Chicora: Touring the Great Lakes is the first part of an 1871 story about the Chicora a cruise ship's voyage touring the Great Lakes.
Many local sailors set sail on Georgian Bay as soon as they can each year. Although many Great Lakes ports welcome a few commercial vessels each year, pleasure craft constitutes most of the water traffic in most areas.
These vessels usually do not travel far from their home docking facilities. Most are used by fishermen, while others are used for an afternoon's sail around the bay. However, in the past, Georgian Bay and the Great Lakes provided a pleasant means of transportation for the tourists and other travellers of that era. One of the most well-known of these vessels was the Chicora.
Recently I re-read the memoirs of a passenger who sailed aboard the Chicora touring the Great Lakes in the summer of 1871 and I was struck with a sense of longing that today, we too could enjoy such a wonderful trip.
Tourist travel on the Great Lakes was beginning to become popular in the 1870s. Sixty-five passengers embarked on the July 15, 1871 trip on the Chicora. Fifty of those voyagers had purchased round trip tickets, suggesting perhaps that although Marquette, on the south shore of Lake Superior, was the destination, it was merely the mid-point of a leisurely summer sail.
The Chicora left Collingwood in the late afternoon, and the memoirs of this early tourist described the first leg of the trip as follows:
“The bay was beautifully calm, and the motion of the vessel almost imperceptible except to those who watched the shores gliding by us."
The vessel arrived at Leith in the early evening to “wood up". After about an hour of loading the vessel with fuel for the trip, the Chicora sailed into the port of Owen Sound.
As the ship sailed towards Owen Sound, it was night time. And, the evening scene created an unforgettable sight for the passengers aboard the Chicora. Mr. Coyne wrote in 1871 as he approached the town of Owen Sound on that warm July evening. He wrote that the illumination of the night fires "gave one the impression of a large city seen by night, when all the houses are illuminated".
After a three hour stop, the Chicora left port, sailing all night and arriving at Killarney which was also known at that time by its Indigenous name Shebaunaning. The Indigenous meaning of this village's name is "here is a channel". After a brief layover, the tourists continued their voyage, sailing through the many islands which form a barrier between the north channel and the rest of Georgian Bay. After sailing 25 miles, the vessel docked at Little Current on Manitoulin Island.
Today, as one travels around Georgian Bay, and elsewhere, it is not difficult to find shops selling native crafts and goods for the benefit of tourists looking for a memento of their vacation. This was also true for the voyagers aboard the Chicora in the summer of 1871. They reported finding near the wharf a shop with
"great quantities of Indian work, such as canoes and boxes made of birch bark and adorned with porcupine quills, baskets and mats made of grass, etc., (which) are sold to passengers on the steamers that call here"
In the afternoon, the Chicora set sail along the North Channel. This leg of the voyage perhaps broke the tranquility of the voyage as it was known as a rough passage area. And, the passengers on this trip were not to be "disappointed" as they experienced some stiff breezes and rough water. While some experienced "sea sickness", one passenger boasted that he had crossed the ocean several times and had never been sick. Therefore, he predicted that these waters would not get the better of him. However, 'late in the afternoon he was seen rapidly disappearing with a look of agony on his face, and evidently one of the most retched of the wretched"
Soon the waters calmed, and the Chicora arrived at Bruce Mines for a refueling stop and then the tourists continued on their voyage.
The information used in this article came from a presentation made to the Ontario Historical Society in 1931 by J.H. Coyne, who 60 years earlier, had sailed aboard the Chicora in July, 1871.
To read about the continuation of the tour aboard the Chicora please go to part 2.
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