The Hunt for the Steamship Asia

By Glen Parr and Nanci Wakeman

Finding SS Asia, lying somewhere off the east coast of Georgian Bay, is the “Holy Grail” to people who search for wrecks in the depths of the fresh water “ocean” that is “The Bay” to those of us who love its waters. The summer of 2020 will see a plethora of searchers who hope to win the prize.

The Asia set off from Owen Sound at about midnight on September 14 1882, loaded with10 workhorses, cargo and 128 passengers and crew destined for the French River.  Ten miles out the channel, the ship stopped at Presqu’ile to pick up wood for fuel.

Due to the darkness and a brisk wind, the Asia delayed heading out to the open waters until daylight (6:30 am). A decision was made to make the 7 to 8 hour trip with a SE breeze.  By 9 am, the wind increased drastically and changed direction to the NW.  Cargo was thrown overboard and the horses were put down.  By 11 am, the Asia was floundering in gale-force winds and high seas.  About 11:20 am, the ship sank.  Being flat-bottomed and top heavy (having been built for use in canals), the Asia was no match for the “gales of November come early.” There were neither enough lifeboats nor flotation devices so all but two passengers were lost.

One of the most ardent searchers, Chris Kohl, a diver, writer and historian, and co-author with Joan Forsberg of Shipwreck Tales of Georgian Bay, may be on the hunt for the Asia this coming summer.  He was one of a team of divers that found two wrecks in east Georgian Bay: the J.H. Jones and the Manasso in 2018.

A diver actively searching for wrecks must have a license and can’t take pictures or go near a wreck if one is located.  A find must be reported to the Receiver of Wrecks, Coast Guard.

If you are a shipwreck enthusiast you might like a snorkelling outing to Carling Rock where the wreck of the Atlantic is located.  Near the Mink Islands the sunken wreck of the Seattle can be found.  Both are in fairly shallow water and can be seen from the surface.


To read more and to download a PDF, please visit the WCA Spring Newsletter April 2020