Lake Ontario, ON - Mystaya Touw
~Searching for a Watermark on the Shore of Lake Ontario~
'Why can’t I remember?' I think to myself as I struggle to think of my earliest memories, my earliest connections, to Lake Ontario. Surely they must be there. I have lived in Bowmanville, Ontario – a town on the shores of Lake Ontario- my whole life, but still I can’t remember.
'It must be here, how can my watermark story not begin here?'
I can remember playing in a park on the shores of the lake in Oshawa, Ontario, but that was more about the playground than the water.
'Maybe my watermark story begins elsewhere?'
Yes, that must be it. Maybe my water mark story is about the two decades I have spent visiting Pog Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park. Yes, that sounds right. That’s where I learned to canoe, and it is the lake I first swam across at the age of ten. It’s the lake I played in with my cousins. It’s the lake I walked my dogs to. It’s the lake I always go back to. It’s a place I have since shared with my friends.
It’s beautiful there - pine forests, and waters the colour of tea. Pog Lake connects to Whitefish Lake, if you bypass the dam, and to Lake of Two Rivers. The path to Lake of Two Rivers takes you down a section of winding river where beavers are never far from sight.
I have always loved the water. I love swimming in it, and skating on it, and watching the ripples my paddles makes as I pull through it. I love the look of water and how it sounds running down stream or as the waves crash on the shore.
I have been white water rafting on the Athabasca and gold panning on the North Saskatchewan. (The rivers in Alberta.) And last summer I swam in 17 lakes in Haliburton, Ontario.
Yes, it is these connections that led me to study environmental and resource science at Trent University - a school with the Otonabee River at its center. I’m sure of it. That is why I studied aquatic chemistry, hydrology and water policy. That is why I took a shoreline field course and a summer job assessing shoreline health in cottage country last summer. That’s why I spent 7 years lifeguarding and 4 years teaching swimming lessons – to help other enjoy all the water Canada has to offer.
'Wait… back to my original question. Surely living near the shores of Lake Ontario hasn’t had such a minor effect on my life that I can’t even recognize it. Why can’t I find that story?'
I remember trying to spend at day at the beach with a date in July when I was 18. I remember the algae that quickly changed our minds. I remember the friends who wouldn’t go in the lake for fears that St. Mary’s Cement and Darlington Nuclear Plant made the waters toxic. I remember the waves being too high for me to swim and for our little boat to cope.
And, I remember my mother telling me about how dirty she was expecting the lake to be when she moved here from Alberta in the 90’s. That’s the perception they have - the Great Lakes - dirty. Every time a beach is unsafe for swimming that perception grows, and for many, those are the memories that stick with us.
'Don’t go in the lake, it’s dangerous.'
But, I also remember visiting Darlington Provincial Park for the first time last summer and being impressed by what I had been missing out on for so many years. I remember visiting Cobourg beach on Canada Day as a kid - the sand castles, the frisbees, the water so cold no one but me wanted to go in. I remember discovering the little beach in Bowmanville with my friends when I was in high school. I remember I fell on the way to the lighthouse and nearly lost my phone. I remember touring the 1000 islands for my mother’s birthday. I remember studying the restoration of Oshawa Second Marsh and Bowmanville’s Westside Marsh for school projects.
'Maybe there is a story here after all. Maybe Lake Ontario isn’t just something to the south that I use to orient myself when I’m lost.'
I guess what I’m trying to say, is that, Lake Ontario is beautiful, but imperfect. It’s a constant presence for the millions of Canadians who live along its shores, and sometimes that causes us to take it for granted, to forget the good things about living here. I’m trying to say appreciating the lake isn’t just about the large body of water to the south of us, it’s also the countless wetlands, ponds, and watercourses up stream that we all played in as kids. It’s as much a part of us as every other hometown memory - as every other geographic feature that makes home so distinctly different from away.
I’m trying to say sometimes a watermark story isn’t so obvious, sometimes it’s nothing remarkable or romantic. As Canadians, we are blessed with more freshwater bodies than we can count. It’s there, it a part of life - but what if it wasn’t? What if the lake whose memories you can’t recall, was never there at all? Would you be different than you are today? I would.