the Great Lakes -Part 1

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 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 provide 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.


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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 Chicora's July 15, 1871 trip. 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. 

Chicora: Touring the Great Lakes -
the first leg of the journey

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.

More Georgian Bay Sailing Stories

Lighthouses were vital to Georgian Bay and Great Lakes sailing traffic. They assisted mariners in making their sailing a safe venture. 

Recreational Boating on Georgian Bay  There is a long tradition of recreational boating on Georgian Bay. Reports indicate that regattas were being held at Owen Sound as early as 1852.

Great Lakes Recreational Boating  Great Lakes recreational boating has been a popular pastime in the summertime in the Georgian Bay region for many years.

Yachts on Georgian Bay  A history of yachts on Georgian Bay.

Georgian Bay Ferry Boat Service between Tobermory and Manitoulin Island has a history that is more than a century old. Today, the Chi-Cheemaun continues that tradition.

Ferry boat service after 1930 increased in activity between Tobermory at tip of the Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island

1867 Election Meant Sailing to the Soo. There was only one polling station in the Georgian Bay region in the first election after Canadian Confederation and that was in Sault Ste. Marie!

A Flowerpot Island boat trip takes you to one of the many Georgian Bay islands  dot the landscape of the waters around Tobermory at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula. One island features not only unique landforms and vegetation, but also a mysterious indigenous Romeo and Juliet tale of romance.

Chicora the first stage of an 1871 Great Lakes tour aboard a cruise ship on Georgian Bay.

Chicora the final stage of an 1871 cruise a foggy voyage on the Great Lakes.

Historic Vacations: King's Royal Park  Historic Vacations: King's Royal Park, opulent adventures for the wealthy of the day. It was the late 19th century and tourism was beginning to bloom.

Sailing the Lake Huron Shoreline is a step back in history and a delightfully scenic trip. But beware of the big waves that can arise anytime!

Sailing Lake Huron Shoreline Part 2 takes us through the most treacherous part of our voyage and also a most interesting part as we visit some unique islands.

Georgian Bay Sailing Georgian Bay Sailing history is a rich tapestry of tales of heroism, tragedy, and exploration. Sailing vessels traversing the rugged waters of Georgian Bay predate the arrival of European explorers and settlers.

Boating for Recreation on Georgian Bay and beyond had an early start once settlement began in the region. As early as the 1850s pleasure crafts were popular. 

  1. History Articles
  2. Georgian Bay Sailing
  3. Chicora Touring the Great Lakes-Part1

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