For decades, people have often wondered why Bert Corbeau’s yacht, Wawinet, sank taking Bert and 24 friends to their deaths.
The 87 foot Wawinet was designed and built in 1904. She was purchased by Sir William Mackenzie, one of Canada’s great business pioneers and was used at his summer mansion on Balsam Lake not far from Kirkfield. Even on this relatively calm lake, the yacht was described as “impressive but rather unstable and had a way of getting in trouble while puttering around Balsam Lake.” Imagine how she would behave on the rough Georgian Bay years later on the night she sank.
The Wawinet’s most distinguishing feature were her eight large rectangular portholes, 12 by 18 inches on each side of the yacht. On the fateful night of her sinking, when she was rocking back and forth in the rough Georgian Bay waves, were these portholes closed?
Albert ‘Bert’ Corbeau, born in Penetanguishene, at 5’ 11’’ and 200 pounds, was one of the biggest players in the NHL. Nicknamed “Pig Iron”, he was the NHL player to record 100 penalty minutes in a single season. Bert was the first player in history to have played for both the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs. During the first few months of the 1927-28 season, he was the first captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Retired from hockey, Corbeau became the plant manager at the Midland Foundry and Machine Shop.
To celebrate the completion of a wartime contract on Monday, September 21, 1942, a cruise and picnic was organized by superintendent Bert Corbeau. The Wawinet, with 42 men on board, left the Penetanguishene dock around 4:30 pm. After a wonderful trip that ended at the Delawana Hotel, at 8:20 pm, the Wawinet headed home on a clear night.
Nearing the southern point of Beausoleil Island, a number of factors came into play and the Wawinet quickly sank. 25 men, including Bert Corbeau, himself a very strong swimmer, drown. A coroner’s hearing was quickly convened and through testimony (much of it included in the main story), the factors were explored for relevance. Many recommendations about pleasure craft safety were developed.
Please read the 37 part illustrated story “Four Factors that Sank Bert Corbeau’s Wawinet and Took So Many Lives” at the Huronia’s Past and Present site.
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