Last updated on April 18, 2023 by Wandering our World
Located in Ontario, Tobermory is a cozy harbor village in the gorgeous Bruce Peninsula, about 380 km North East of the majestic Niagara Falls. It lies next to the Bruce Peninsula National Park and is the gateway to the Fathom Five National Marine Park, which is 43 square miles of water with over 20 islands covered in trees and 19th century lighthouses.
This quaint village is considered Ontario’s #1 fishing destination, but Tobermory is also home to the famous Flower Pot Island sea stacks, several historical lighthouses, and multiple sunken shipwrecks. All of which makes scuba diving and snorkeling in Tobermory incredible fun!
In fact the waters off Tobermory – which are a unique fresh water ecosystem of ancient development with distinctive dolomite rock formations that are around 420 million years old – are home to at least 22 major shipwrecks.
It’s safe to say snorkeling and scuba diving in Tobermory – Canada’s shipwreck capital – is a jaw-dropping experience that just has to be on the bucket list of anyone who loves exploring underwater.
Below we detail exactly why this place is unique, as well as share our favorite dive sites. So read on to start your own Tobermory snorkeling and diving adventure!
- Why Snorkeling & Diving in Tobermory is Unique
- The 11 Shipwrecks You Must Visit
- Tips For Your Snorkeling or Diving Vacation
- Our Final Thoughts
Why Tobermory is Unique: Unforgettable Underwater Adventures
The cold, crystal clear waters of the stunning Georgian Bay beside Tobermory is the resting place of some of Canada’s best preserved shipwrecks. Many of which date back to the mid-19th and early 20th century.
It’s no surprise then that we not only think Tobermory is the Shipwreck Capital of Canada, but also the Fresh Water Snorkeling and Scuba Diving Capital of the World.
Incredibly, those wrecks are all located in the immediate proximity of Tobermory’s harbor, so divers and snorkelers have an unmatched opportunity to interact with these sleeping giants, as well as observe the scenic beauty of the Bruce Peninsula and Fathom Five Park from the sea.
The clarity of the water here is outstanding too. Which makes snorkeling possible for all ages and experience levels.
Water temperatures range from a chilly 0 to 5 degrees Celsius from December to May. But those go up to 15-20 degrees Celsius from July to September.
In summer, when the water is warmer, wetsuits are still required but snorkeling in Tobermory becomes a fantastic activity for even newcomers. In fact we think Tobermory is one of the best – and most exciting – places in the world to experience shipwreck snorkeling or diving for the very first time!
The 11 Shipwrecks You Must Visit When In Tobermory
Tour boats for snorkeling trips range from glass bottom boats to speed boats, so you can choose how leisurely or fast-paced your excursion is going to be.
But the real enjoyment of a trip here is of course the wrecks submerged beneath the bright blue, crystal clear water.
You’ll find over 30 ships sank in the waters surrounding Tobermory and the Bruce Peninsula, with some 22 classed as major shipwrecks.
They sank mostly due to the treacherous shores and shifting waters in this area, which still pose some risks today for navigation, swimming and diving. So make sure you only snorkel or dive when the conditions are good.
Out of those wrecks, around ten are much loved by local snorkelers and are frequented often.
If it’s your first time snorkeling or diving in Tobermory, then below are a few of our favorite shipwrecks to give you an idea of which ones are especially worth checking out.
This is the most famous and symbolic shipwreck in Tobermory!
After hitting a rock near Cove Island, the Sweepstakes started sinking on August 23rd 1885 in shallow waters close to the lighthouse. She stayed there for about ten days, before eventually being towed to Big Tug Harbor. There, she was found to be beyond repair and was therefore stripped of all useful tools and equipment before taking her final dive to the sandy bottom in her present location. At a later date, her coal cargo was salvaged.
Today, the hull is nearly intact, positioned in 6 meters of water, about 45 meters from the head of Big Tug Harbor. Two mooring buoys, located just East from the wreck, signal her presence to divers, snorkelers and boaters. Although she’s so close to the surface, and so massive, that you’ll be able to spot her outline from a distance!
Although deteriorating with time, the Sweepstakes is one of the best preserved 19th century Great Lakes schooners still around. Due to the shallow depth – 6 to 22 feet – and the wreck’s great conservation, the Sweepstakes is perfect for those new to diving and snorkeling in Tobermory.
Frequently visited by glass bottom boats, a specific schedule is put in place for visiting the wreck, with distinct times for boats and other times for in-water exploration. No diving is permitted on the glass bottom boat schedule, and vice versa.
Spring, summer and fall see a lot of snorkelers and divers descend on this amazing shipwreck, therefore a set schedule helps preserve her beauty, as well as the safety of visitors. She really is an incredible sight.
With her extensive wooden deck being only 2 meters – 6 feet – below the surface, and with the windlass and starboard rail in pristine condition, she surely is one of the best sites for snorkeling in Tobermory, and Canada as a whole.
2. W. L. Wetmore
Driven ashore during a windy storm at the end of November 1901, while towing two barges, this impressive 214 foot long steamer ran aground off Russell Island and slid into deep waters together with one of the barges she was towing.
Today, she lies in shallow water and is an excellent diving and snorkeling site. It’s possible to admire the anchor, chains, propeller and the large up-ended boiler which has risen 15 feet off the bottom and extended to just a couple of feet close to the surface!
While the port and starboard have collapsed, a huge oak rudder with a 15’ blade and a 25’ long drive shaft propeller can be inspected at the north end of the Wetmore.
This was a 196 foot long steam barge wrecked in November 1903, in extremely open waters. Because of that, scuba diving the Newaygo requires suitable weather and extra attention.
Today it lies flat on the sandy lake bottom at a maximum depth of 65 feet, with the top at about 25 feet.
4. City of Grand Rapids
This 19th century coastal steamer sank on October 29th 1907 right beside the Sweepstakes. Because of that, it’s usually visited in the same dive or snorkel.
You can easily swim from one to the other, making the experience extremely rewarding and fascinating: two wrecks in one go!
5. City of Cleveland
This massive 255 foot long, four masted wooden steamer, was built in 1882 and sank in a snowstorm in October 1901, near Fitzwilliam Island. It takes about 2 hours by boat from Tobermory to reach her, but the trip is totally worth it!
The City of Cleveland is actually an underwater photographer’s heaven, and notable sightings include the 12’ diameter propeller, the boilers, the huge rudder and the driveshaft.
The details of her construction are open for observation, too, as the deck has completely collapsed revealing her inner workings.
Due to her distance from Tobermory this wreck is much quieter that many of the others, but it remains suitable for both divers and snorkelers as she sits in only 20 feet, or 6 meters, of water.
6. Charles. P. Minch
Driven onto the rocks of Tecumseh Cove at Cove Island by a sudden wind change during a stormy October day in 1898, this three masted schooner is now spread over the lake bottom. The main part is close to shore near the head of the cove.
Two moorings signal her presence: the outer one marking a section of the side, the rudder and some scattered pieces at a depth of 55 feet. And the primary or inner mooring, is closer to the head of Tecumseh Cove, at a depth of 25 feet, marking the hull with the centerboard box and possibly what is left of the ship’s wheel. This shipwreck is ideal for both scuba divers and snorkelers due to the depth.
This three masted barque, which was around 132 foot long, is suitable for diving only as she is lying in about 105 feet of water off Echo Island, where she sank in 1884.
The shipwreck is in incredibly good condition today, especially the bow section with bowsprit, windlass and anchors.
However the Arabia is not suitable for snorkeling or novice divers. Instead this wreck is best for advanced level divers due to her depth and the typically strong currents in the water.
8. James. C. King
When you read about the W. L. Wetmore earlier, you will have noticed that she was towing two barges at the time of her sinking. One, the Brunette, was salvaged, but the other one, the James C. King, slid bow first into deep water a few meters north of the Wetmore.
The 175 foot long barge lies today at a depth of 90 feet, making it a dive only wreck. Although the stern, bow-post, rudder and steering gear can be seen resting in only 20 feet of water, due to the great inclination of the wreck.
Especially early in the season, after the colder months, visibility here is absolutely phenomenal! A certain degree of experience is required when diving the James C. King though, as the inclination of the wreck might lead to uncertainty about your position in the water and so will require great buoyancy and instrument control.
9. Forest City
Built in 1890 as a 217 foot long three masted schooner, the Forest City was later converted into a steamer, and she sank in June 1904 at a maximum depth of 150 feet on the far east corner of the Fathom Five National Marine Park, by Bears Rump Island.
The Forest City is for scuba divers only as the shallowest part of the wreck, the bow, is located at about 60 feet. It is actually recommended to have a minimum advanced certification due to the depth of the stern, which is over 145 feet, and the possibly challenging conditions that require careful planning and management due to potential decompression sickness and nitrogen narcosis.
As the ship abruptly hit the island in a dense fog, a good part of it has been destroyed and the bow is badly broken. However, the stern is quite intact and can also be penetrated. Other interesting parts to explore, all located deeper than 100 feet, are the boilers and the smoke funnel.
10. Niagara II.
If you are looking for something different, try diving the Niagara II!
Built in 1930 as a tanker and later used as a sand-sucker, it ended up on the bottom of the lake right out of Little Cove.
It was actually sunk on purpose by the Tobermory Maritime Association, who were looking for an additional wreck to enhance diving opportunities in the so-called Graveyard of the Great Lakes.
The Niagara II went down in May 1999, and today she offers an exciting diving experience for divers of all levels. The shallowest part of the wreck, where you can observe the top of the wheelhouse, reaches 45 feet. While the bow and stern decks lie at 65 feet.
The maximum depth is 100 feet, and the length of the ship is about 180 feet. Commemorative plaques can be found, as well as interesting artefacts and well preserved machinery.
11. Caroline Rose
The Caroline Rose was another wreck sunk on purpose in the waters around Tobermory. She was a 132 foot long schooner built in Nova Scotia in 1940, and was later bought in 1990 by a group of divers from the Tobermory Marine Association, who towed her to Driftwood Cove and sank her as a dive site.
Unfortunately a storm dragged the wreck into shallower waters and broke her up in different sections. Today, the largest sections are next to the mooring block and several artefacts can still be seen.
While the starboard side and top deck are gone or collapsed, the rudder, drive shaft and her large propeller remain intact. As does the port side railing and the impressive stem.
Tobermory is the ideal place for a vacation if you’re looking to be in nature in a place filled with adventures.
While there’s many hotels, Airbnbs, cottages and even luxury accommodations available – though quite pricey – the most popular way to enjoy the Bruce Peninsula and Tobermory is definitely camping!
In our opinion, tent camping in the serene, peaceful backcountry is the best way to enjoy this escape in nature. And diving into Lake Huron and discovering an underwater world of natural, historical and cultural treasures is the best way to experience it!
While the shipwrecks are the greatest attraction for water lovers, many other activities are possible here too, especially hiking and boating.
We must also mention the amazing Flowerpot Island, named after three rock pillars that are shaped like flower pots. Only two are still standing, albeit against all odds and the laws of gravity. Those sea stacks were formed over centuries as winds, waves, rainfall and ice chiseled away the cliff that once stood alongside the water’s edge.
When the exposed, softer rock eroded, it left the harder rock behind in the shape of flowerpots with trees growing on their top. Today, Flowerpot Island is a popular and sought-after tourist destination with camping facilities and several hiking trails, and the island can be accessed by boat from Tobermory.
Diving & Snorkeling in Tobermory: Our Final Thoughts
Clearly there’s a good reason this area is known as the ‘Graveyard’ of the Great Lakes!
Simply put, snorkeling and diving in Tobermory is a sensational experience. It allows us to explore ships that have been sleeping in the cold waters of the Great Lakes for over a century, and whose great preservation continues to amazes us time after time.
This area has tremendous historical and cultural heritage, and Tobermory really is a unique place in the world for shipwreck lovers. If you’re considering diving or snorkeling in Tobermory, all we can say is give it a go – you won’t regret it!