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.


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Indigenous peoples used what many have come to call the Sixth Great Lake for a variety of purposes. They used it as a trade route, carrying their excess produce to trade with other Indigenous nations living in the region. The onset of every season saw Aboriginal travellers paddling their way to and from hunting and fishing territories, or simply heading to a winter retreat. At other times the waters of the Bay were churned up by furious paddlers heading to war with their enemies. The pages that follow will illustrate that Europeans, either as settlers or explorers, would use this great waterway for much similar reasons.

Georgian Bay Sailing:
the Arrival of Europeans to the Region

The earliest known European to experience Georgian Bay sailing was the French explorer Etienne Brule who paddled down the French River with his native guides to Georgian Bay. A few years later the man who had sent Brule on his mission, Samuel Champlain followed the same route as his young assistant. This opened the region to many more explorers and missionaries who canoed and walked the shoreline of the Bay. The St. Lawrence, Ottawa, and Mattawa rivers, followed by crossing Lake Nipissing into the French River and on to Georgian Bay would become a major thoroughfare for fur traders, explorers, prospective settlers, and missionaries who were headed into the interior of North America. 

NOTE: Some anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians are learning from the Indigenous people through their oral tradition, the stories of travellers from beyond North America (Turtle Island) who visited the region many centuries ago. Where they came from, only time and further research may ultimately deliver the answer.

The following pages will chronicle the evolution of transportation, economics, tourism, and many other topics as the European settlers became entrenched in North America and Georgian Bay evolved into an important part of Canadian life.

You will read about pioneer tourism in the form of canoe trips, excursions aboard various types of commercial vessels from tall ships to schooners to tugs and barges. As the population of the Canadian colony grew so to did the usage of the waterways of area for recreational purposes. Sailing regattas, canoeing and kayaking became regular events on the lakes and rivers of the Georgian Bay region.

As vessels increased in numbers on Georgian Bay, sadly, so too, did the shipwrecks that resulted from the violent waters that were easily roiled by winds, ragged coastline and storms at every time of the year. With the growth of seagoing vessels plying the water of the region tales of heroism, tragedy and unique events grew in corresponding numbers. In the pages that follow you will read about some of these events, legends, etc.

Readers of the pages of this section will discover how Georgian Bay sailing became not only the life blood of the communities surrounding its shores, but also an important commercial and military transportation link between the interior of North America and the Atlantic region both on this continent and in Europe.

If you are ready to explore the rich history of Georgian Bay sailing don your life preserver and climb aboard.

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. 

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