Archive Awareness Week: The rich Marine Heritage of the Lake Huron coast.

Today begins Archive Awareness week, April 2 – April 6, at the Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre and it is a time to look back in history.

With Lake Huron’s long and rich marine heritage, we are taking a look back at what was the last of the working sailing vessels and also a look at the tradition of Southampton’s boat building.

The Last of the Huron Boats

Like the original Bluenose of Nova Scotia, the Helen McLeod II was the last fishing vessel powered by sail on Lake Huron and, like so many others including the Bluenose, came to a sad ending.

Hugh McLeod emigrated to Canada with his parents from Scotland in 1834 and became one of Bayfield’s first boat builders and fishermen in the village. He built the original Helen McLeod I to honour his deceased infant daughter.

Following his death in 1910, his son Louie, who returned from World War I, took over the business and built a replica of his father’s boat, the Helen McLeod II, in 1923.

Photo submitted by Gord Boyd

The Helen McLeod II is 38 feet long and 10 feet wide and the two-mast schooner was a prime example of Lake Huron fishing vessels before boats became mechanically powered.

      Helen McLeod II model at Southampton             Museum – photo submitted by Gord Boyd

By 1945 however, things were not going well for the Helen McLeod II.  it was a very tough year for the vessel because Louie McLeod suffered a stroke and also the trout population had become severely depleted due to the invasion of the Lamprey Ell. The Helen McLeod II was put out of commission and not used again until 1950 when two Detroit historians purchased her and used it as a sailing yacht, renaming her the Anna S. Pigott.

Then, in 1960, she was used as a training vessel by the Trenton Rotary Club but, in 1969, the Helen McLeod II was donated to the Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle and later to the Saugatuck Marine Museum.  Each time she was passed on however, her condition gradually deteriorated.

It wasn’t until 1996, some 71 years following her launch, that the Bayfield Historical Society finally gained ownership of the vessel and began planning for its restoration.

Bayfield Museum & Flea Market owner, Phil Gemeinhardt

Today, the Helen McLeod II sits in a custom cradle in a shed at the Bayfield North Antiques and Flea Market on Highway where she is being painstakingly reconstructed.

Helen McLeod II at Bayfield – photo submitted by Gord Boyd







According to the Restoration Committee led by the Bayfield Historical Society, the preservation and display will serve as a memorial to the days of the Great Lakes fishing schooner, a tribute to her late builder Louie McLeod, and a celebration of the generations of fishermen who sailed the Great Lakes.

Also with a rich marine history, Southampton, known as the oldest working port on Lake Huron coast, began in 1858 when the government of the day built a breakwater on the north bank at the mouth of the Saugeen River and a pier on the south side.

The result of the harbour was that Southampton became a busy ship-building Centre where, according to sources, at least 30 vessels were launched.

Capt. Alfred A. Hackett – Bruce County Museum Archives A2016.046.001

Captain Alfred A. Hackett was the first builder and launched his first vessel, the ‘Britannia’ in 1858, a schooner of 39 tons.  By 1897, his shipyard had turned out eight or nine schooners, the largest being 138 tons.

By 1893, the Southampton fishing fleet included 13 sailing vessels and three steam tugs that employed some 58 men.


With the advent of the engine, sailing days came to an end.

Fishing boat at Southampton Harbour – photo submitted by Gord Boyd

Boat building in Southampton however, continued through to the 1950s.  According to grandson Wayne Doran, his grandfather Nathan Doran and his sons operated a wooden boat building business at the mouth of the Saugeen River in Southampton for many years.  The business was known as the Saugeen Boat Works.I’m not sure exactly when the business started but I believe it was in operation from the mid 1930s until the early 1950s,” says Doran.

Nathan Doran’s “ Saugeen Boat Works “ produced ten vessels between 1936 and 1950 in the 35 to 40 foot length category, including commercial fishing boats, cabin cruiser pleasure craft, and sail boats.

Fishermen would return with their catch and, in the fishing sheds at the harbour, workers packed 60 lb. boxes of fish in ice and sent them by train to city markets as far away as Detroit.  Fishing net drying reels lined the docks where the daily nets were hung to dry or be repaired if needed.

The Dorans also built the ‘Sauble Clipper’ tourist boat in 1946.  According to Wayne Doran, his father Morice, operated the ‘Sauble Clipper’ tour boat for sunset cruises and fishing trips from the Doran dock on the Sauble River for many years.  “If the lake was too rough for the evening sunset cruise, Dad would take passengers for an enjoyable ride up the river to the Sauble Falls and back,” adds Doran.  Upon retirement in 1974, Morice Doran sold ‘Doran’s Boat Livery and Sauble Clipper’ business.

The Sauble Clipper was eventually sold to a party in the Bracebridge/Huntsville area where it was operated for some time as a water taxi in Muskoka.

The marine heritage of Lake Huron and Southampton continues today.  In Southampton, close ties to its marine history remain, particularly, with the restoration of Chantry Island and its Imperial Lighthouse, one of only six built on Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.

Note information resources:
  Bruce County Museum Archives
  Gordon Boyd, Southampton
  Wayne Doran
  Bayfield Historical Society Records