The most westerly town on Severn Sound is Penetanguishene, which holds Discovery Harbour, an ambitious reconstruction of the important British naval base established here in 1817. The principal purpose of the base was to keep an eye on American movements on the Great Lakes following the War of 1812, and between 1820 and 1834 up to twenty Royal Navy vessels were stationed here. Ships from the base also supplied the British outposts further to the west and, to make navigation safer, the Admiralty decided to chart the Great Lakes. This monumental task fell to Lieutenant Henry Bayfield, who informed his superiors of his determination “to render this work so correct that it shall not be easy to render it more so”. He lived up to his word, and his charts remained in use for decades. The naval station was more short-lived. By 1834, relations with the US were sufficiently cordial for the Navy to withdraw, and the base was turned over to the Army, who maintained a small garrison here until 1856.
Staffed by enthusiastic costumed guides, Discovery Harbour spreads along a hillside above a tranquil inlet, its green slopes scattered with accurate reconstructions of everything from a sailors’ barracks to several period houses, the prettiest of which is the Keating House, named after the base’s longest-serving adjutant, Frank Keating. Only one of the original buildings survives – the dour limestone Officers’ Quarters, dating from the 1840s – but pride of place goes to the working harbour-cum-dockyard, where a brace of fully rigged sailing ships, the HMS Bee and HMS Tecumseth, have been rebuilt to their original nineteenth-century specifications.