While the Great Canadian Wilderness region is famous for its stunning lakes and rivers, it’s usually the views on top of the water that are most recognizable. Beneath the sparkling blue and green waters, however, is a whole world just waiting for exploration by scuba diving.
From shipwrecks to historic structures, wildlife habitats to amazing natural features, the underwater domain is teeming with interesting discoveries. Thankfully, there are some great local experts who can help guide you on a journey to the deep.
“We’ve been working together for years to give divers new places to explore and new people to dive with,” says Jane Mark, owner of Scuba Shack in Gravenhurst. Muskoka’s destination dive shop, the Scuba Shack has a 40-year history in the area, and is well known throughout the diving community. Last year, the shop also saw some of Canada’s highest numbers for PADI certification – the international gold standard for scuba teaching and certification.
The PADI open water diving course (or junior open water diving course) is the world’s most popular and widely recognized scuba course. With the certification, you can dive virtually anywhere in the world. The only requirements to start are to be 10 years or older, have adequate swimming skills, and be in good physical health.
“The full open water course starts with about 12 hours of online learning,” says Shawna Woods, owner of Parry Sound Scuba Diving Training. “After that, there are three days of training in the water, learning the safety and practical aspects.”
Woods also offers a 3-4 hour “Discover Scuba” program for people who want to dip a toe in to scuba, without committing to the open water course, but she usually finds that people are hooked right away.
Once you’ve completed certification, the tight-knit and friendly dive community is just waiting to show you their favourite spots.
In the Parry Sound area alone, there are 27 shipwrecks to be explored as well as spots like the historic Depot Harbour. Once a bustling Georgian Bay port, the settlement became a ghost town after a 1945 explosion levelled the harbour facilities, throwing debris into the water that can be seen on the lake bottom today. Sitting on Anishinaabe territory, Woods gets special permission to dive from the shore there.
“It’s one of the really great things about diving around Parry Sound,” says Woods. “There’s so much shoreline on Georgian Bay that it’s really easy to get in the water.”
In Muskoka, divemaster Kaitlyn Hamilton (one of three divemasters at the Scuba Shack) has some favourite spots that she dives regularly. In Lake Muskoka divers visit the Waome steamship wreck; sunk during a freak storm in 1934, the ship sits upright on the bottom.
“It’s almost pitch black down there, and you need a really good light,” explains Hamilton. “In the wreck you can see things like a teacup and an old shoe – it’s definitely a little eerie.”
Another favourite of Hamilton’s is the cribwork off of Gravenhurst’s “Camp 20”, the site of a German prisoner of war camp in WWII. While most of the remains of the camp on land are long gone, the underwater cribs that supported the fortified walls remain, making a remarkable historical artifact.
Scuba diving in the region will prepare divers well for underwater adventures around the world.
“If you can dive up here, you can dive anywhere in the world,” says Mark of the often cool and tea-coloured water found at depths in the region. “It really is an incredible place to learn scuba skills.”
To get started or to advance your skills with scuba in the Great Canadian Wilderness, start with any of the great dive shops and service providers in the area:
The Diver’s Nook Parry Sound
Parry Sound Scuba Diving Parry Sound
Scuba Shack Gravenhurst
To plan your stay in the Great Canadian Wildneress region north of Toronto, click here.
Guest Blogger: Scott Turnbull is a professional photographer in Muskoka. You can visit him and his jewellery-designing wife, Miranda, at their studio in Windermere, Ontario.