Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay shipwrecks could draw tourism dollars, says consultant

Dive consultant Steve Lewis says 300 divers a year could sink $1 million into the local economy

Dive consultant Steve Lewis says 300 divers a year could sink $1 million into the local economy

The Township of Nipigon hired dive consultant Steve Lewis to assess whether Thunder Bay's shipwrecks could draw tourists, and if so, how to attract divers. He presented his conclusions at the Prince Arthur Hotel on Friday. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

What lies beneath the dark waters of Lake Superior could generate tourism dollars for the Thunder Bay area, according to a dive consultant hired by the Township of Nipigon. 

Area shipwrecks could draw around 300 divers a year from around the world, Steve Lewis told CBC, and those relatively well-off divers could sink up to a million dollars into the local economy.

"The quality of the shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, but especially here in Lake Superior, is unsurpassed," he said. "The closest to it is the Baltic Sea."

Lewis presented his conclusions to stakeholders at the Prince Arthur Hotel on Friday. 

Key to growing Thunder Bay's dive tourism industry is creating an inventory of exactly what's underwater, he said.

Two wrecks, the yacht Gunilda and the tug The Judge Hart, are well-known to so-called technical divers, those with expert training and equipment, he said. 

But an area called the "graveyard of ships" is said to contain another 36 or 38 ships, all intentionally sunk, that have never been properly documented, he added. 

"If it turns out that that is in fact what's down there, this place becomes ... a real attraction for any technical diver, not just in Ontario but in North America and in Europe," Lewis said. 

Nipigon will pursue funding to document wrecks

In order to fully take advantage of the area's dive tourism potential, he added, Thunder Bay also needs an organization to serve as an ambassador or champion to nurture and promote the industry. 

Nipigon mayor Richard Harvey said his township will use Lewis' recommendations to support a funding application to the province's Tourism Development Fund – seeking funding that would pay technical divers, photographers and videographers to go underwater and properly document what's there. 

"We've got an absolute gem, but it's totally in the rough right now," he said.

Harvey said the biggest takeaway from Lewis' efforts was simply knowing that there are significant economic opportunities for the region to be found in dive tourism. 

"That was a question we had," he said.  "Would people even come to the freezing cold waters of Lake Superior to dive?"

"The last thing you want to do is throw money into something that isn't going to have the payback for the region," he added.  "This is something that should really pay back." 

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