Best dive sites near Toronto

By Moni Raad

Toronto probably isn’t the most obvious answer when you mention diving and Canada in the same breath. Toronto is better known for its rich, cultural diversity and history. Tourists flock here year-round to soak up the atmosphere. 

Guess what else tourists could love about Toronto? That’s right: Diving.

Toronto’s convenient location is right on the shore of Lake Ontario. Here are just some of the incredible dive sites near Toronto that are great for both experienced and novice divers.

  • Burleigh Falls
  • Barrie (JC Morrison shipwreck)
  • Sligo (Humber Bay wreck)
  • Sherkston (apparently there’s a train down there)

These sites help explain why Toronto is an excellent choice for scuba divers. Let’s dive right in (no pun intended) with more information on these sites and why they might suit you.

Burleigh Falls

Situated between Stoney Lake and Lower Buckhorn Lake, Burleigh Falls is approximately 170 km/106 mi from Toronto. This makes it easily accessible from the Toronto area.

With its clear waters, a plethora of marine life and an underwater cable for mobility and guidance, Burleigh Falls is a safe and rewarding experience for new divers. Although there are rumors of wreckages, none seem to have been found and so, if you’re an experienced diver and looking for a greater level of adventure, perhaps this one isn’t for you.

If, however, you’re looking for a fresh site to tick off the list, then Burleigh Falls won’t disappoint. Located just north of Peterborough and west of the Kawartha Lakes area, there’s plenty to see and do for a day’s outing. The falls themselves are a sight worth seeing.

Check in with local dive experts to learn the protocols to follow. The current can be strong here, so follow the cable for safety. There are several SDI dive shops in the area. Follow their guidance and you’ll have a great experience.

Barrie (JC Morrison shipwreck) 

North from Toronto, tucked into the corner of Lake Simcoe, lies the smaller city of Barrie. Barrie is hugely popular for its ski resorts. For divers, it is home to the increasingly popular JC Morrison shipwreck.

Taking just over an hour via the ON-400. Barrie is a perfect location for divers based around Toronto, with many divers go up and back in one evening to check out the JC Morrison. The wreck is only 10 m/33 ft or so below the surface, with excellent visibility most of the time. This makes it perfect for your first shipwreck dive.

Centennial Beach is the best place to suit up and enter. From here it’s just a ten-minute swim via a guideline to the wreck.

Be sure to plan your dive, though. The beach and lake are a very popular destination for tourists and locals. The water can be very busy during the summer months. 

For safety, many divers swim to the wreck on the surface. If you do so underwater, tow a dive flag. Safety should never play second fiddle to the thrill of diving.

The Sligo (Humber Bay wreck) 

If you’re a Toronto resident, Humber Bay is nothing new. Just a 20-minute drive down the Gardiner Expressway, this area of Lake Ontario has seen rapid development in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The schooner-barge Sligo sunk in Humber Bay during a 1918 storm while carrying a load of limestone. It is a popular dive site, especially for Toronto residents. Although easily accessible for those in the Toronto area, visibility can be limit due to the high levels of silt and algae. The algae count is especially high during the warmer months. 

Despite the unreliability of the site, it still remains highly popular for those learning to scuba dive. It’s only a short boat ride from Humber Bay. A dedicated buoy has lines directing you to different parts of the 42 m/138 ft wreck at a depth of 20 m/66 ft. Bring a light to deal with limited visibility.

Additionally, you must inform the Toronto Police Marine Unit and obtain a diving license from the Toronto Harbormaster before diving. The waters are considered safe, although bacteria levels can be high during the winter. Plan accordingly. If you do decide to dive here during the winter, remember to stay warm and use the appropriate equipment.

Sherkston Quarry 

Closer to Lake Erie than Toronto’s Lake Ontario, Sherkston Quarry is a fun site for those learning to scuba dive. The quarry is just 150 km/95 mi from Toronto via Queen Elizabeth Way. The drive takes less than two hours. It’s a popular vacation spot.

Why learn to scuba dive at Sherkston Quarry? Well, it’s a highly-popular vacation location, making it perfect for new divers who want a confined and small area to dive in for their first experience. 

The quarry is part of the Sherkston Shores RV Resort. The resort has a fully-equipped dive shop which can accommodate your air fill and equipment needs. The entry fee for divers is $10. You enter on the opposite side of the quarry from the resort. A yellow buoy marks the spot. 

As a first diving experience, Skerskton Quarry is pretty awesome. There are over three miles of gauge rails on the bottom, some of which is buried in silt and limestone. There are also two locomotives with over 20 cars and a submerged pumphouse. You don’t have to be a train enthusiast to enjoy these wrecks. Avoid touching anything, however, due to potentially sharp metal. This can harm you and your equipment.

Due to it being an old quarry and now a popular tourist location, underwater visibility may be limited past June. It’s best to visit early in the year. In summer, visibility can be as little as 3 m/10 ft. If you do go in the height of summer, be aware of paddleboats on the surface and others in the water.

Final comments 

Learning to scuba dive is exciting, especially in the stunning locations around Toronto. If you’re local to the Toronto area, you can access these sites whenever it is convenient. If you are diving on vacation, use the sites best suited for the time of year you plan to visit.

Remember, your priority is safety, not looking at fish or wrecks. The sites listed here are within sport diving depth ranges; this is still no excuse for carelessness. You will find a post on hydration on the TDI blog. It’s well worth reading. Keeping hydrated is especially important for all divers, no matter how shallow or deep you go.

Enjoy your diving experience and have fun!

Learn more

Diving Sherkston Quarry (Scubaboard thread)

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