Located in northwestern Lake Huron, Thunder Bay is adjacent to one of the most treacherous stretches of water within the Great Lakes system. Unpredictable weather, murky fog banks, sudden gales, and rocky shoals earned the area the name “Shipwreck Alley.” Today, the 4300-square-mile Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary protects one of America’s best-preserved and nationally-significant collections of shipwrecks. Fire, ice, collisions, and storms have claimed over 200 vessels in and around Thunder Bay. To date, nearly 100 shipwrecks have been discovered within the sanctuary. Although the sheer number of shipwrecks is impressive, it is the range of vessel types located in the sanctuary that makes the collection nationally significant. From an 1844 sidewheel steamer to a modern 500-foot-long German freighter, the shipwrecks of Thunder Bay represent a microcosm of maritime commerce and travel on the Great Lakes. Northeastern Michigan’s maritime landscape includes the hundreds of shipwrecks located on Lake Huron bottomlands. It also encompasses all of the cultural and natural features related to maritime heritage. Lifesaving stations, lighthouses, historic boats and ships, commercial fishing camps, docks, and working ports are among the more obvious historic and archaeological features. Many features are less visible and some remain unrecognized or unknown. Humans have used the waters of Thunder Bay and its shores for thousands of years. Geological and archaeological evidence suggests a high probability of prehistoric archaeological sites awaiting discovery. In addition to helping to protect and interpret individual sites, managing the sanctuary as a maritime cultural landscape reveals a broad historical canvas that can encompass many different perspectives to foster an interconnected understanding of the maritime past. The maritime cultural landscape allows Thunder Bay’s maritime heritage to continue to unfold as new discoveries are made and encourages an increasingly diverse public to find shared meaning in this nationally and internationally significant place.
The 4,300-square-mile marine sanctuary off the coast of the northeastern lower peninsula of Michigan is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and protects one of America’s best-preserved and nationally significant collections of shipwrecks. LCA is a member of the Sanctuary Advisory Council.