Monday, October 20, 2008

The Massasauga #2: Wreck Island

Wreck Island, on the outer edge of Massasauga Park, is fully exposed to the open waters and prevailing westerly winds of Georgian Bay. As such, it has seen a lot of history, both geological and human. It is also one of the most beautiful places on the Bay. Photos don't even begin to capture this.

The Wreck Island interpretive trail runs for about 1.5 kilometres (we checked before setting out this time) through the island's interior and along its shores. Along this short distance, you can see boulders and bedrock that are billions of years old, along with dense stands of trees whose cooler microclimates nurture various species of rare and delicate plant life. It really is like enjoying all that Georgian Bay has to offer over the course of just one short walk.

Wreck Island, naturally, takes its name from the numerous ships that have met an untimely end in its vicinity. The most famous is the Waubuno, a passenger steamer that sailed out of Collingwood in the early morning hours of November 22, 1879. A brutal storm had raged the previous day, delaying her departure, but finally, just before dawn, the Waubuno's captain had seen enough. The storm was abating, and it was time to sail for Parry Sound. What ultimately happened to the Waubuno remains a mystery, but it is commonly believed, as the storm began to rage again, that she sought shelter among the rugged islands of the Bay's eastern shore. It was a fatal mistake -- as the waves rose ever higher, the Waubuno ended up being ripped apart on the rocks. Her passenger deck (and its 24 lost souls), has never been found, but her hull drifted for about eleven kilometres, finally coming to rest just off Wreck Island, where, visible from the surface, it lies in about 4.5 metres of water.

Fortunately, no such maelstrom was in store for Wreck Island on this day. As the trail opened onto the shore, we found boulders of various colours and ages jumbled up along the water. Some of these were giant "percussion boulders," which had literally been dragged along over great distances by fast-moving currents of water during the last ice age, smashing new formations into the bedrock along the way.

On the way back to camp, famished from hiking the perimeter of the island and then paddling it, we stumbled across this handy dock awkwardly plunked in the middle of nowhere to service, of all things, a lone cell phone tower. As the sun began to set, the utter tranquility of the place became ever more obvious.

But Georgian Bay is nothing if not changeable, and the weather we would wake up to the next morning would bear little resemblance to the three calm days that had preceded it. It would, in fact, look a lot more like that fateful 1879 morning that bore witness to the final cruise of the doomed Waubuno.

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