Shipwrecks of Lake Ontario


Lake Ontario is no ordinary lake – it’s a Great Lake, one that holds the amazing appearance of a vast, powerful sea. When you stand by its shores, the view is so striking it gives the impression of an ocean, sharing the same commanding force. Across the Great Lakes, around 6,000 shipwrecks tell tales of another time. Within Lake Ontario itself, 200 confirmed shipwrecks silently whisper their unique stories. Follow me on this journey, a student at SUNY Oswego whose campus is right on the coast of this great lake! Despite having uneasy feelings about shipwrecks I am facing my fears exploring the Maritime Museum At Oswego and researching the wrecks! Delve into the history concealed beneath the waves of Lake Ontario!

The H Lee. Maritime Museum at Oswego
The H Lee. Maritime Museum at Oswego

The Lore of Mexico Bay

Stretching along Eastern Lake Ontario, Mexico Bay poses a formidable challenge for sailing ships, claiming about 100 vessels in the past two centuries. Among them was the John Burt, a ship from 1871 which has a few remnants showcased at the H. Lee Maritime Museum in Oswego.The captain, Captain Mcdonald was unfamiliar with the area, guided the ship into Mexico Bay, where the rocky shore wrecked its rudder. Despite the crew’s efforts, the ship broke apart in just 20 minutes becoming unsalvageable. However, the cargo, mainly bushels of corn, remained surprisingly intact and was salvaged by local farmers and merchants. Most of the wreckage disappeared until 1969 when a significant part washed up in Sandy Pond, NY, a few miles away from Mexico Bay. Unfortunately the ship is not preserved in the water due to its breaking in many pieces however pieces may still lie in Sandy Pond.

Remnants of the John Burt ship inside of the H. Lee Museum in Oswego New York.
Remnants of the John Burt ship inside of the H. Lee Museum in Oswego New York.

The Hartford, a ship whose tragic tale unfolded almost 130 years ago during a fierce Lake Ontario storm, adds to the tragic legacy of Mexico Bay. Unfortunately, this voyage resulted in the deaths of seven crew members, which was the entire crew. The Hartford, carrying 22,000 bushels of grain that were supposed to be delivered to Cape Vincent, was swept away by the storm. Parts of ships lost in Mexico Bay occasionally break free and wash ashore. The vessel traveled for thirteen years prior to its unfortunate end. A significant portion of The Hartford’s remains surfaced near Sandy Shore in 2020,. Although I was unable to see the wreckage myself, photographer Mark Barbour has some amazing photos from 2020 that are well worth a Google search.

The Cormorant 

The Cormorant, the closest shipwreck to me, lies just 3 miles off the SUNY Oswego coast. Engulfed by a colossal wave on the Great Lake in 1958, this tugboat stands in surprisingly good condition compared to other lake shipwrecks. A favorite among explorers and divers, The Cormorant is a popular destination. The Shipwreck Room at the Oswego Maritime Museum showcases intriguing 3D printed shipwreck sonograms by Sonarguy, including one capturing the essence of the Cormorant.

The Cormorant 3D printed sonogram by SonarGuy in the H. Lee White Maritime Museum at Oswego
The Cormorant 3D printed sonogram by SonarGuy in the H. Lee White Maritime Museum at Oswego

The HSM Ontario

Though not very close to Oswego, I thought this shipwreck may be one of the most interesting shipwreck stories in the Great Lakes. Between Niagara and Rochester New York, lies a British American Revolution Warship called the HMS Ontario. On Halloween in 1780, it was headed to Fort Niagara when a severe storm hit, causing it to sink deep into Lake Ontario. The mystery endured until 2008 when a team discovered the wreckage about 500 feet down, making it one of the deepest shipwrecks ever found in the Great Lakes. The cold, clear waters of Lake Ontario played a crucial role in preserving the ship remarkably well. To this day it is one of the best shipwreck discoveries yet in Lake Ontario.

a timeline of every shipwreck I spoke about

In Conclusion 

Even though the idea of shipwrecks makes me uneasy, exploring the local history of Lake Ontario turned out to be really interesting. I had no clue that Mexico Bay played a big role in the many shipwrecks around Oswego. Finding out how close the Cormorant wreck is and learning about the HMS Ontario’s history surprised me too. Check out my video of Lake Ontario’s waves and If you want to hear more about my visit to the H. Lee Maritime Museum and my feelings about underwater objects, check out my new podcast all linked below!

Sam at the Maritime Museum
Me at the H. Lee Maritime Museum