Marine Heritage Area


Learn more about the Nessen Shipwreck »

Treasure has been discovered in the waters of the western basin of Lake Erie, but it does not take the form of gold coins or jewels. The treasure is the profusion of shipwrecks. Since the mid 1800's over two hundred and seventy-five ships have sunk in the Pelee Passage and western end of Lake Erie. Currently there are over sixty known locations of shipwreck sites, all within a short boat trip of Leamington and its first rate marina.

Expert opinion varies, but it is believed that the Great Lakes contain between 4,000 and 10,000 shipwrecks. The western end of Lake Erie has possible the highest density in all the Lakes because of treacherous reefs, sudden storms, and heavy traffic in the late 19th century.

The ships carried cargoes of food supplies, lumber, grains, ore and coal. The cargo has been salvaged, looted by treasures hunters, buried in the sifting sand of the lake, or washed ashore. Each shipwreck has its own historical and cultural significance. The majority of wrecks lie in waters with an average depth of approximately 12 metres (40 feet).

The deepest known wreck is the Willis. It rests in approximately 22.5 metres (74 feet) of water. The largest ship in the ErieQuest archives is a wooden steamer called the Case, which was built in 1889 and sunk in 1918. The Case was 301 feet long by 42.5 feet wide, and had a 22 foot draft.

Today, the shipwrecks form artificial reefs, and act as an attractive habitat for fish and other marine ecosystem organisms. Underwater visibility in Lake Erie ranges from five to well in excess of forty feet, depending on whether or not a storm has recently come through the area or divers have just visited a site.

Visit Leamington and its marina for your next diving experience. Remember—Take only Pictures, Leave Only Bubbles! Give our past a future.