Heritage Lives: Don’t Mess With Lake Erie


By Terry Hughes

How many of us have had an encounter with Lake Erie over a lifetime. It offers a multitude of locations for picnics and swimming. From Crystal Beach, Sherkston and Nickel Beach to the east and Camelot and Long Beach to the west of Pt. Colborne are some examples.

As a youngster how often can you recall the times when you got close to the beach and experienced that odour coming up from the water’s edge. After you hurriedly removed your clothes, you raced across the hot sand and into the inviting waters of the lake. If there were waves then it made for even more fun.

For our family, picnics at Long Beach were popular. After a day of fun, we’d grab a blanket and gather pop bottles to take to the store the next day and make a tidy profit.

Renting a cottage ensured a much longer encounter with the lake. At Camelot Beach, forays up Sugarloaf Hill and then, tumbling down its slopes or in the evening going to the Red Barn Dance Hall to see how many times we could get the jukebox to play lots of songs using a single nickel.

An adventure at a rented cottage just to the west of Rathfon Inn illustrated the power of the lake when a storm hit the area. We had just settled down for the evening as the storm raged outside when a knock at the door startled us. The local men in the neighbourhood required help to pull boats along the beach to safer areas. My father joined the group and worked most of the night. The next day, the storm had passed on but left a mark of its power. Ten feet of the lawn facing the lake was gone!

Optimist Boys Town operated a camp at Morgan’s Point. One of the activities was a hike to Long Beach for an overnight sleepover on the shore. Upon our arrival we learned of a tragedy that took the lives of two people. This area had a reputation for undertows. Three people ran into difficulties and a human chain was set up for the rescue. The three victims were saved but two people who made up the chain were lost.

A return to Camelot Beach in recent years showed how wave erosion has become an issue. Looking down from the sandy bluff on which many cottages stand, a great deal of shoreline protection has occurred at great expense to the cottage owners. Steel sheets driven into the ground are back-filled with rocks and capped with a sheet of concrete.

As stewards of the Great Lakes, we have been very neglectful of how we treat them. Lake Erie has become the catch basin for a lot of toxic waste and other forms of pollution. As a result of this neglect, algae blooms now visit the shorelines choking oxygen from the water and killing the aquatic life. While working at Nickel Beach in 1959, the first real encounter with algae occurred impacting on our swimming program and the stench of this soup when it washed up on shore.

Our picture for this month comes from the 2003 Wainfleet Historical Society calendar showing the shoreline at Morgan’ Point. This area does not lend itself as a location for sand deposition and shows us the underlying sedimentary rock of the Onondaga Scarp. You encounter it as you enter Port Colborne on Highway 58. A number of boulders litter the shoreline. They are rounded from repeatedly being moved over the bottom of the lake by wave action. To the west in Lowbanks, the power of the lake showed how rocks of this size are trivial compared to what happened there. During a storm, a rock the size of Volkswagen Beetle was found on the lakeshore road.

Next column: Our fascination with the jukebox!

DSC_0653 (4)(Terry Hughes is a Wellander who is passionate about heritage, history and model railroading. His column, Heritage Lives, appears on the blog once or twice monthly.)

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