Balsam Lake is one of the city’s great treasures
Source: mykawartha.com, June 17 2010
The Fresh Water Summit being unveiled this weekend in Coboconk will showcase Balsam Lake as the highest body of freshwater in Canada from which you can circumnavigate the globe without ever having to travel on land.
In promoting the Summit, the City of Kawartha Lakes tourism department notes that, while there are two higher global navigable rivers, Balsam Lake is the only spot that gives a vessel’s skipper the choice to go east to the Atlantic Ocean, west to the Pacific Ocean, south to the Caribbean Sea or north to the Arctic Ocean.
But, for those who live, work and play on this freshwater jewel, elevation is only part of its allure.
Doug Paterson, president of the Balsam Lake Association, said his children are now sixth-generation cottagers on the lake, and he’s seen many changes over the years.
He says those changes are for the better.
“Balsam Lake has a great history,” he said. “Having the (provincial) park has been great. There are also active associations, such as the Balsam Lake Sailing Club, which has been around for more than 40 years.”
He said while many lake properties now boast “year-round homes you’d be proud to have in Toronto” instead of older cottages (his was built in 1871), the green movement and advanced environmental technology are now priorities for cottage owners. And, Mr. Paterson noted those priorities are particularly important when so many of the cottagers are multi-generational.
He said tough government regulations on water quality and shoreline preservation have ensured the natural resource is preserved. But, he noted “a new era of cottagers” have made it a priority to protect the lake and ensure that future generations enjoy it, and they welcome legislation that will help them to achieve that goal.
Because it is ‘high water,’ Mr. Paterson said, Balsam Lake has not been plagued with invasive species such as the zebra mussels that have devastated other lakes. And the Association also undertakes and pays for its own water-quality testing; last year, the results were “stellar,” he said.
“In the 1950s, people would do what they wanted (on cottage properties),” Mr. Paterson continued. “If they wanted to put in a concrete wall, they did. But, it’s a new era of cottagers. We’ve learned to live with the land, the lake, the wildlife the way it is; not just making something into the way we want.”
Local business owners offer a glimpse of the lake’s economic importance to the area.
Jill Quast, owner of Happy Days Houseboats, which was established in 1978, said those whose livelihoods depend on Balsam (and other Kawartha lakes) are very much aware of what the lake offers and its importance to area tourism.
“Clear, clean water and great recreational boating and fishing,” she said, adding the locks are also a draw. “Kirkfield has the highest lock and Rosedale has the prettiest, with all that water in between.”
Ms Quast, whose fleet includes 20 houseboats and mooring for 54 private boats, said the lake offers “excellent overnight mooring” but noted boating, particularly on houseboats, is the first step to seeing everything offered in the Kawarthas.
“There’s a lot beyond boating…houseboating leads to other activities, like canoeing, biking, trails.” She added that Balsam Lake offers scenic places to stop such as Indian Point and Grand Island.
Catharine Kersteman and her husband, Chris, own the Saucy Willow Inn on the Gull River. She says people come “for overnight or a week” and she gets a lot of reaction from tourists.
One of the key attractions of Balsam Lake (along with its “great fishing”), she said, is that it offers “the best of all worlds.”
Not only is it a key part of the Trent-Severn Waterway for motorized boats, Balsam also offers canoeists and kayakers “lots of little inlets” to explore that are away from Trent-Severn boating traffic. Ms Kersteman said the clean, clear water and sand dunes attract swimmers and waterskiers. Boaters can anchor offshore at one of the many sand dune inlets and go for a swim in water “that’s only waist deep and warm.”
“We get a lot of repeat business, and a lot of people from Toronto who have never been here before,” Ms Kersteman said. “They comment that it’s so peaceful, and they like that they don’t have a long drive to get here.” She added there is a wide variety of things to do, from birdwatching at the Carden Plain, to golf and hiking – all within a half-hour’s drive. And, Coboconk itself offers lots for shoppers.
Ms Kersteman said another attraction on the lake is Indian Point Provincial Park, which offers a perfect environment for nature lovers to explore, as it is not a “maintained” park like Balsam Lake Provincial Park.
Paul Zaborowski, president of the Shedden&Area Historical Society, noted Balsam Lake’s rich history. He said for hundreds of years, the lake was a major aboriginal settlement and travel route for First Nation peoples. Samuel de Champlain recorded his travels through the area and on Balsam Lake in his diaries. The south end of the lake, Mr. Zaborowski said, held one of the largest ‘middens’ (garbage dumps) for aboriginal villagers centuries ago. Combing through it reveals a vast number of eel bones; the North American eel was a “major, major portion of their diet,” he said.
Mr. Zaborowski also said the lake was crucial to logging in the area in the 1800s, and, while a major transportation route, was always a cottager’s and vacationer’s paradise. Cedar Villa, built in 1926, was a popular resort until it burned down in the 1970s, and Royal Resort still exists today.
He noted the lake has seen its share of tragedy, especially in July of 1926 when 11 young men from a church camp drowned when a squall capsized their large canoe. In 2006, a memorial service was held to commemorate the 80th anniversary of a tragedy “a lot of people have heard about.”
Mr. Zaborowski lives in the cottage his family has owned for 55 years, and said he finds it fascinating that in order to build the Kirkfield lift lock in 1908, Balsam Lake had to be raised eight feet.
“It was easier to raise the lake than to dig through all that rock (in Kirkfield),” he said. “If they hadn’t, I wouldn’t have waterfront.”
Mr. Zaborowski said the lake, and Balsam Lake Provincial Park “is the biggest draw in the north end of the city.”
He added that while there’s no shortage of tourists in July and August, “the cottagers taxes and the tourists are what support this area. We need to get people here in May, June, September and October.”
He said the Society continues to work on its photo archive collection, and welcomes anyone with an interest in the lake’s history to get involved.