is memorable.

The wrecks of Isle Royale include bulk freighters, passenger steamers. These large ships – the largest is 175 metres long - went down between 1885 and 1948. All are close to shore and most have either the bow or stern close to the surface of the water. You can start 6 metres and work your way down to depths approaching 55-metres. Seasoned dry suit divers in-the-know ask for the wreck of Henry Chisholm, because it is deep and much of her oversized power plant is still intact.

The Chisholm was built in 1980 and sunk in 1897 near the Rock of Ages Lighthouse.  She was carrying a load of barley and was towing a smaller boat.  The boat broke away during a storm – the Henry Chisholm sank while looking for her.

 She is 88 metres in length and built out of wood. According to the US Park services a dive on the Chisholm starts at 42-metres and goes to 50-metres and beyond.  The steam engine, drive shaft and prop are intact and are the high point of the dive.
The Deck of Chisholm. 130 ft. Photo NPS Isle Royale

The Chisholm is a two-fer!  The remains of the wooden hull are scattered amongst the remains of another diveable shipwreck – the Passenger Steamer Cumberland.  She sank in 1877 and her boiler and side-wheel rest in much shallower water nearby. Both the Chisholm and the Cumberland have the same

How:         There is ferry service to the island from both Michigan and Minnesota.  There is camping on the island and a number of lodges.  Divers must bring their own gear - including a portable generator to refill tanks.

The Park registers all divers wanting to visit the wrecks.  They warn divers that Lake Superior never gets warm and that temperatures below 20 metres are close to freezing.  Ontario divers can visit the island provided they clear customs before entering the water.
There are three dive boats that offer trips – including live aboard service  – to Isle Royale.  Some of the charters accommodate tech divers.  Charters tend to sell out quickly.
Minnesota 507-236-2280

Superior Trips
(651) 635-6438


Popular posts from this blog

Believe it Or Not Toronto will soon have a Ripley's Aquarium

Omni TV vibrates to a Caribbean beat on Saturdays

Art Exhibition Opening Trifecta! Sunday Afternoon in PAMA