With the popularity of technical diving it seems like more and
more people want to do the hard stuff, but every once in awhile
you just want a dive to be simple and easy. The Morrison in Barrie,
Ontario, is a perfect dive for one of those dives.
Located just 80 km north of Toronto, the Morrison was only three
years old when she caught fire in 1857 and was cut loose to save the
docks she was tied to. Wind and waves blew her against the shore then
out to her final resting place after she burned to the waterline.
Take into consideration over 140 years of wind, waves and ice and
it is not hard to imagine that this wreck has been flattened like a
watermelon dropped from the top of a 10 story building (imagery courtesy
David Letterman.) But even a squashed melon has neat stuff to look at.
The Morrison is marked by a small white jug approximately 300'
directly off the harborfront in just 30' of water. The shallow water
allows for plenty of bottom time and the line that runs to the wreck
makes it easy to avoid the surface swim. Don't expect to see much on
the swim along the bottom aside from the occasional crayfish, but when
you hit the wreck you will know it. Both the line and the jug are tied
to the same portion of the bow section with the remainder of the wreck
extending perfectly parallel to the shore.
All surfaces are rather well covered with zebra mussels but the
little critters have done wonders for visibility which now exceeds
25' on particularly calm days. If you've never seen zebra mussels
they are small clam-like beasties 3/4" long (dark brown with yellowish
stripes) that attach to anything hard in most of the Great Lakes.
Overall they look like a (dark) cast on a broken leg: still gives the
shape of what's underneath but hides the details.
Like most wrecks this one has a jewel, and it is not something you
can see every day. The paddlewheel (which has had a life of its own)
sits on its side near the middle of the wreckage. It is still pretty
impressive even though there is only about 1/4 of it left intact. If
rumours are to be believed this is due in part to it being hauled away
from the wreck by boaters who kept hitting their keels on it when it
was vertical, but magically reappeared nearer the debris again laying
on its side in 1997.
If you came here expecting to penetrate the wreck, you're at the
wrong site. If you want to see coral, anemone and colourful little
fish, you're in the wrong country. And if you came when the sun is
shining expecting to see a lot of fish, you're in the right spot but
at the wrong time of day. This is a great night dive, and that is when
the fish - mostly smallmouth bass - return to the shelter of the wreck
structure to dream their little fishy dreams (with the accompanying
nightmares about muskie.)
Here is where buoyancy is key. To paraphrase a line from Jaws
(badly)... fish are on the bottom, you go on the bottom, and silt is on
the bottom (it is not the same without the ominous theme music, and
replacing "shark" with "silt" loses a little of the danger aspect.)
With all the bottom time you can have on this wreck you can cover it
several times, but you won't want to bother if you kick much of the 5"
of silt and mud into the water.
If you go to the Morrison here is a challenge for you: see if you can
find the plaque from the wonderful folks at SOS (Save Ontario Shipwrecks)
. It is a small red and white cast of a mug and utensils found on the
wreck. Keep your eyes peeled.
The wreck lies just off Centennial park which is a narrow shoreline
stretch of grass with ample parking for all but the busiest weekends.
You enter by ambling over a strip of large rocks (erosion stoppers) to
get to the water which is only a few paces from the parking lot.
Directions: 400 N to Barrie, right on Essa Rd., right on Tiffin St.,
left on Lakeshore Dr., and park in the first main lot on the right past
the mini-golf course (near the small hut and phone booth.) The marker
jug will be straight out from the tree stump to the right of the
parking lot (as you look at the water). The 1/4" line along the bottom
starts at a small cinder block about 30' offshore which has a tendency
to collect weeds so may take a little searching for.
And remember the old divers adage: take nothing but photos,
leave with nothing but a CO2 headache.
Tom Wilson is a PADI divemaster, and can be contacted at email@example.com