Archaeology in National Marine Conservation Areas of Canada

Searching for Cultural Resources and Heritage Wrecks in Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area

As some readers might know, NMCAs are established to protect and conserve representative examples of Canada’s natural and cultural marine heritage and to provide opportunities for public education and enjoyment.

Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area creation was officially announced in 2007. It will require a management plan and among the components that will need to be assessed are the cultural resources. In order to meet this challenge, Parks Canada archaeologists will soon undertake the survey of land and underwater cultural resources located within the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area.

Gunilda aground on a rocky pinnacle Gunilda aground on a rocky pinnacle. Extract from “Drowning in Dreams” National Film Board of Canada
© Parks Canada

Underwater view of the bow section of the Gunilda Underwater view of the bow section of the Gunilda. Extract from “Drowning in Dreams” National Film Board of Canada
© Parks Canada

Examples of cultural resources located in NMCAs include historic shipwrecks, submerged aboriginal archaeological sites (for example, fish weirs and shell middens), and historic structures (for example, wharves located along the shorelines and cabins located on islands within the NMCA). These sites are managed in accordance with the principles of value, public benefit, understanding, respect, and integrity outlined in the Cultural Resource Management Policy.

The Lake Superior NMCA Reserve contains dozens of shipwrecks that are already known to local divers and researchers, and it is likely that an even larger number of wrecks has not yet been identified. The most famous is the wreck of Gunilda, which Jacques Cousteau described as one of the most beautiful shipwrecks in the world. Gunilda was a luxury yacht that was lost when its wealthy owner refused to hire a local pilot to guide the vessel through the area’s dangerous shoals. After the yacht ran aground on a rocky pinnacle, the well-heeled passengers were brought to shore, leaving their personal possessions behind. After the owner again cut corners by refusing to pay for the second tug that was needed to safely free the boat, Gunilda sank to the bottom in 280 feet of water. This deep and dangerous site is famous among technical divers.

The Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act (2002) recognizes the Government of Canada’s responsibility to provide opportunities to appreciate and enjoy Canada’s natural and cultural marine heritage. Under the Act, NMCAs are established to protect and conserve representative examples of Canada’s natural and cultural marine heritage and to provide opportunities for public education and enjoyment.

Links :

Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area of Canada 

Luxury on the rocks: the shipwreck of the gunilda