Craigleith Provincial Park

Length of stay1 day
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

46 thoughts on “Craigleith Provincial Park

  1. kagould17 says:

    Mmmmmmmmmm, Donuts. Tell me more. Glad you were able to go for a visit and enjoy the relatives and the area. The weather seemed to improve as the day went on and the last shot with the lilacs makes it all look like a lovely day. The area has some interest with the fossils and ship wreck history. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s been awhile since we’ve stayed overnight at someone’s house. It was nice visiting family and using that as a great excuse to indulge in some sweets and treats. I’m glad the weather improved later in the afternoon. Stupid me didn’t wear sunscreen though. Craigleith is a nice park to spend a couple of hours exploring the rugged shoreline. I can still smell the scent of lilac at Craigleith when I think about it. Thanks for reading. Take care.

  2. Rose says:

    I really enjoyed the history in this post. You have me wanting to go there right now to find fossils (and imagine what the world looked like when Craigleith was closer to the Equator). And to investigate the Mary Ward steamer, (I think I have found a long-ago relative with an exciting/tragic story of immigrating and landing in Port Talbot, Ontario. Since then, I’ve become more curious about passenger lists and shipwrecks. The Mary Ward was not a ship from across the ocean, but it would be interesting to know more.). And those gorgeous doughnuts wouldn’t happen to be gluten-free, would they? They’re making me drool. 😊

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks! It’s been neat learning more about the history of a certain area from the parks that we’re visiting. It was fun sifting through all the shale. We did manage to find a partial fossil, which was pretty exciting. And yes, it’s hard to believe that this place was once so close to the Equator. It’s amazing how our planet continues to change and evolve. I think the two apple fritters were vegan and possibly gluten-free. Those doughnuts were delicious! I wish I had one now as I’m drinking my morning tea. Mmm.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s always wonderful being so close to the water. I love the sound of waves crashing into the shore. It’s too bad the water was still too cold for swimming when we visited.

  3. ourcrossings says:

    What a lovely place to explore. Ericeira has been fascinated by fossils and dinosaurs for as long as I can remember, and we are very fortunate there’s a beach in Sligo, where we can find many fossils. Looking for fossils is lots of fun and all you really need is a good pair of eyes. Thanks for sharing and have a nice day. Aiva 🙂

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Searching for fossils definitely is a lot of fun and a great excuse to get outdoors. We didn’t search for too long, but we managed to find a partial fossil, which was pretty exciting. Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful weekend.

  4. Ab says:

    What a beautiful day you had! Something about Georgian Bay just feels very magical to me, with the beautiful water and the rock formation – even if fractured. I definitely heard about the steep dives from the shore to the water. Good to not swim there and looked like a very windy day. That donut looks very inviting and what a view to enjoy it with!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I’m glad the sun came out later in the afternoon, except I forgot my sunscreen. When we left in the morning it was cloudy and rainy so I figured I wouldn’t need it. Turns out I did. The rugged shore around Georgian Bay is definitely beautiful. It’s sometimes referred to as the sixth Great Lake. Even if there wasn’t a steep drop off, the water is usually freezing, which is a good enough reason for me to not go swimming!

  5. wetanddustyroads says:

    Looks like a lovely walk … and who would not want to start a day with a delicious doughnut 😋. Beautiful photo’s of the ocean (it is an ocean and not a lake, right?) Glad you could enjoy this walk without any threatening rain.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Right!? The doughnuts were highly recommended, so how could we say no to that. Craigleith Provincial Park is actually by a lake! I can see why you would think it was an ocean with all those waves. It’s located on Georgian Bay, a large bay of Lake Huron. It is quite large, the shoreline is rugged and it’s extremely scenic. And yes, I’m glad the rain cleared by the time we arrived so we were able to more fully explore the shore.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The were delicious!! I ate the maple glazed doughnut (how very Canadian of me) and sampled a bite of the apple fritter and strawberries and cream. My mouth is actually salivating now that I’m thinking about those doughnuts. Craigleith is lovely spot to spend a couple of hours exploring the shoreline. It didn’t hurt that there were plenty of lilacs around either, which made everything smell fantastic.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Hahaha agreed. The doughnuts were fantastic. Even if there wasn’t a steep drop off into the water, it was still way too cold to go swimming! I was happy to just enjoy my doughnut while looking out onto the waves.

  6. says:

    What a lovely day, and you found fossils which is exciting. On our beach there are untold quantities of fossilised sharks teeth from when there were warm shallow waters around England, we haven’t found one yet but last month we watched a man sifting the pebbles and he had loads, he generously gave one to me 😁

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We didn’t spend too long sifting through the shale, so you can imagine our excitement that we managed to come across one. That’s so neat that you can find fossilised shark teeth on your beach!! It’s always amazing what you can find washed up along the shore.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It is definitely one of the most scenic areas in Ontario and there are a lot of great hiking trails. We weren’t searching through the shale for very long before we stumbled upon a fossil. I guess the park lived up to its reputation!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s a lovely park to spend a couple of hours. It was nice walking along the shoreline and admiring the waves. You never know what you’re going to find washed up on the shore. We didn’t spend too long searching for fossils so we were quite surprised to find one so easily!

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Definitely. The benefit when it’s overcast outside is that the threat of rain tends to keep people away. No complaints here as it’s always nice to feel like you have the park all to yourself.

  7. Island Traveler says:

    Water, greens and delicious donut….perfect hike adventure. Still finishing coffee in my side and thinking where to go for 4th of July weekend, but would hope to go somewhere this fun and relaxing. Thanks 🙏

  8. alisendopf says:

    The fossils are amazing. Way to go on finding some. Isn’t it crazy that Canada used to be tropical? I could never figure out how the dinosaurs lived in Alberta, until I realized that the continent used to be way further south. Thanks for the geology and history.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We were pretty excited to uncover a fossil on the beach, especially since we weren’t even searching for too long. Agreed, it’s hard to imagine that Canada was once tropical. It’s amazing to think how much our planet has changed over the years and that it will continue to change in the years to come.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Definitely!! Walking around the park afterwards was a great way to not feel so guilty about eating that doughnut (plus part of another one)! The waves were mesmerizing. It’s always a pleasure to spend time by the water.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Oh it was definitely delicious and larger than your average doughnut. It was maple flavoured. I’m salivating right now just thinking about it. We were pleasantly surprised at how quickly it took to uncover the fossil. It’s a great area to spend a few hours and enjoy the shoreline.

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