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Ship Wrecks on the Great Lakes

Updated: Jul 23, 2022

AUTHOR: Nathan Sanders

The Lady Slipper has journeyed through the Great Lakes region - from Lake Erie to Lake Huron, down the St. Claire and Detroit Rivers, across Lake Erie and through the Welland Canal to Lake Ontario. While sailing these beautiful and incredible waters, the crew mused over the incredible amount of ship traffic that goes through these lakes, and the incredible number of ships that are no longer able to traffic these waters.

There have been more than 8,000 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, and while we did not sail through Lake Superior, we would be remiss not to mention the Edmund Fitzgerald, the last and biggest ship to go down in the region.

The Edmund Fitzgerald

However, it is Lake Erie that has the morbid distinction of being the lake with the most shipwrecks, and we were made acutely aware of this fact by the plaques on the seawall of Leamington, Ontario.

Plaque showing the shipwrecks in the Pelee Passage on Lake Erie.

Just to the southeast of Leamington is Pelee Passage. To the north is Pelee Point and to the south is Pelee Island. The narrow body of water between the two is very shallow, narrow, and due to the shifting sands at the lake bottom, is incredibly difficult to chart navigable waters. Of the more than 2000 ships that Lake Erie has claimed, Pelee Point has contributed to its fair share. These ships were the victim of severe weather, unfamiliar shallow ground, and in some cases, at the mercy of previous shipwrecks!

Along its seawall, Leamington has paid tribute to these vessels that met their end at Pelee Point, telling the stories of many of them. Some of the stories are quite tragic, and as crew of a ship who happened to be a day or two away of traversing Pelee Point, they were sober reminders that of the importance of good weather and a sound navigation plan.

In many cases, the ships that met their demise at Pelee Point were victims of fierce gales and treacherous storms. In other cases, they simply ran aground or were hit by other ships. But it seemed that in the most tragic circumstances, it was a secondary disaster after the wreck that resulted in the most lives lost.

Most of the time, broken oil lamps or knocked over lanterns caused fires on these unfortunate vessels, which resulted in the captain and crew having to abandon ship and being lost to the sea. The crew has confirmed with the Capitan of the Lady Slipper on several occasions that there are no oil lamps or lanterns on board.

The Great Lakes region is incredibly beautiful, the sailing is superb, and the scenery is amazing. However, these magnificent bodies of water are also dangerous, as many ships and crew can attest. The Lady Slipper and her crew have managed safe passage there, but many did not.

Here are some of the stories, courtesy of the seawall of Leamington, Ontario, of those ships that met their end near Pelee Passage.


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