An Awenda Ghost Story
Relaxing at the beach, hearing the waves crash upon the sandy shores, skipping stones, and suddenly, there it is: an artifact from the past! It tells an entire story about the people who were here years ago, and the troubles they faced. It’s a scrap of wood, and you almost passed it by. But this piece is something special—it’s a clue to a shipwreck!!!
Today, thousands of boaters visit the waters off Methodist Point throughout the summer, as Georgian Bay is a favourite tourist destination. The area was no different over a hundred years ago, in that it was an extremely active place. In the late 1800s however, the action was mostly from steamers, schooners, and other ships transporting lumber to the many ports scattered across the area. With the help from his brother Thomas, Mr. Manley Chew headed one such logging operation. In 1875, the Manley Chew Lumber Company had an operational grist and sawmill stationed on Methodist Point, and in 1908, the Chew brothers purchased the Germanic.
The Germanic was a bulk freighter that was built in Michigan in 1888. She originally belonged to a fleet comprised of three steamers and two schooners. After being rebuilt in 1901 to reach a net tonnage of 959 tons, she ran into misfortune while working American waters. On November 4th, 1904, she became stranded off of Stag Island in the St. Clair River when she encountered a dense fog. A fire, started by the explosion of an oil lamp in the engine room, dictated that she burned to the water’s edge only two days later.
When the Chew brothers purchased the Germanic, she was rebuilt and emerged as the Reliever, a steam barge fit to transport lumber. The vessel then encompassed 226 feet in length with a depth of 10.5 feet. She was employed to transport lumber from the Methodist Point sawmill to the Manley Chew Lumber Company’s homeport in Midland.
On the evening of November 3rd, 1909, the Reliever caught fire while loading lumber at what is now known as Awenda’s Third Beach. In order to save the precious lumber, the dock, and the mill itself, the steamer was cast off into the waters, where she slowly drifted to her demise in Methodist Point Bay. Her final resting place was just to the north of where the Second Beach Viewing Platform stands today; she was grounded in the shallow waters of the bay, which vary from zero to 25 feet, and burned to the waterline. Although her entire hull was destroyed in the fire, the engine, boiler, shaft, propeller, and anchors were salvaged when the remains of the Reliever were stripped of metal during the war effort of the First World War.
The Reliever’s misfortune did not end there. On Dominion Day in 1921, Robert Leroux and his family joined the Robitailles for a picnic. While walking through the wreckage of the vessel, Robert fell through the waterlogged wood. Despite rescue efforts, he passed away in the waters off Methodist Point.
But the Reliever is not the only ghost of Georgian Bay, for other similar stories have taken place on a number of occasions. Another sawmill owned by Manley Chew, located on the West of Thunder Beach, was destroyed in a fire in 1921, and the Luckport is a wooden steamer that sank just off Sawlog Point in 1934.
Debris from shipwrecks can sometimes be found after severe storms, or the thawing of winter ice. So keep a keen eye out when you’re enjoying Awenda’s beaches, for you may just find a piece of the steamer that was the Reliever!
By: Cady Moyer