Plying the waters of Bruce’s shores have always posed many dangers and the vast amount of shipwrecks stand as a testament to that fact. Tragedies, such as the sinking of the Saucy Jack at Southampton in 1851 resulted not only in the loss of lives, but also supplies needed for settlers to survive through the winter. As early as 1859, the village of Southampton requested a lifeboat from the government for lifesaving efforts. Unfortunately, the Dominion of Canada didn’t begin establishing a Life-Saving Service until the early 1880s. Prior to government life-saving stations, it was often the heroic efforts of lighthouse keepers and ships’ crews that kept disasters from becoming all-out tragedies.
In October of 1876, off the coast of Michigan, Captain John Spence and the crew of the Nemesis rescued the shipwrecked crew of the propeller New York. The Nemesis had to circle the New York’s crew, who were in a lifeboat, twelve times during a large storm, and managed to save all but one of the crew members, while at the same time losing most of their own cargo. For their efforts, the crew were awarded medals, and Captain Spence received a silver tea set from the village of Southampton.
Captain William McGregor Lambert, lightkeeper of Chantry Island between 1880 and 1907, is credited with saving many lives over his 27 years of service. In particular, he was awarded a medal for bravery by the Canadian Humane Association for his efforts in rescuing the crew of the Cavalier, which wrecked at Southampton August of 1906.
Finally, after years of petitioning the government, Southampton received the funds to create a life-saving station in 1907 and it was completed in 1908. Originally located at the lakeshore, just north of what now is the foot of Palmerston St., the station was moved in 1918 to the end of the Long Dock, where the lifeboat could be dropped into the water in bad weather, around 100ft from the shore. Throughout its time, the lifesaving station in Southampton was kept busy. The station was closed in 1937.