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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Huron first spotted monster in Simcoe

Huron first spotted monster in Simcoe
Blast from the Past

Weird things have been seen in the waters of Lake Simcoe for hundreds of years. A creature -- a sea serpent, if you will -- is said to inhabit its depths.
One might be inclined to question the lucidity of any claiming to have seen a Loch Ness-style monster, but can dozens of witnesses all be hallucinating or lying?

For a moment, let's assume the creature known today as Kempenfelt Kelly does exist. What is it? The most credible theory is that it's a dinosaur, some sort of surviving prehistoric creature. Certainly, there is evidence the creature has been around for hundreds of years.

The Huron Indians believed a monster of some sort inhabited the depths of Lake Simcoe. Their name for it was Mishepeshu and it was a name they uttered only in hushed tones.

They believed Mishepeshu to be an angry and murderous spirit, a creature willing to feast on human flesh if sufficiently riled. The creature was identified as having a dog-like head topped by curved horns, a long serpentine body and a slender tail.

Eerily, that description is remarkably similar to that given by witnesses over the past two centuries.

The first written description appears in 1827, when David Soules spotted the creature from shore: "It was a huge long thing that went through the water like a streak, having huge fin-like appendages and being very large and very ugly looking."

It was a fleeting glimpse. As suddenly as the creature had appeared, it slipped beneath the water once more and was gone. The whole experience had lasted mere moments, but it haunted Mr. Soules for a lifetime.

A fleeting glimpse -- that seems to be all eyewitnesses get. But there are exceptions. Case in point: Cook's Bay, 1991.

It was a beautiful summer's day and the waters of the lake were crystalline and placid. A cameraman was on shore videotaping his friend as he raced his boat across the bay. Suddenly, the craft broke down.

While the boater began repairs, something quietly surfaced mere metres away. At first, the creature rose out of the water on a long neck, then it slowly sunk back into the water and peered upward at the boater with only the top of its head visible above the surface. A few moments later, it submerged and did not return.

Incredibly, the whole episode was captured on film. The quality of the video images were excellent and were subsequently studied by cryptozoologists. The consensus: something unusual, something non-native to the region, definitely resides within Lake Simcoe.

For the dozens, perhaps hundreds of eyewitnesses, this merely confirmed what they already knew.

Kelly has been seen across Lake Simcoe, from Cooks Bay in the south to the Narrows at Orillia in the north. In recent years, it seems she has most frequently been sighted in or around Kempenfelt Bay, hence her name.

This perhaps makes sense. Kempenfelt Bay is the deepest part of the lake, so it's perhaps natural a creature attempting to elude discovery would reside here. In fact, local lore suggests that there are underwater tunnels beneath Kempenfelt Bay that link Lake Simcoe to other large bodies of water in Canada and perhaps even to Loch Ness in Scotland.

Unlikely though it might be, this "theory" would at least account for the reports of similar aquatic monsters in these widely dispersed lakes and explain how a genetic pool large enough to support a viable population exists.

It's important to note many credible sightings occurred throughout the 19th century, well before the Loch Ness Monster became so popular in the past 75 years. This isn't a case of people wanting to create an Ontario Nessie.

Skeptics, of course, will claim all sightings can be dismissed as either hoax, hallucination or misidentification.

But there's a fourth option, one the romantic in me chooses to entertain: reality.

History buff Andrew Hind can be reached at

Lake report only muddies waters

Lake report only muddies waters

Nov 9, 2005

There are more questions than answers in the recent revelation that phosphorus pollution isn't such a big problem in Lake Simcoe after all.
Or is it?

For years, we've been told by various government agencies the chemical produced by such things as fertilizers and soap is going into the lake causing all those stinking weeds to grow, sucking oxygen out and killing cold water fish such as lake trout and whitefish.

The lake, we were warned darkly, is going to end up as one big dead zone unless we can get that phosphorus loading down to about 75 tonnes per year from the current 100-plus. It was going to cost millions to do that. Millions!

Phosphorus was pouring into the lake from urban and rural areas, sewage treatment plants, the Holland Marsh and other agricultural operations, we were told.

Then came the revelation that -- wait! -- 40 tonnes of the darn stuff was drifting in from the air.

And now comes the latest study from the Environment Ministry (right out of the blue, with no warning) that says we've not only hit the magic 75, we've gone even further down to about 67 and it's probably been that way for a few years, at least.

OK, let's do the math. First we had about 102 tonnes we thought was pouring in off the land both from human activity and nature.

But now if there are 67 tonnes and 40 of that is supposed to be airborne, it means only about 27 tonnes is coming off the land.

OK, we can assume, thanks to the efforts of the Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority and public awareness campaigns such as the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition's excellent Wave program, coupled with some drier than normal weather (global warming?) there was a reduction in phosphorus. But this much?

Then why do all those weeds keep growing?

Even as the new measurements were being recorded, eggheads at the Environment Ministry didn't bother to tell anyone, so, (silly us) we kept pummelling the public with dire warnings about phosphorus, even prompting several lovely local ladies to shed their clothes for a calendar fundraiser.

Now it looks like, maybe, the emperor has no clothes either.

Somebody should have told us.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Lake pollution lower - great news finally!

Lake pollution lower

Lake Simcoe environmentalists are in shock after a scientist with the ministry of the environment said phosphorus, long considered the major cause of water quality and lake weed problems, has been measured in much lower levels than previously believed.

In addition, cold water fish species are actually recovering.

Wolfgang Scheider, the manager of the MOE's biomonitoring section, told a recent conference of the Lake Simcoe Environmental Strategy (LSEMS) in Barrie, that phosphorus levels were measured at an average of 67 tonnes annually, not the average 102 tonnes long thought to be entering the lake.

Environmentalists and the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority have been fighting to have the level of phosphorus lowered to 75 tonnes – believed to be the level at which the lake could recover.

Dr. Jack Macdonald, a scientist and former president of the University of British Columbia, said he was surprised by the new information.

“It came unexpectantly without any warning,” he said. Macdonald, who was present at the conference when Scheider presented his findings, said the report leaves many questions.

“I think the primary question to begin with is the reliability of the data. I think, first of all, we need to see the scientific papers and the methods they used.”

Macdonald said it is essential the findings receive an independent peer review before they can be considered valid. He cautioned phosphorus levels have fluctuated many times over the years, from highs of 156 tonnes to lows of 85 tonnes.

A strong advocate of reducing phosphorus pollution, Macdonald said the new figures should have been shared before the meeting. “I think it's an embarrassment to everyone involved. I felt embarrassed by it. I've been arguing for the 75 tonnes when in fact they say they have already bettered the target.”

Macdonald said the MOE must have known for some time about the new information but didn't share it, even while phosphorus-reducing programs like the Wave were gaining increased public support.

“I think it reflects on the credibility of the government departments, the conservation authority, LSEMS and advocacy organizations like the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition,” he said.

Gayle Wood, the CEO of the Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority and chairperson of the LSEMS steering committee, said she didn't have advance knowledge of the new findings.

“No, the analysis of the phosphorus loads are done by the ministry of the environment and we had certainly discussed with our provincial partner that we did have concerns about how long it was taking to get us the loading information.

"I didn't just see the data on the day of the conference. I did see the data I think a week or two before the conference, but I didn't get a chance to review it before that.”

She said the 102-tonne levels were based on figures used prior to 1998. “We always made that quite clear,” Wood said. The latest study takes measurements from then to 2004. Wood said the lower phosphorus readings are a “cause for some celebration. I think we were all surprised. I think people were hoping (the figures) would have gone down, but were surprised at how much they had gone down.”

She said “we've been really focusing for the last 15 years on both urban and rural projects to reduce phosphorus loads, so if the load hadn't gone down, I would really have been concerned.

"What's changed since 1998? Number one, we've spent $8 million on projects to reduce phosphorus loads. There have been over 600 projects done.”

She said sewage treatment plant upgrades in Barrie and the Willow Beach water and sewer project, have also contributed to the lower numbers.

Wood said indications of better water quality began to be seen last year when ministry of natural resources scientists reported indications lake trout were beginning to reproduce naturally for the first time in three decades.

“The oxygen levels in the lake look like they're going up as well,” she said, explaining these conditions were observed in the lake and not close to shore, where aquatic weeds continue to proliferate. “The weeds are still there. We need to spend more time in the future, focusing on near-shore problems,” she said, adding, while conditions appear to be improving in the deeper water of the lake, “the near shore is still deteriorating.”

Wood said that means environmental groups like the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition and its Wave program, are still vitally important. “This is good news, but we have to be vigilant. We haven't won the battle yet,” she said.

Wood said there is a climactic component to the new findings as well, with rainfall levels lower since 1998, meaning less phosphorus was being flushed into the lake. Scientists suspect global warming, she said. Wood said the Scheider report, considered a draft, is being peer reviewed and is expected to be published in January.

Wave founder Annabel Slaight said she is angry the information wasn't shared before the bombshell was dropped at the Barrie conference. As a result of the findings, Slaight said she has asked that the televised

Wave public service announcements be pulled. “It would appear that the information contained in those public service announcements, even though they were approved in June by the conservation authority, may contain erroneous information,” she said.

The Wave Minutes announcements included a clip of the Georgina students standing next to a 10-tonne truck symbolizing the 10 truckloads of phosphorus believed at that time to be going into the lake.

Slaight said she is upset. “LSEMS has withheld this vital information, even though it seems to have been around for a while. We're deeply disturbed not to have been informed of this new research; they knew and were applauding the fact we were presenting this message.

“It's shocking they would let people go on talking about information they have been measuring for six years.”

After the major successes enjoyed by The Wave this year with fund-raising projects like the popular Ladies of the Lake calendar, Slaight said the program is going to be re-examined in light of the new information.