By the middle of the 1850s the settlement and exploitation of the lands along the southern fringe of Georgian Bay had sparked a rise in the volume of commercial shipping.
Cabot Head stood abreast of the Bay’s principal shipping route. From the Tobermory narrows the inbound passage to the head of the Bay, or to ports such as Owen Sound or Collingwood, brings the rocky shore below the Head uncomfortably close.
Inevitably, this turn in the coast was regarded by the sailor with apprehension, and justifiably so as events would show.
The earliest marine disaster known to have occurred in the vicinity of Cabot Head involved a small schooner owned by George Newcombe, of Owen Sound, on December 11, 1856.
Another wreck linked to the Georgian Bay fishery took place in 1863 when the 10-ton schooner Pioneer, owned by John Frame, of Colpoys Bay, was lost in the entrance to Wingfield Basin.
October of 1884 was one of the worst months in the long chronicle of Bruce Peninsula marine disasters. The barque Arabia went down off Echo Island, near Tobermory, on the 5th and not far to the northeast on the 22nd the schooner Golden West was lost at Snake Island. While the West was breaking up on a reef off that desolate place, the three-masted Shandon, laden with coal from Ashtabula, Ohio, for Owen Sound, was struggling in deep water in the same storm not far away.
On October 7, 1886, the lumber-laden Bentley, Captain Read, was sailing alone from Parry Sound to Oswego, N.Y., when a gale drove her into the shallows near Cabot Head.
In the meantime, the same storm completed the destruction of the John Bentley. The small steam barge Kincardine was launched at Port Dalhousie in 1871. The sinking of the Mary Ann Hulbert was the worst schooner disaster in the history of Lake Superior. The tragedy was compounded by the later realization that only the name of the captain was known, leaving the families and friends of the others always to wonder what became, of their loved ones who disappeared in 1883. While the remains of the Cabot Head shipwrecks lie almost entirely hidden beneath the surface of Georgian Bay, one old hulk has defied storm and fire and time and is readily visible, tucked away in the northwest corner of Wingfield Basin.
The Fate of the Gargantua
Once the Gargantua came to rest in Wingfield Basin, it became a playground for the Hopkin's children. The deck provided a foundation for forts and clubhouses from which many exciting adventures were played out. Mr Schutt, a family friend, would board the vessel as the "Captain" speaking through the vents "this is your Captain..." his orders would resonate throughout the ship.
Several old stories tell of sailors sneaking their girlfriends onto the old ship for midnight rendezvous in the vessel's bunk's below.
The fire that destroyed much of the Gargantua remains a mystery, although the rumours speak of an over-zealous sailor with a BBQ. Today, the vessel provides a home for numerous barn swallow, and a family of beavers.
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