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Canada: Part 1

Cold? Perhaps. Especially in certain places, but it’s not all as terrible as you may think. Most of you reading this blog probably already live in Canada and even more probably in the GTA. So you know that our summers can get pretty toasty. With the humidex in and around Toronto, it can, in fact, get positively steamy.

OK. So, the air temperature gets quite hot in the summer. The obvious question, however, is whether this translates to the same thing underwater. In most tropical regions (such as the Caribbean and much of southeast Asia), water temperatures, for the most part, tend to hover between 26 and 29 degrees Celsius … not far of the surface temperature.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Canadian waters, from the east coast to the west, where water temperatures often feel cool, even at the height of summer. This does not mean, however, that diving in Canada needs to be uncomfortable.

Why is it not uncomfortable? Here are a couple of considerations:

1) You can wait until later in the summer months in most of Canada. I it has been a nice warm summer, water temperatures do increase quite significantly. For instance, every summer (at the end of July and into August), we take our students and some fun divers up to the St. Lawrence River, just off the edge of Brockville, Ontario (just outside of Kingston). This is where we help them obtain their Advanced certifications. I will go into more detail on this location in a moment, but the average water temperature at that time is around 24 to 26 degrees Celsius. That’s only a few degrees colder than the Caribbean and southeast Asia!! Granted, a few degrees means a lot underwater, but you can trust me on this, because we’ve been doing it for years … you can definitely dive in the St. Lawrence in August in a 5mm wetsuit and you are more than comfortable in a 7mm;

2) Which leads on to the next point …. sure, you will get a bit chilly diving in the St. Lawrence in a 3mm shorty, no matter what time of the year it is, but, if you wear the appropriate exposure protection for the environment, there is still so much to see in Canada underwater. I’ll travel east to west in this and the next blog, but if you have a drysuit, for example, you can comfortably dive the east coast late into the autumn, you can dive the Great Lakes (which I don’t, but quite simply because I prefer the warmer climes and the wrecks of the St. Lawrence) and you can dive B.C. nearly year-round.

So, let’s start on the east coast. I won’t go into every possible diving location across Canada, as that would take forever, but I will pick out some of the highlights that exist on the east, in Ontario, Alberta and on the west coast. And as for this blog posting, I will concentrate on the east coast and the St. Lawrence and in the next one, Alberta and the west coast. With our upcoming Advanced weekends in Brockville, Ontario, that seems to make perfect sense to me!!

The Bay of Fundy

(Credit: Bayoffundy.com)

Extending up from Maine, in the U.S. and extending into Canada between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the Bay of Fundy, a massive ocean bay, boasts some of the world’s highest tides and also one of the most diverse arrays of marine life found anywhere.  It is, in fact, the tides of the Bay that have created such a diversity of ocean creatures, as the tides stir up the nutrients from the Bay’s floor and the high tide brings in massive quantities of algae, plankton and krill (the foundation block of our planet’s ocean food chain).

The tides are so intense that at their highest point in the Minas Basin, they can reach up to 53 feet/16 metres!

(Credit: Martin Cohen/Cohen 7)

The conditions are prime to attract a wide spectrum of marine life and in the Bay at least eight species of whale have been spotted (including the Minke, Humpback, Baleen and Northern Right Whale).  This is also one of the few places on earth where you can see the unusual sight of humpback whales (ordinarily independent creatures) hunting in teams:

http://youtu.be/vJvfjiCTvq4

Beyond the whales (which should be enough!), there are also an abundance of porpoises, dolphins, sharks, seals, multiple fish varieties, shellfish, urchins and so on.  It has even been compared to the Amazon rainforest for it abundance of creatures and some have gone as far as to rank it above the Great Barrier Reef for the same reason.

(Credit: Michael Strong & Maria-Ines Buzeta; Andy Murch)

It is, however, exceptionally cold, with an average temperature of 0 to 2 degrees Celsius.  Remember to bring the drysuit and hot chocolate.

The St. Lawrence River

(Credit: Encyclopaedia Brittanica)

Now here is something I can write about quite comfortably, having dived from Brockville many many times.  The St. Lawrence River is one of the world’s most famous ocean-bound waterways, leading from the Great Lakes out to the Atlantic Ocean.  With some fairly strong currents in certain parts (it is a river after all), diving the St. Lawrence takes a little getting used to (pulling your way into a swift current along the side of a wreck known as The Daryaw readily springs to mind) …

(Credit: James Lee)

… but it also boasts some truly remarkable and well-preserved wrecks.  The River is fresh water and not particularly prone to the devastating storms seen on the oceans, so the wrecks (including many wooden schooners and steel tankers) littering its bottom tend to last a long long time.  It isn’t the weather that poses the biggest threat to most wrecks, therefore, but the interactions of divers with those wrecks as they go exploring!  While it is one of our favourite dives in the area, the wreck of the Gaskin is a good example, where the hole that sank her has probably doubled or tripled in size since divers started exploring her.

(Credit: Scubaq)

Fortunately, there is a growing appreciation and overall effort to preserve the wrecks, so the chances of further damage are getting less and less as divers become more educated.  Of course, with many of the wrecks being steel (such as the Keystorm), its harder to damage them in the first place.

(Credit: Scott Wilson)

We do our Advanced courses here because the water temperatures get nice and balmy in the late summer and because it offers so many options for specialties.  Outside of obviously enabling navigation and deep dives (the river is about 250 feet/76 metres deep at its deepest point in the Upper St. Lawrence), it’s a great location to practice drift diving (you simply fly past the Lillie Parsons, a wreck hugging one of the islands that make up the 1000 Islands Park), zip about on a DPV (diver-propulsion vehicle), or, given the shoals and shallows of the River, learn more about dive boats, boat etiquette and boat procedures.  We’ve even been known to do a night dive, but the specialty options go on and on….

(Credit: Scubaq)

For many, this is often their first introduction to diving green, fresh water and it is markedly different than ocean diving.  The St. Lawrence is a great introduction, however, because of the temperatures in the summer.  There is diving to be had in the Great Lakes too (Lake Ontario and Lake Huron are obvious examples, especially in and around Tobermory on Georgian Bay where there is a plenitude of wrecks), but as these are substantially deeper and of greater area than the St. Lawrence, the waters retain a lot of their winter chill, even into the height of summer.  If you are brave enough to face the chill and buckle up in a drysuit, there’s still lots to see!

(Credit: Scubaq; Rebreatherworld)