Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: May 2021
Located along the southern shore of Georgian Bay between Collingwood and Thornbury, Craigleith Provincial Park is situated on fractured oil shale plates. It is a relatively small park and is famous for its spring and fall offshore fishing. While the park itself doesn’t offer many activities, there are a number of trails and other provincial parks located nearby.
K’s aunt and uncle, P & K, recently bought a house in Collingwood and invited us to visit. Since restrictions have been gradually easing here in Ontario, for the Victoria Day long weekend we decided to take them up on their offer. It was a rather drab and dreary day outside, but we weren’t going to let it rain on our parade. We planned to spend the day driving around Collingwood and the surrounding area to check out the local attractions. But first we had to stop to pick up doughnuts at Nicky’s Doughnuts & Ice Cream, which is reputed to make the best fresh handmade doughnuts in the area. Priorities.
After exploring around Blue Mountain Village, we drove to Craigleith to stop and eat our doughnuts. We pulled into the park at around 11:30a.m and by this time it had stopped drizzling.
The ground was no longer wet, so we walked through the empty campground to get down to the shore. Even though the park has officially opened for the season (except for camping), it still felt like it was closed. Picnic tables were still stacked on top of each other and only one of the washrooms was open.
We found a spot along the rocks to sit down and eat our doughnuts while overlooking the water. It was neat to see the rock ledge in the water and how steeply it falls. I guess this explains why this beach is not generally used for swimming.
We then walked through the eastern side of the park to check out the day-use area and explore more along the shoreline. Apparently the fossils at Craigleith date back 450 million years when this area was once covered by a salt water sea. During this period, the continental plates were closer together and located much further to the south, putting the Craigleith area close to the equator. The warm and shallow water made a great living environment for small invertebrates that fed in the mud bottom. In this region, shallow seas that became landlocked as water levels fell made for excellent fossilization conditions. Over the years, the processes of erosion through wind, rain and waves have exposed many of the fossils at Craigleith. During our walk along the shore, we sifted through some of the loose shale searching for fossils.
There is also a plaque on the eastern edge of the park that explains more about the Craigleith Shale Oil Works. Back in 1859, a plant was built here to obtain oil through the treatment of local bituminous shales. The process involved the destructive distillation of fragmented shale into crude oil. The enterprise was short-lived and stopped in 1863 due to its inefficiencies, especially after the discoveries of “free” oil at Petrolia and Oil Springs near Sarnia.
We turned around and walked to the western edge of the park. Along the way we passed another plaque that tells of the sinking of the “Mary Ward”, a steamer which ran aground on Milligan’s Reef, two kilometres off Craigleith’s shore on November 24, 1872. The first lifeboat safely reached ashore. But when the wind shifted later in the evening as a storm approached, the rescue operation was halted and one of the other lifeboats capsized and all passengers drowned. When the storm died down, the Captain of the boat and Lighthouse keeper along with three local fishermen, rowed out to the Mary Ward and rescued the remaining passengers. The rocky shoals that can be seen from the shores of Craigleith are the graveyard of the remains of the Mary Ward.
We continued our stroll through the campground, admiring all the lilac bushes. The road out here was in rough shape, but seemed like worth the effort as the sites, especially along the shore, were nice.
Once we reached the edge of the park, we turned around and walked back to the parking lot. By this time the wrapped up our visit to Craigleith, the clouds were starting to clear. We hopped back in the car and continued our day trip around the Blue Mountains area.
My progress on the Ontario Parks Challenge can be found here