Guest Blog by Ryan van der Marel: I grew up in Ontario

I spent my childhood summers at the lake where, kissed by the summer sun, my siblings and I had no worries or cares until those cool September mornings beckoned us back into the classroom. Like typical second-generation Canadians, my family enjoyed the fortune of owning a cottage in Ontario where we spent much of our summer. A cool breeze off the water, the echoing call of the loon, canoes, barbeques and lake sunsets are endemic isms of the Canadiana experience. It was paradise. At the lake we were stoic adventurers, braving leeches and fish hooks, rope burns and splinters from the dock. We would spend all day in the water swimming, building moats or catching crayfish.

Last summer the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources issued a water advisory for toxic algal blooms in our lake. I was stunned. For the first time since the retreat of the Laurentide ice sheet – which at one time covered cottage country – drinking, fishing and even swimming was not advisable on parts of the lake. Admittedly I was more dismayed that the news had struck so close to home since algal blooms are on the rise elsewhere in Canada due to increasing flows of nutrients into the water and changing temperatures.
Bad news for water is on the rise. Shortly after the summer’s algal blooms, the Harper government proposed several changes to federal legislation including crippling one of the most enviable pieces of environmental law known on the planet. Then, less than a year later, Germany’s Global Nature Fund bestowed Lake Winnipeg with the 2013 title of “Threatened Lake of the Year”, a notoriety previously carried by severely degraded or polluted lakes in developing countries. I was shocked.

I now live across the country and, having not given up my love for lakes, live in a town that lies on one and work locally, regionally and nationally on freshwater issues. Every now and then I make the pilgrimage back to Ontario to visit friends and family. I see more and larger cottages on the shorelines with less and smaller natural vegetation. The mass exodus of weekend warriors from Toronto roaring up the highway to cottage country, lanes packed with SUVs, SUVs packed with float toys, coolers of beer, and coffee cups, this is escapism at its finest. There could be some sweeping generalizations about human economy made here but instead I say this: our freshwater lakes deserve more respect.

This week is Canada Water Week which culminates on World Water Day, Friday March 22. Reflecting on the trajectory of my relationship with our lakes, from blissful summer childhood memories to a deepening concern about Canada’s freshwater legacy, I feel compelled to express some emotion, because, well I’m Canadian. I love water whether it is snow on the ski slopes, drinking water straight from the kitchen faucet, sitting on a dock by the lake, or in hot tubs, beer or coffee. I am also not blind to the fact that it is a biological necessity, comprising 70% of the human body by weight and obligatory for survival. Given all this I say again: our freshwater lakes deserve more respect. In fact, I am pretty sure they need it.

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