Friday, September 10, 2010

Wind farm blowback

If you've been following the debate over SouthPoint Wind's wrongheaded (in my opinion) proposal to build a wind development in Pigeon Bay on Lake Erie, you really should read Globe and Mail writer Adam Radwanski's article on the situation. It was published in the paper earlier this week.

If you missed it, click here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The heart of the Bay

Taking an airplane tour of one of your favourite places is one of those things you say you'll do at some point, but never quite get around to. In recent months, I've been working hard at taking on some of those things (I've also recently taken up the guitar).

That's why I decided to get Amy (and by extension myself) a floatplane tour of the 30,000 Islands area of Georgian Bay, where we do the majority of our sea kayaking, from Georgian Bay Airways as a gift.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Killbear Park looks lush and green from above, thanks to a rainy late spring. Killbear is one of the crown jewels of Ontario's provincial park system. From up here, it's not hard to see why.

The windswept outer islands give you a sense of the power of the bay's prevailing westerly winds. Yet life still clings to these isolated patches of rock. From above, you can also see the rocks lurking just below the surface, just waiting to snag wayward boaters (or sea kayakers).

The cottages disappear when you fly out over Massassauga Provincial Park. Its dozens of isolated lakes are only accessible by foot or paddle power.

Parry Sound's iconic railway bridge marks the beginning and the end of the flight. Thanks to the good folks at Georgian Bay Airways for a memorable experience. A super kickoff to yet another paddling season on the bay.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wrong place for a wind farm

Here's the text of a letter I sent to John Gerretsen, Ontario's environment minister:

Dear Minister Gerretsen,

I'm writing with regard to a proposal by SouthPoint Wind of Leamington to build 715 wind turbines in Lakes Erie and St. Clair. A large number of these turbines would be installed in Pigeon Bay, on Lake Erie.

Many concerns have been raised about this proposal. Among them are fears that the construction will threaten drinking water by stirring up toxic chemicals in the lakebed. Others include the project's close proximity to Point Pelee National Park, which is already under considerable environmental stress, as well as concerns about bird and butterfly migration routes.

These are all important concerns that merit the very closest of scrutiny.

However, I would like to draw your attention to something I fear is being lost in the debate over SouthPoint's wrongheaded idea: the cultural ramifications of letting this project go ahead.

I grew up in Essex County and have spent a good part of my life studying the human history of Lake Erie. From the earliest human habitation to the present day, the lake has played a vital role in the lives of Essex County's residents. Aside from their drinking water, they count on it for their livelihoods and for recreation. It has been and remains a vital part of their identity.

Allowing an industrial-sized wind farm to be built on Pigeon Bay not only disrespects our past, but will only further sever future generations of Essex County citizens from their history. Put simply, they will not be able to gaze out over Pigeon Bay and feel the same appreciation for the important parts of their backgrounds that have played out there -- the struggles of the sailors and fishermen who have toiled on the lake for centuries, to name just one example.

Tourists, too, will lose a vital part of the human experience in Essex County. This could have severe financial implications for this important industry.

Those who favour this project are casting those who reject it as opposed to renewable power, NIMBYists who cannot handle change or worse. I ask you to look beyond this and focus on what is really at stake in this debate.

In my view, the current strong emotion that surrounds SouthPoint's proposal is not about whether one supports or opposes renewable power (I think you would be hard-pressed to find many citizens who oppose it). Rather, it is about whether it is appropriate to build an industrial facility on a shallow, highly volatile, and culturally and environmentally sensitive part of Lake Erie.

I believe your government has much to lose -- and much to gain -- in how it chooses to answer this question. Local citizens will either remember it for standing up to private interests and protecting an important natural and human resource, or they will remember it as the government that sacrificed all of this on the altar of private profit and opportunism.

I hope you will choose the former.

Chad Fraser
Author, Lake Erie Stories: Struggle and Survival on a Freshwater Ocean

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Crossing borders

It's not always easy for a Canadian author to get publicity in the United States. It is, after all, the world's largest media market. And there's lots of American writerly talent to satisfy the need.

That's why I was thrilled to get a note from Cleveland's Lake Erie Living magazine a few weeks back. They'd come across the book, and were interested in including some information on it in an upcoming issue.

It was also satisfying on another level: even though Lake Erie Stories is a Canadian title, I felt I really couldn't tell the lake's story properly without including stories from the lake's American shores. Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York all border on Lake Erie, and the lake's American coastline is heavily populated. I was thrilled that the book seemed to be gaining traction there.

Anyway, Lake Erie Living published its take on Lake Erie Stories this week. You can read it on the magazine's web site by clicking here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Winter on the bay

Although you'd never know it in Toronto, it's very much winter in much of the rest of the province. Right now, for example, the Parry Sound area of Georgian Bay, just a couple hundred kilometres north of the city, is wrapped in a blanket of white. We decided to spend the weekend in this winter wonderland, which, regardless of the season, is one of our favourite places.

I've written before about the sheer delight of visiting rural Ontario's provincial parks and other summertime destinations in the off season. Killbear Park, for example, is bustling in the summer. To get a site, you really have to book mid-winter, or you'll be out of luck.

But Killbear's winter personality is the direct opposite of its summer self. The hundreds of campsites that dot the park, each one complete with a fire pit and a picnic table, stand lonely, forgotten, and mostly covered in a good foot of snow.

When we ventured out to Killbear on Saturday morning, rented snowshoes in hand, the only tracks we could see belonged to the wide variety of small creatures who call the park home (and don't hibernate in the winter).

We only spotted one of the park's winter inhabitants: while we were trudging along the frozen surface of the bay, what appeared to be a small otter popped up on the bank of a still unfrozen stream, his dark form stark against the expanse of snow. After a couple of minutes of fumbling about, he noticed us and disappeared beneath the surface.

After so many years of living in the city, I'd kind of forgotten the simple joy of walking on a frozen lake in winter. When I was growing up on the shores of Lake Erie, I distinctly remember venturing out on the lake's frozen surface with my dad to go ice fishing. We even drove out a few times. It's an understatement to call that a terrifying prospect today. And we were far from the only ones.

The shallow stretch of Georgian Bay near the park's gates freezes thick enough to easily support the weight of a couple of hikers. And back in Parry Sound, the harbour is frozen so solid that small communities of ice-fishing huts dot the horizon like makeshift villages. Closer to shore, there is a good selection of large, perfectly cleared ice rinks to choose from, and the locals seem to fully embrace the season.

It's somehow comforting to know that this kind of winter still very much exists. But it doesn't last long. In another few weeks, the ice-fishing huts will give way to charter boats, and it will be hard to believe that, just a few weeks before, we walked on the bay's frozen surface, and wondered if summer would ever come.

For more on Parry Sound, click here.

For more on Killbear Provincial Park, click here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Save the depot

Having grown up near Windsor, Ontario, I'm quite familiar with the city of Detroit, located just across the river. I have fond memories of slipping across the border as a teenager to catch the odd baseball game at Tiger Stadium (now demolished), or to shop for school clothes at one of the many malls in Detroit's outlying suburbs.

For as long as I can remember, the downtown has been in a state of continuous decline. This has been sped along in recent years by the economic slowdown, which hastened the long, slow collapse of the auto industry, a mainstay of the local economy.

But Detroit is much more than a manufacturing town. What's often forgotten is that it's a city with a long, rich history. It was originally founded by a French officer named Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, way back in 1701. The site was ideal for settlement. Located on the banks of the Detroit River, it was easily accessible by water. And the surrounding farmland was extremely productive.

When you combine Detroit's long history with its relatively recent economic decline, you get a lot of stunning buildings that are currently sitting empty.

Despite its derelict appearance (or perhaps because of it), I really enjoy visiting Detroit's downtown, and try to get there at least once a year to catch a hockey game. A couple weeks ago, we found ourselves sitting in front of the burned out Michigan Central Station, which gives no clue of the crucial role it once played in the city's development, and puzzled over what the grand old building could be.

The only sign consisted of hand-cut letters placed along one of the upper floors that spelled out "Save the Depot." The building's ornate facade certainly suggested an official role, but that's as far as we could get. It wasn't until I got back home, and ran a quick Google search, that I was able to put it together.

Michigan Central was opened in 1913, and at the time was the tallest train station in the world. It remained the city's main passenger rail station until it was closed in 1988. The tower above, whose offices you can now see directly into thanks to the multitude of smashed windows, was once used by railway company officials.

A number of renovation plans have been put forward over the past couple of years, but none have come to fruition. In April 2009, Detroit City Council authorized the building's demolition, but those plans, too, seem to be on hold.

After spending a few minutes in the quiet shadow of Michigan Central Station, we decided to seek happier surroundings at nearby Nemo's sports bar, which boasts of being voted the number 3 sports bar in America by Sports Illustrated magazine. If you're headed to Detroit to catch a game, I'd wholeheartedly recommend Nemo's. It's a classic blue-collar pub with a great atmosphere. To top it off, they offer a direct bus to the game, for a mere $3 a head.

In the end, the visiting L.A. Kings bested the hometown Red Wings by a score of 3-2. As for Detroit, its future remains uncertain, as its main industry continues to shrink. But I'm optimistic. The silent factories, warehouses, and offices that line her downtown streets, many more than a century old, have too much potential to be ignored forever. They're just waiting to be resurrected as studios, galleries, small businesses and homey urban living spaces.

And I'm sure they will -- when the moment is right.

Forgotten Detroit contains a wealth of information on Detroit's abandoned buildings. Click here to visit the site.)

For a haunting, yet beautiful exhibition of abandoned Detroit homes, called "100 Abandoned Houses," click here.

Click here for more information on Nemo's sports bar.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Happy birthday

To Amy, the best wife, and paddling partner, that a guy could ask for.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Lost planes of the lakes

It's commonly known that the Great Lakes are a graveyard for ships. What's not as well known is that a fair number of airplanes and important aviation-related artifacts also lie below the water's surface.

Last week, The Buffalo News reported that a group from New York has begun searching for the Cobra I, a modified P-39 Airacobra fighter, which went down in Lake Ontario during a test flight in 1946. The pilot was killed, and it's believed that the plane, which was capable of hitting speeds of up to 400 mph, still lies in the cold depths of Lake Ontario.

Precisely how much of the plane survived the impact is unclear, as only a few pieces have been recovered over the years. The searchers are now looking for eyewitnesses who may be able to shed some light on exactly where the Cobra I went down.

Click here to read the full Buffalo News story of the search for the Cobra I.

A vital part of Canada's aviation history also lies at the bottom of Lake Ontario.

As part of the development of the Avro Arrow fighter jet in the 1950s, nine prototype models, attached to booster rockets, were launched over the lake.

These small models, which were used to test drag and stability, hit speeds of mach 1.7 before their booster rockets cut out and they dropped into the lake. A number of groups have gone looking for the models since then, and two were found in the late 1990s.

For the latest on the effort to recover models of the Avro Arrow, click here.