Lake Ontario, ON - Michelle Smye Hughes

My Watermark is Lake Ontario at GLOW Beach.

I moved here with my family from Nova Scotia in 2005 and while a lifelong pool swimmer had never considered swimming in Lake Ontario. I somehow believed that the Lake wasn’t swimmable or desirable due to widespread opinion and just accepted it as a fact.

I knew Madhu Nagaraja as a friend, he’s an open water swimmer who also lived in our community and I had trained with him sometimes for his Lake Ontario crossing in 2012. In recent years, I had felt this disconnect from nature and had this moment of inspiration where I decided to join Madhu and try Great Lakes Open Water Adventures (GLOW) for their sunriser swims at Coronation Park in Oakville. They meet as a group most mornings, year round to swim and enjoy the beauty of Lake Ontario.

I remember the water was 11 degrees and freezing the first time I joined them (in July) but it was incredible and my smile was wide everyday as I left the park after swimming. As the summer finished, myself and a few others kept swimming through most of the winter because we really couldn’t stop, we loved it so much. There’s nothing like starting the day at our GLOW Beach, gathering to watch the breathtaking sunrise, entering the cold water and feeling very much a part of the Lake. It completely changes the course of every day.

I now feel a deep connection to the Lake and want to care for this body of water. It has become a lifestyle for me, allowing me to live in a suburb and yet live a natural life, all because of Lake Ontario.

Part of our ritual of the sunriser swims is collecting plastic from the beach. The rule is pick up plastics for two minutes but we do it because we care, not because we have to. We always find the same things: bottle caps, straws, lids, lighters, feminine products, etc. We are now working towards creating a plastic free zone at the waterfront along with the Town of Oakville.

I find myself wanting to give back. I feel a responsibility to take care of our fresh water resource. I have found that the more we care, the more we connect to and look after things. The same is true for us and the beach and the lake. This has allowed me to help raise awareness not only of the issues around the lake but the beauty of it too and I owe it all to GLOW.

Swimming in Lake Ontario has changed my interests, I now pay attention to the environmental issues and politics that may affect the lake. When I left Nova Scotia it was important for me to live near water but I never gave Lake Ontario the same respect I did the ocean, but these swims have changed my whole perspective of my home.

There is something about swimming in freshwater that I really love. My experience with the lake has been so special and I’m so grateful for it. I look forward to getting up to the sun rise and starting my day, because of the lake. My alarm goes off and my feet hit the floor running. Swimming in the lake changes my whole day.

It hurts my feelings when people say negative things about the lake as I just don’t understand how their opinion differs so vastly from my actual experience and all the others that also love this lake. I guess I used to feel the same and so as time goes on I hope to see more people at Coronation Park and all along the shores of Lake Ontario, taking a dip and playing as they do in and by the ocean. I hope people begin to look at the Lake as this incredible gift and incorporate it into their lives. This is our precious freshwater resource and we’re helping to hold it, for Canada and the world.

Lake Ontario, ON
Jessica Gordon
Michelle Smye Hughes

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