Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A brief history of Lake Winnipeg

You can blame farmers, industry or North Dakota politicians, but finger-pointing won't save Lake Winnipeg

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11000 B.C.E. -- The last of the glacial ice sheets covers all of Manitoba, including Lake Winnipeg.
10000 TO 5800 B.C.E. -- Glacial meltwater pools into Lake Agassiz, which eventually drains and leaves all of Manitoba's great lakes -- Winnipeg, Manitoba, Winnipegosis, Cedar and Dauphin -- as remnants. About a third of Lake Winnipeg's 91 species of fish -- including pickerel, goldeye, sturgeon and whitefish -- colonize the cold waters.
5800 B.C.E.-1500 A.D. -- Lake Winnipeg adopts a semblance of its modern shape. More than 40 more fish species -- including catfish and sauger -- reach the lake via the Red and Winnipeg Rivers. Early Aboriginal hunters and gatherers -- possible ancestors of the Assiniboine and Cree -- reach the shores, probably following moose, deer, caribou and bison.
1500-1700 A.D. -- Assiniboine and Cree hunt and fish along the shores of Lake Winnipeg.
1738 -- Quebecois explorer La Verendrye paddles down the Winnipeg River into Traverse Bay, bringing a European presence to the region.
LATE 1700S -- Driven west by conflict, Ojibway from Ontario move into forests to the east of Lake Winnipeg and marshes to the south.
1810 -- Fort Gibraltar -- later known as Fort Garry -- is established at what's now Winnipeg as a fur-trading post. Soon, york boats would begin to ply Lake Winnipeg, carrying furs up to Hudson Bay and supplies to the south.
1812 -- Red River Settlement is established, marking the beginning of large-scale agricultural settlement in the Lake Winnipeg watershed.
1875 -- First immigrants from Iceland settle on the west shore of Lake Winnipeg's southern basin and establish a fishing culture.
1880 TO 1914 -- Rapid population growth in the Red River Valley; Human waste from Winnipeg begins entering the lake via the Red River.
1903-1916 -- Railways connect Winnipeg to cottage communities on both sides of the southern basin.
1906 -- Damming of Winnipeg River at Pinawa marks the beginning of hydro-electric development around the lake.
1909 -- Canada and U.S. establish International Joint Commission to deal with trans-border water issues.
1920S -- Sturgeon disappear from Lake Winnipeg due to overfishing and damming of tributaries.
1938 -- Carp introduced from Europe make their way down the Red River into Lake Winnipeg's southern basin.
1965 -- The Saskatchewan River is dammed at Grand Rapids by Manitoba Hydro.
1969 -- A mercury poisoning scare on the Winnipeg River leads to a temporary closing of the Lake Winnipeg fishery the following year.
1970 -- Manitoba Hydro begins regulating water levels on Lake Winnipeg at the Jenpeg Generating Station, using the lake as a reservoir for stations on the Nelson River. Constant lake levels are later cited as a cause of dried-up marshes, a lack of sand on beaches and declining revenue for Aboriginal fishers.
1970-2000 -- Algae levels quadruple in Lake Winnipeg, researchers find. Excessive nutrients -- mostly phosphorus and nitrogen from a variety of industrial and commercial sources -- are believed to be the culprit.
1992 -- Massive algal blooms are first spotted by fishers in Lake Winnipeg's northern basin.
1997 -- Sturgeon are reintroduced to Red and Assiniboine Rivers; they are later observed in Lake Winnipeg.
1998 -- Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium is founded to study water quality and eutrophication, the process by which the lake becomes loaded up with nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen.
2003 -- After conducting the first full survey of Lake Winnipeg since 1969, scientists with the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium find that half the surface of the northern basin is covered with a potentially toxic algae bloom and lower depths of the basin are deprived of oxygen, the latter the likely result of decaying algae; the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board is established by the province.
2005-2006 -- Fishers throughout the lake and the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation report record pickerel catches.

--Sources: Free Press archives, the Manitoba Historical Society, the Geography of Manitoba and the Freshwater Fishes of Manitoba. Compiled by Bartley Kives

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 20, 2006 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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