The Phantom Square-Rigger of Georgian Bay

The Phantom Square-Rigger of Georgian Bay
By Al Taylor

On a warm June night in 1986, I saw lazily-swinging lanterns hanging from the cross spars of an old square-rigger sailing ship suddenly materialise off the western shore of Christian Island.

It appeared to be heading straight for the shoals, and I scrambled for my high-powered flashlight to warn the ship. But then it just vanished. It was a very unnerving experience to witness.

Was it a ghostly apparition of a long-forgotten wreck? …or…?

As you can appreciate, it was difficult to bring up the subject with my neighbours. “Oh, by the way, did you see the square-rigger that went down off the island last night?” might have been a bad start to a conversation.

Circuitous references to lights off the shore found some confirmation after all. One person even talked about aliens.

Another neighbour talked about snowmobiles heading across the ice the previous winter that had suddenly disappeared. I asked what she thought happened; she said they’d likely gone through the ice. I thought better of asking if she’d called anyone about it.

So, I did see something, thank heaven. I don’t have to swear off strong spirits after all. Since then my wife and I have seen these curious light displays hundreds of times.

What did we see?
I did some investigation after a suggestion that the lights had something to do with the military range at Meaford, Ontario, 26 miles across the bay.

It turns out what we’d seen were flares used by the military to illuminate the enemy as part of training exercises. They are parachuted flares that hang suspended for about a minute and then extinguish. Often, as one set of flares disappears, others replace them, giving rise to a variety of interpretations. I have seen clusters of eight to twelve at a time and as few as two.

If you look toward Meaford after dusk, you may see the flares. They are sodium-coloured (whitish-yellow) and appear to twinkle, then blink out. They can’t be seen from the entire western shore of Tiny, but if you do see them they’ll give you an interesting sensation! The Twilight Zone…