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Scuba Diving on the Joseph C. Morrison January 25, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks.
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Diving this wreck was long overdue for me. The Morrison is the closest real shipwreck to my house. It’s an easy shore dive in Lake Simcoe about 50 minutes drive from my home, although it’s a good way off shore and traditionally swum underwater. Depth is about 30 feet, which is about double the usual visibility, and with the wreck fairly broken up it can be hard to find all the bits.

Lake Simcoe’s tour boat industry in the 19th century has quite a colourful history. It used to be cottage country for the city of Toronto, and for some it still is, although that function has expanded greatly into much more distant locations. The Morrison is one of many “side wheelers” that plied the waters from town to town on the lake. One night in August 1857, while docked in Barrie, Ontario, the Morrison caught fire and burned to the waterline – with passengers who were sleeping on the ship fleeing for their lives. Fortunately there were no fatalities. It drifted offshore and sank. Parts of the wreck was salvaged shortly thereafter, and the remainder lay there until being discovered by divers in 1974.

It is now the most popular wreck dive in the Lake. I was pleased to note that my dive on August 16, 2007 was exactly 150 years and 12 days after it sank. Several members of the club met that evening, and my buddy Kelly, who was also acting as Divemaster (she was also a Divemaster candidate) and doing a fine job at it, entered the water at 7:30Pm and followed the line out to the wreck.

Clad in a 3mm wet suit with gloves but no hood, I’m surprised I spent a whole 39 minutes in the 17C (63F) water. It was quite chilly. In my technical training I was practicing the frog kick and still wasn’t going to fast with it, but Kelly had trouble keeping up likely because she was pulling the dive flag on a float behind it.

I’ve done the dive a couple of times since and its main claim to worth is it’s proximity to my home, but there’s a boiler to see, and if you look around a bit, you can find the wheel, although I didn’t see on this dive.

Unfortunately I lost another piece of equipment on the dive – a nice UK C8 dive light. I couldn’t figure out how I did it, but when I got home it wasn’t in my car and I never saw it again. Two dives, and I’d lost a light, a pair of gloves, and a hood. Not good,  but after that I got much more careful in keeping track of my stuff.

Here’s the text of an article in the Oswego Daily Journal from what looks like May 2, 1855 talking about the launching of the Morrison, which somewhat contradicts the account from the other link in this post which states the Morrison was “just 3 years old when it sank”, although perhaps the latter article meant 3 years sincel the hull was laid down, and not since the launching. Two other things I also note from the article are (1) that the launching of a ship in Lake Simcoe would hold enough interest to readers in far away Oswego New York to be published, and (2) that the article implies that in early May the lake had only just become free of ice, which is much later in the season than it clears these days!

“The Toronto Colonist says Lake Simcoe is now entirely free from ice. The steamer Joseph C. Morrison in rapidly approaching completion, and will be ready for the summer travel. In the mean time, the steamer Morning will run from Bell Ewart to Orillia—and upon the completion of the new steamer, we understand she will be employed carrying freight and towing. The hull of the Joseph C. Morrison was built under the superintendence of Capt. Chisholm, and the upper work is being proceeded with under Mr. Porter, the company’s superintendent of repairs. The engine and boiler were built by Gartshore & Co., Dundas.  The fitting up, which will be of the most elegant description, has been entrusted to Messrs. Jacques and Hay, of the city. She will be under the command of Capt. Fellows, who, we are sure will be very popu!ar.”

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