The 45th anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior was recently observed on November 10, 2020, and we thought it fitting to share some interesting facts about shipwrecks on the Great Lakes.
Shipwrecks in November
November is the most feared months for shipwrecks due to the seasonal weather changes. Cold northern air begins to blow down from Canada and crosses the warmer lake water. The large expanse of water allows severe weather to build unchecked, which can be unpredictable and have disastrous consequences for ships that can’t find safe harbor.
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call ‘gitche gumee’
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early
– Gordon Lightfoot, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
There are an estimated 6,000 shipwrecks on the Great Lakes. The earliest known occurred in 1679 when Le Griffon set sail with a load of furs. It passed through the Straits of Mackinac and was never heard from again. The oldest ship to be discovered is the HMS Ontario, a British warship that was sunk in Lake Ontario in 1780, found in 2008.
Underwater Preserves in the Great Lakes
The bottomland of the Great Lakes is a time capsule of another era, with thousands of lost schooners, steamers, and barges carefully preserved by the cold, fresh waters. They’re also now preserved by the Michigan Underwater Preserve System, created by legislation in 1980 that preserves them for generations by making it a felony to remove portholes, anchors, even a fork from a wreck within. Some 2,300 square miles are preserved in 12 preserves, with many wrecks shallow enough to explore through snorkeling or glass-bottom boat tours that bring stories to life through onboard narration.*
*information courtesy of Michigan.org
Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point in the Upper Peninsula has artifacts and information about the preservation and restoration of many wreck sites. Open in the summer months, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum provides a fascinating chronology of the more significant wrecks in a fascinating, absorbing, and respectful setting. It is located at the tip of Whitefish Point on M-123 north from Paradise, Michigan.
Alpena’s Underwater Museum: Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary
Of all the landmarks and attractions, the combination of history and geography is most striking in what lies just under the water. Enveloping the coast of Alpena and the surrounding areas of Thunder Bay and Lake Huron, the Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary has been accumulating a large number and variety of shipwrecks since the 1800s.
The Great Lakes’ fresh water and cold temperatures have kept these history lessons – many of them wooden – surprisingly intact, and Alpena offers several different ways to explore and learn more about these ships and their remains.
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