Just Below the Surface: Scuba Diving in Kingston

Written by Bill Gowsell

Bill Gowsell checks out the view of historic sites many never see here in Kingston.
Photo by Bill Gowsell.

Kingston has multiple historic sites to visit, but few would realize how many are beneath the surface of the water.

When you scuba dive, you are leaving the world you occupy every day for a snapshot of a distant world that few will ever spend time in. Some may skim the surface and swim in Lake Ontario, but many can’t and aren’t able to spend time at the bottom. For me, scuba diving is the adventure that I always crave. How often can you explore an unknown world which is populated by alien beings? To me it’s the possibility of exploration, and history, that brings me to the Kingston waters every summer.

Kingston is home to many shipwrecks that dot the waterfront. There are hundreds of sights to see that draw divers from all over the world to explore and visit the well preserved ship wrecks in the cold waters of Lake Ontario – you just have to know how to get there. For the last three years, with an assortment of friends, I have made it my business to get to know these dive sites that Kingston is internationally known for.

I strictly stay to shore dives. This is when the diver accesses the water from the shore, and gradually works their way down to a specified target. While there are numerous wrecks that a diver can access in Kingston via a boat charter, such as the Comet and the Munson, Kingston also has unique and interesting sights less than half a dozen feet off the shore. I like these dive sites because of the ease of access and the simplicity in the dive.

In Deadman Bay, at the CFB Kingston Yacht Club, lies the wrecks of two War of 1812 vessels, the Prince Regent and the Princess Charlotte. I have a passion for the War of 1812, and as a historian, I wanted to see the relics of this historic time in Canadian history. My dive partner Colin agreed, and off we went.

Bill Gowsell and his diving buddy, Colin Nickle, getting ready to dive into Lake Ontario and explore the ship wrecks accessible by shore.
Photo by Bill Gowsell.

The area we entered at Deadman Bay was busy, with heavy boat traffic, while the greenery of Cedar Island enclosed the bay. After picking up our dive gear at Explorer Diving in Kingston Mills, we had a rough idea of where to enter and what route to navigate to get to our target. We had a heading for the Prince Regent and away Colin and I went, carefully submerging to a depth of ten feet, then gradually going deeper the further we went out into the bay.

Some wrecks are cared for and have guide lines to follow from the access point to the wreck. There was no line for us to follow from the shore, just a compass direction and some luck. Now, for us, we chose this dive because the depth of the water was only 30 feet. It was an easy access point and we didn’t need to worry about dive tables or decompression.

Explorer Diving gave us perfect directions to the wreck, and we found Prince Regent lying on the bottom of the bay quite easily. The two hundred year old wreck was waiting patiently for visitors as we swam up to the site. The greenish hue of the water covered everything in our sight. Colin and I paused for a moment to really take in what laid before us. Here was a ship built for war in Kingston that never saw battle, and found its home at the bottom of Deadman Bay. The timbers were laid before us, in a pose of relief.

Photo by Bill Gowsell.

Prince Regent was a magnificent site to see. Swimming over top and beside this ship, I could see where the hull came together, parts of where sailors may have stood, and the craftsmanship it took to build a vessel like this over two centuries ago. Around and around we went, looking at the finer details, and taking in the sight. As the sounds of boaters passing over us echoed through the water, I couldn’t help but wonder if any of these boaters knew what was beneath the surface of the water.

Photo by Bill Gowsell.

Colin and I crisscrossed the ship, taking photos, and admiring the history that we saw. Scuba divers follow a belief that you need to leave everything where it is. Diving in Kingston is not about finding a physical treasure. The treasure is the experience. Divers should strive to take only pictures, and leave only bubbles.

Photo by Bill Gowsell.

After fifteen minutes of swimming around, it was time to head back to shore. Following our direction from the bottom to the shore, we passed by multiple fish, old bottles, and rocks of various kinds. Before I knew it Colin and I were walking out of the water, excited about our adventure and off for lunch in downtown Kingston.

In October of 2017, the Prince Regent, Princess Charlotte, and St. Lawrence were designated as National Historic Sites. The Kingston waterfront is rich in history, just waiting to be explored.

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