Minnie M in Michipicoten Harbour 1908


Lake Superior has its own history and story to tell. It has shared its history with our history, from shipwrecks, to fishing to settlements. Many of todays residents have stories to tell of the Maritime history on Lake Superior.

Superior shipwrecks

The earliest known shipwreck south of Michipicoten Bay was a passenger-freight steamer called the ACADIA. During heavy seas, the boat ran aground near Grindstone Point south of Old Woman Bay on November 6, 1896. Built in Hamilton in 1867, the ACADIA was the first vessel built in North America to have a composite hull (oak planking over iron frames). Loaded with 21,000 bushels of wheat, a hole in the hull sank the ship in 20 minutes in 12 feet of water. Before it could be salvaged, the ACADIA was pummelled to pieces by the constant wave action on this exposed rocky point. The crew survived but had to make the long and arduous trek to Gargantua Harbour more than 15 kilometres away. On a calm day kayakers and canoeists alike can still catch glimpses of twisted pieces of the ACADIA's steel hull trapped among the giant boulders at Grindstone Point. The ships bell is now on display at the Agawa Bay Visitor Centre.

The imposing cliffs and impenetrable shoreline of Old Woman Bay claimed the wreck of the GOLSPIE on December 4, 1906. This 200 foot wooden steamer belonging to the MacKay Company of Sault Ste. Marie was down bound from Fort William with a load of supplies for the CPR when it became unresponsive during a fierce snow storm. The ship and its crew of 18 drifted approximately 60 miles/100 kms north from 25 miles off Whitefish Point to where it beached itself near the mouth of the Old Woman River. Captain Boult managed to get everyone safely to shore only to find that they had very few provisions. He sent 12 of the crew in a yawl boat to Michipicoten River where they could get supplies and send word to the ship's owners. Ill prepared for the fierce head wind and bone-chilling temperatures, the wet and weary crew abandoned the small boat and decided to walk along the coast to Michipicoten instead. The journey was no easy task. Local boarding house owner Joe Legarde and his guests welcomed 3 of the crew that arrived at his doors in Michipicoten River Village in the middle of the night. The next morning, William Kimball, John Andre, Alex and Joseph Michaud manoeuvred a rescue boat out through the treacherous Michipicoten River mouth and scoured the shoreline for the remainder of the crew. Four miles from the village the rescuers came across the half frozen men, one walking in his stocking feet. The villagers spent the next day trying to warm the frozen hands and feet of the motley group. Joe Legarde's dog team took the worst of the crew to the Algoma Central Railway in Michipicoten Harbour where they were transported to the hospital at the Helen Mine, then by boat to the Plummer Hospital in Sault Ste. Marie. One worker died from pneumonia, two had their feet amputated, and one had both his feet and his hands amputated.


Check out this underwater video of one of Wawa’s more recent deep water shipwrecks.

Michipicoten Harbour & Lighthouses

Michipicoten Harbour is tucked into a sheltered cove on the north shore of Michipicoten Bay and is located 125 miles north of Sault Ste. Marie. This remote section of coastline was the centre of the original 16 square miles of land designated as the Gros Cap Indian Reserve #49 during the signing of the Robinson Superior Treaty between the Dominion Government and Chief Totomenai of the Michipicoten Ojibway Band in 1850.

It was first utilized for industrial development when Canada began their ambitious national railway project. Construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway between Missinabi/Chapleau and White River, turned Michipicoten Harbour into a major access point. The Lake Superior section of the CPR required 12,000 men, 2-5000 horses, and 12 steamers to deposit supplies along the North Shore. Steamers regularly stopped at a wooden dock built in Michipicoten Harbour. In 1885, soldiers with the Midland Battalion covered 47 miles between Michipicoten Harbour and Dog Lake in sleighs in April on their way to quell the Riel Rebellion in Red River, Manitoba.

The discovery of iron ore in the ancient hills surrounding Wawa Lake meant the construction of an ore dock and an eleven mile railway line to the Helen Mine was essential. This became the first section of track for the Algoma Central Railway. his ribbon of steel was carved out of the rugged landscape by 1500 labourers speaking English, French, German, Swedish, Dutch and Norwegian.

By the end of 1900, Michipicoten Harbour was equipped with;

  • A750 foot approach trestle;
  • A 275 foot long wooden ore dock;
  • 12 fifty-ton ore bins,;
  • 600 foot pier complete with a 180 foot warehouse,
  • A sawmill;
  • Company office and store;l
  • 3-storey hotel and cabins for workers; and
  • 5 large locomotives and 100 steel ore cars.

Four steel steamships shipped product in and out of the Harbour to ports around the Great Lakes and became the inaugural fleet of the Algoma Central Steamship Line.

The Harbour acted as a depot for the shipment of pulp wood and lumber, coal, a home base and supply stop for the local commercial fishing industry, and a station for both passengers and freight traveling along the north shore of Lake Superior.

A one-room schoolhouse was built and attended by the local First Nations children as well as those of the families working in the Harbour. This school remained in operation until 1967. A General Store was built in 1928 and operated by the Summers family. As the social centre of the community, Summers General Store included the Post Office and an adjacent billiard room with 5 tables. The Oakes family ran a 3-story hotel popular with company execs and tourists exploring the Superior shoreline.

The Harbour saw a number of upgrades and developments with the revitalization of operations at Algoma Steel and Algoma Ore Division in 1939. Over 100 men were employed in processing pulpwood and lumber by companies like Northern Paper Mills, Abitibi and Newaygo Timber. Bunkhouses and cookery were constructed. During World War II, German Prisoners of War worked the pulp docks and lived in the community.

Prior to the opening of the Trans-Canada Highway in 1960, Michipicoten Harbour was one of the few sheltered depots along the eastern Superior shoreline where recreational boaters and tourists could purchase goods, supplies and fuel for the rest of their journey along the magnificent and remote coastline.

Today Michipicoten Harbour has the look of an abandoned ghost town with layers of stories hidden beneath your feet. The current landowners have continue to maintain the commercial dock which continues to be an instrumental part of one of the only accessible deep water harbours along the east shore of Lake Superior.


Photo Gallery: Michipicoten Maritime will appear here on the public site.

Commercial fishing

Wawa is blessed with an abundance of fish species which have been a part of our local diet for centuries. Wawa's earliest Indigenous families depended on fish stocks in the fertile river beds, submerged shoals and spawning grounds of inland lakes and along eastern Superior's dramatic shoreline. Archaeologists have uncovered and surveyed numerous early encampments near the mouths of streams which played host to the annual migrations of both fish and humans.

The success of the early fur trading posts depended on the fishing skills of the local native populations, as well as the abundance of this accessible food during the harsh winter seasons.with herring, whitefish, lake trout, sucker and sturgeon being the popular species. Post employees learned to follow the important seasons, locations, and netting practices for the most productive catches.

By 1839 the Hudson's Bay Company not only processed furs for profit, they also began harvesting and selling Superior fish on a commercial scale. In 1840, Michipicoten House shipped 800 barrels of fish to American markets on the Hudson's Bay Company schooner Whitefish which began regular tours of various fish stations along the eastern shoreline. Batchawana, Agawa, Cape Gargantua, Cape Chaillon and Michipicoten Bay and Island were strategic locations for fish and fur in the mid-1800's. Even the tiny islands off the Agawa Pictographs and Katherine Cove became important fishing stations due to their proximity to some of the best whitefish and lake trout spawning shoals on the Great Lakes.

Fishing took place all through the year. Fish catches were sometimes so abundant that it was recorded that whitefish caches were used as cattle feed at the Michipicoten post. Licences and limits were unheard of and by 1850, the commercial fishing on Superior fell into decline.

In the early 1900's, commercial fish from Michipicoten were transported out of Michipicoten Harbour and made up a large percentage of freight on the S.S. Caribou and Manitou ferries on their southbound trip back to Sault Ste. Marie and Owen Sound. Passengers often recalled the fishy aroma during their 12 hour tour from Michipicoten to Sault Ste. Marie, and hoped that stormy weather did not extend their time next to the fish freight any longer than necessary.

Intensive fishing of Superior's native fish stocks, plus the introduction of the sea lamprey to Lake Superior through the St. Lawrence seaway in the 1940's, led to a devastating crash of fish populations that some would argue has never truly recovered. Wawa is fortunate to still have commercial fishing operations based out of Michipicoten Bay which continue to provide local restaurants and Algoma markets with their tasty harvest.


Photo Gallery: Commercial Fishing will appear here on the public site.