Portage Lake, ON - Brett Hartley

My Watermark is Portage Lake in Nobel, Ontario.

Portage Lake is about 15-minutes north of Parry Sound in the village of Nobel, Ontario. I’ve been going up there in the summer months all my life. My family has a cottage there; my parents and grandparents are both on the same property on the north side of the lake. It is quite a small inland lake, and because of that, I definitely am concerned about the environmental impact that the developments around the lake might be having on the body of water.

Roughly half the lake is Crown land, but certainly, we’ve seen, and just from the time I’ve been going up there and from what I can remember, there’s probably been an increase of cottages twofold. Therefore, there’s been an increase in boat traffic, there’s been an increase in people using the water for drinking, and there’s been an increase of people using the water more generally. Moving forward, more needs to be done to protect the body of water, simply by virtue of how large it is.

It does connect into a lake called Mill Lake, which then connects to the Seguin River, which then connects to Georgian Bay. However, from Mill Lake, there is a dam that goes into the Seguin River, and that infrastructure is very important for Portage Lake because with the dam you can measure and control the water level. After the winter months in the spring when the water level gets too high – and we have experienced a high degree of flooding – the dam allows us in that lake and in the community to lobby the municipality to decrease the water level to its (more) natural state.

In terms of the wildlife, I have seen, simply from my childhood to now, a decrease in amphibians on the shorelines. I remember being able to scoop down on the sandy beach there and see a huge amount of wildlife. And even now, I don’t know if it has to do with the development in the area or the water quality, but I have noticed a decrease of frogs in the area. In terms of fish, myself and my family we do love fishing on the lake, but we’ve always been strictly catch and release. I can’t say that is the same for other people who enjoy fishing on the lake. Just being a small body of water, I do think there’s a limited stock and it has been declining.

The Watermark Project is important to me because it connects people with their favorite body of water, and I think most importantly, with bodies of water that a lot of people perhaps have ever heard about before. Even people in the government may not have heard about before. And I think it’s very crucial for those that work as their job to protect our natural resources to be informed that people are in fact using these bodies of water, they have been for many years, and therefore it is their and our obligation to protect it.

I would explain the Watermark as a living archive of written, visual, animated contributions that reflect the importance that we have in connecting to different waterbodies in Canada, and indeed around the world. By having that archive set in stone that we can look back on years from now, we can really see the importance of protecting those bodies of water.

Without having this archive, I do think it (would) limit our possibility to not only regulate but to protect the different activities that go on in the bodies of water. It also informs the general public that we do indeed use bodies of water that I think people would be mistaken to believe are purely for boating or industrial processes, but in fact people kayak, people swim, people drink, and people fish in these bodies of water and the Watermark Project puts that all together and ensures people are informed about it.

Portage Lake, ON
Matthew Chisholm
Brett Hartley