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The mystery behind the Marysburgh Vortex

Natalie Thomas, reporter
August 2, 2012 — Most people have heard of the Bermuda Triangle. But few people know that we have a Bermuda Triangle of our own in Lake Ontario.

Many ships have disappeared in the Marysburgh Vortex
Many ships have disappeared in the Marysburgh Vortex

I was assigned a story on the Marysburgh Vortex - a mysterious part of Eastern Lake Ontario where ships and crews have gone missing. The challenge was it was difficult to find someone to talk about it - until I was led to Canadian author Janet Kellough.

Her family's history in Prince Edward County dates back more than 200 years. She grew up hearing stories about the vortex, and has spent years researching it for herself.

"It didn't really capture the county's imagination as an entity until Hugh Cochrane wrote a book called The Gateway to Oblivion in 1980. He was the one who dubbed it the Marysburgh Vortex and likened it to the Bermuda Triangle."

Janet said it was then that people started having fun with the idea of the Vortex, using it as an excuse, ("Oh, the Vortex ate my homework!") but there were also very serious stories associated with the Marysburgh Vortex. One of the most interesting stories was that of the Schooner Bavarian.

"The Schooner Bavarian, this was I believe in 1889, was actually under tow and the tow line broke. A couple of days later they found the ship out by Main Duck Island. All the sails were stowed, the captain's papers and money were in his desk, there was bread that had been baking in the oven, it was still there. There was even a canary in a cage that was singing, but there was absolutely no sign of the crew and nobody ever figured out what happened to them."

Investigating shipwrecks (photo courtesy Doug Arnberg)
Investigating shipwrecks (photo courtesy Doug Arnberg)

The eastern coast of Prince Edward County has been called the graveyard of Lake Ontario.

"There are upwards of I think 75 documented shipwrecks out there. A lot of that can be explained simply by the amount of traffic that was going back and forth across the lake in the last half of the 19th century."

Storms have likely played a role in the disappearance of some ships, Kellough says.

"We're just at the point where Lake Ontario empties into the St. Lawrence River and so the lake bed sort of tilts up. And what happens is, the storms roar along the lake and kind of smash into that lake bed, and cause a lot of problems," Kellough continues.

"There are lots of explanations for why there are so many shipwrecks, however there are some shipwrecks that just are strange, and there really is no rhyme or reason to it."

Kellough says she's suspecting something magnetic.

"I mean I don't think we truly understand how the earth's magnetic field works...I would love to get all spooky and eerie and have you believe that there's something strange going on, but I'm going to wait and see."

Even to this day, sailors will tell you that your compass won't work out there. And why that is, like Janet said, we'll have to wait and see.

For now, there are no definite answers.

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