Lake Huron, the second-largest of Canada’s Great Lakes by surface area, is a prime destination for Ontario cottagers. With relatively warm water, long stretches of sandy beaches, a history of shipwrecks, and some spectacular scenery both above and below water, Lake Huron is popular with swimmers, boaters, hikers and divers. Read on for more amazing facts.
1. Lake Huron is the second-largest of the Great Lakes by surface area, covering almost 60,000 square kilometres, and the fifth-largest freshwater lake on Earth. By volume, though, Huron is surpassed by both Superior and Michigan.
2. Lake Huron is connected to Lake Michigan by the eight kilometre-wide Straits of Mackinac. Because, hydrologically, the two lakes are the same body of water, they could technically be considered one lake–making Lake Michigan-Huron (at 117,000 square kilometres) the largest freshwater lake in the world.
3. Early French explorers called Lake Huron “la Mer Douce,” meaning “the fresh-water sea.” According to French cartographer Nicolas Sanson in 1635, the Wendat (Huron) people called it “Karegnondi,” which has been translated as “fresh-water sea,” “big lake” or “lake of the Hurons”–although translators now believe the word simply means “lake,” and that a descriptor was omitted in Sanson’s original source.
4. Located at the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula, Fathom Five National Marine Park–the first park of its kind in Canada– offers visitors the opportunity to see 22 underwater shipwrecks, either by diving or on a glass-bottomed boat.
5. The Bruce Peninsula, which divides Georgian Bay from the rest of Lake Huron, is home to Flowerpot Island, famous for its “flowerpot” or “sea stack” rock formations–unusual pillars of limestone shaped by years of erosion by wind, rain and lake spray.
6. Manitoulin Island, which is accessible by ferry from Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula to the south and by swing bridge from Little Current to the north, is the largest freshwater lake island in the world.
7. The name of the MS Chi-Cheemaun–the ferry that takes visitors from Tobermory to Manitoulin Island–means “big canoe” in Ojibwe. It can carry 648 passengers and 143 vehicles, including transport trucks and buses.
8. Although Lake Superior is famous for shipwrecks–mostly because of Gordon Lightfoot–Lake Huron was hardest hit in the deadliest and most destructive natural disaster ever to hit the Great Lakes. On November 9, 1913, a storm across four of the five Great Lakes sank 10 ships and drove more than 20 more ashore on Lake Huron alone. In total, more than 250 sailors were killed.
9. More than a thousand shipwrecks have been reported on Lake Huron, including–according to some reports–the first European ship to sail on the Great Lakes. Le Griffon was built near Buffalo and sailed by Sieur de la Salle up to the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan. The ship never made the return trip–and although two wrecks have been identified as its remain, neither has been officially verified.
10. Georgian Bay–one of the largest bays on Lake Huron–is 80 per cent of the size of Lake Ontario, and is sometimes called the sixth great lake.
11. Lake Huron has a lake retention time of 22 years, which is the measurement of time that water spends in a particular lake. It’s beaten out by Lake Michigan and Superior, with lake retention times of 99 and 191 years, respectively.
12. At 14 kilometres long, Wasaga Beach, located along Georgian Bay, is the longest freshwater beach in the world.
13. Fort St. Joseph, on St. Joseph Island, played a significant role in the War of 1812 when British, First Nations and Canadian soldiers left the island to capture the American fort on Mackinac island–the first military maneuver of the war.
14. According to an Ojibwa legend, a water monster named Mishebeshu (“giant lynx”) lives in an underwater den near the mouth of the Serpent River at the north end of Lake Huron.
15. Although Lake Huron has had problems with invasive species–namely, zebra and quagga mussels, round gobies, alewife and lampreys–fishing is still a popular activity, with walleye, smallmouth bass and Northern pike available.
16. Enjoy pretending to be a lighthouse keeper in the McKay Island lighthouse, the only housekeeping lighthouse in Ontario. Accessible by car, the lighthouse dates from 1907, and is located on the easterly point of Mckay Island.
17. Lake Huron doesn’t freeze over very often–on average, only once per decade. In 2014, more than 95 per cent of the lake was covered in ice–the first time this has happened since 2003.
18. Although the winter of 2014 was a biggie in terms of ice on the Great Lakes, photos circulated of “Lake Huron Ice Waves” weren’t actually real–they were photos of blue icebergs in Antarctica.
19. Lake Huron boasts an underwater forest of 7000-year-old petrified trees off of Lexington, Michigan.
20. While it receives water from Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, Lake Huron drains into Lake Erie through the St. Clair River-Lake St. Clair-Detroit River system.