Arts & Life
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This article was published 17/10/2009 (3947 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Journeys into the Soul of Canada
By Allan Casey
Greystone Books, 352 pages, $33
Repeatedly, over tens of thousands of years, great, relentless glacial ice sheets inched slowly southward across North America scouring, gouging and depressing the land.
Eventually, they slowly retreated to their Arctic womb, leaving behind Canada's lake-rich landscape as their legacy.
"There is nothing so uniquely Canadian as a lake," Saskatoon-based journalist and cottage owner Allen Casey writes in this eloquent appreciation of our watery heritage.
Lakes are actually quite rare in the rest of the world and Canada is blessed with over three million. Therefore, contends Casey, we ought to be known as Lakeland.
Unfortunately, he tells us, because of our surfeit of fine lakes, we are guilty of devaluing this precious resource. Neither, it seems, after reading Casey, do lakes have their deserved treasured place in our national historical, cultural, economic or literary narrative.
Casey describes the lake he knows and loves the most, Emma Lake, 45 kilometres north of Prince Albert, Sask.
Like many cottage owners, he has a special feeling for the "cold puddle" where he spent his childhood summers. It was relatively secluded and pristine, property was inexpensive and the lake shore was dotted with inconsequentially sized cottages. Times have changed for the worse, he believes.
Today Emma Lake suffers the fate of many of Canada's accessible lakes. Unrestricted property development has created virtual cottage subdivisions; rustic camps have been torn down for, as Casey calls them, "Super-Size-Me" cabins, and "Taj McMalls."
Generational infill puts even more pressure on the lake's environment and wildlife as multiple families share the same lot.
Casey wanted to know how other lakes across Canada are faring and to discover the real condition of Lakeland. By visiting 10 lakes across Canada and meeting with ordinary people who live and work on the lakes, he gauges the quality of their lives and how the lake has changed over time.
The chapters are eminently readable and they provide a fine beginning place to appreciate lakes we may never visit but whose environmental and economic health is vital to the overall well-being of Lakeland: Bras d'Or Lake, N.S.; Gros Morne National Park, Nfld.; Lake Athabasca in Saskatchewan and Alberta; and Lake Okanagan in B.C.
Manitoba readers will likely be most interested in Casey's chapter on Lake Winnipeg. He journeys from Grand Rapids to Gimli on the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium's environmental science vessel, the MV Namao.
He provides an excellent introduction to the lake's geography and the environmental crisis Canada's sixth largest lake faces.
Another chapter of direct concern to Winnipeggers, in particular, is the one on the Lake of the Woods. Casey makes the argument that the cottage owners are the most interested in conservation, while the locals are more concerned with economic development.
Casey gently chides us; we have not been responsible stewards of the magnificent unique Lakeland. In writing this book, he hopes that Canadians from all regions will begin to understand that the whole of Lakeland is our responsibility.
It faces overwhelming environmental challenges, and we must take up the cause of responsible stewardship.
Winnipeg writer and teacher Ian Stewart read Lakeland while at a lake.
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