The Nottawasaga River and its bay were important in the history of the town of Wasaga Beach. More out of necessity than strategic importance, the river, and the bay had become a part of a crucial supply route for the British forces in the War of 1812. The nomenclature is a misnomer, as the actual war lasted till the early days of 1815.
Before the war, The HMS Nancy was a trading schooner, mostly ferrying fur and other trade goods across the Great Lakes. At the start of the war, she was commandeered and fitted out with several guns and cannons. She was not designed for full-on combat and was primarily used for transporting supplies, albeit she was at the receiving end of some enemy fire.
The devastating defeat at the Battle of Lake Erie saw all other British armed ships captured or lost, and elevated the status of the Nancy. She was the last British vessel on the Lakes. Her role as a supply ship was even more crucial now, especially with the fate of Fort Mackinaw depending on an open supply chain. A failed assault on the fort had revealed the Nancy’s location in the Nottawasaga Bay, and American forces set out to seek her out, with a company of three ships.
In August of 1814, the American Ships came up on the Nottawasaga Bay. They were not aware of the Nancy’s position, but knew of a storehouse with valuable supplies. Lt. Worsley, in command of the Nancy at the time, realized his hopeless odds and decided to scuttle the ship rather than let it fall into the hands of the enemy. He carefully executed a scuttle maneuver that allows him and his crew to escape with his crew on canoes carrying a significant amount of supplies. Trees uprooted from the explosion to scuttle the Nancy blocked the American Gunboats and Worsley and his men paddled for two weeks to cover the 360 miles to Fort Mackinaw in their canoes. Worsley eventually got his revenge, capturing the American Gunboats in the Engagement on Lake Huron.
The wreck of the Nancy was an obstacle that collected a lot of silt, and eventually formed an artificial island. The sunken hull was extracted with many other valuable artifacts, and the island itself became the site to showcase them, reborn as the Nancy Museum.
The events leading up to the Nancy’s sinking are showcased in an annual event, ‘Wasaga Under Siege.’ Colorfully reenacted to display the heroism of the men, it is as educational as it is educational. The event is a fitting tribute to the bravery of the hundreds that fought in the War of 1812 and others and a solemn reminder of the horrors of war.