History of Shipping in the Parry Sound Area

by Wendy Shroeder

Shipping was a lucrative industry in the Parry Sound area. Fishing, tourism and exportation of goods such as iron ore and lumber kept the water filled with boats.


Passenger ships such as the Waubuno and the Midland City brought people from Collingwood, Midland, Penetanguishene, the Muskokas, and from ports to the North, both to visit and to settle. Commercial ships like the Dalwarnic and the Canataco were regular sights at Depot Harbour.

In 1898, J.R. Booth, looking for a terminus for his Canada Atlantic Railway line, built Depot Harbour, seven miles west of Parry Sound, on Parry Island. It was to become a major port for shipping between the western part of the continent and the east. As many as four huge cargo ships could be seen lined at Depot Harbour's wharf, awaiting loading.

The fishing industry was very prosperous in the area. Between the 1880s and the 1930, The Mink Islands, in Georgian Bay, three hours northwest of Parry Sound by tugboat, were home to several fishing companies. On a daily basis boats loaded with fish would return to the Minks to drop off their catch. Boats would then take the fish into Parry Sound, where they would be sold to locals, or to export companies. At one time there were 105 people living on the Minks.

Schooners arrived at the lumber mills as soon as the companies were operating. Lumber was exported to the United States and to England. Steam ships replaced the schooners in the late 1800's, and the schooners were converted into barges, towed along behind the steamers. This way, companies could haul twice as much wood in one trip.

Animal hides, fish, furniture, cloth boards, unfinished boxes, coal, iron, and oil were some of the products exported from the area. As the industries closed down, fewer ships called in Parry Sound. The Imperial Oil tanks were no longer used after the 1960's, and the coal tipple in Depot Harbour closed in the 1970's. Now there are no industries using Parry Sound as a port.

The wreck of the "Waubuno" is one of the most "famous" shipwreck stories of Georgian Bay. The "Waubuno," a 120-foot long side-wheel steamer, owned by Parry Sound's Beatty Company, ferried people from Collingwood to Parry Sound. On November 21, 1879, a fierce winter storm kept the ship moored at Collingwood for an entire night and following day. A new bride began to tell the passengers about a dream she had on the ship the previous night, in which she saw the ship sinking in a storm. This caused some unease among the passengers, and the bride herself purportedly begged her husband to leave the ship. He argued that it was the last trip of the season, that all of their belongings were already on board, and that travel by road was impossible. They stayed on. At 4:00 in the morning, the storm subsided, and the "Waubuno" left for Parry Sound. The storm rose again shortly after the ship's departure, but the ship was seen by a lighthouse keeper riding well in the water. Before the "Waubuno" arrived at Parry Sound, it sank. Two days later a ship was sent out to search for the "Waubuno," finding only debris, and a crushed lifeboat. The next spring the hull was located, but the superstructure was never found, and no bodies were ever located. Twenty-four people lost their lives.

Parry Sound also has the dubious distinction of being home to the ship that was lost in the worst ship disaster in Georgian Bay. The Beatty Company replaced the "Waubuno" with a larger steamer, which ran trips from Collingwood, up the coast of Georgian Bay, to the French River and Sault Ste. Marie. On September 14, 1882, the Asia left Collingwood for a regular run. Despite increasingly strong winds and growing waves, the captain, not wishing to waste any time, kept going. Somewhere north of Parry Sound, in hurricane-strength winds, the Asia capsized. 125 or 126 people were on board; 18 or so managed to get into a lifeboat, but of those, only two survived the storm. They were taken to Parry Sound by a native family, who found the teenagers on an island near Byng Inlet, a day after the accident. Debris washed ashore onto islands for days following the accident.

As seen by the large number of shipping photographs, shipping was a way of life for those living by the Bay. It was the only means of transportation, and the only means of connecting with the outside world. Parry Sound depended on ships to survive, because they brought clothes, food, and other goods necessary for survival, and people, to help populate the area.

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