Heritage Lives: The Hidden Power Of Lake Erie

By Terry Hughes

And here on this Erie shore,

We see a lonely place.

A gently, sloping, rock-littered beach,

With no waves swamping its hardened face.

Away from this barren, rocky shore,

The vegetation stands.

With no sign of human activity here,

Nor place for children to play with sand.

But be not fooled by this photograph,

Of David Morgan’s home site.

For this lake has power beyond belief,

And man has yet to control its might!

The inspiration for my poem comes from a photograph found in the 2003 edition of the Wainfleet Historical Society Calendar showing the waterfront at Morgan’s Point in the 1920s. 

When first observing this picture, there does not seem to be a whole lot to say about this image but careful scrutiny indicates the opposite. Along its shoreline the waves work their wonders in depositing sand here and removing it from there. Just to the east of Morgan’s Point, Camelot Beach had high sand hills and the historic Sugarloaf Hill while the sandy beaches at Long Beach abound to the west.

Prevailing winds from the southwest are the forces at work here that expose the underlying sedimentary rock at this location. Note too, the debris field of boulders scattered along the shoreline exhibiting rounded edges caused by wave action moving them about on the rocky floor of the lake. The size of the rocks are considerable particularly those closest to the photographer.

Some years ago, a rock about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle was found at Lowbanks sitting on the road near the lake. Imagine the power required to move those rocks about as if they were mere pebbles. The force of the waves can exert power to the tune of several tons per square foot.

Lake Erie sits in a shallow depression much like a dish of water. When a storm comes in from the west the winds force the water to the east end of the lake. The guard lock at Port Colborne was built to compensate for a suge in the lake level of up to 14 feet although 12 feet is the norm. Now put the wave machine into action and you have coastal erosion at work. The rush of the water onto the shoreline is called the swash and the returning water back into the lake is the backwash taking tons of sand and gravel from beaches causing extreme shoreline erosion. Recent efforts to build breakwalls along cottage property involves a great deal of expense and if not done properly can lead to more loss of property.

In 1950 while cottaging just west of Rathfon Inn a severe storm came up. That night we could hear the waves pounding on the beach. All the men in the area formed teams to go out and secure boats from being lost to the horrific surf. The next morning we looked out to see that more than 10 feet of the backyard fronting on the lake was gone.

Along with the wave action, the energy stored in a thunderstorm is equivalent to thousands of atomic bombs ready to be detonated at a moment’s notice. This is the driving force that is the agent for trouble when it erupts over Lake Erie. There is no way that man can match that power.

If the action along the beach does not impress you, then imagine what it must be like for lakers dealing with the elements. Here we see the William H. Truesdale bound for Buffalo struggling with wave action engulfing her mid-deck as she pounds through the lake. Notice a cable that runs the entire length of the boat, used for attaching a lifeline for those wishing to move back and forth. You would attach your personal rigging to this line and take a chance to reach your destination. This photo was taken in 1930 before crew movement could use tunnels made on modern lakers safely. (Richard J. Wright, in Ships of the Great Lakes.)

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

Next column: Remembering Canada’s Greyhounds; the Tribal-class destroyers.

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