CRAWFORD LAKE CONSERVATION AREA
Crawford Lake, set like a turquoise-coloured gem amongst the bright green forest of the Niagara Escarpment, is only one of the many attractions of the Crawford Lake Conservation Area. Located just south of Milton, this conservation area offers the entire family much to see, experience and learn. In fact when we arrived, my family was divided about what to do first. My nine year-old wanted to visit the reconstructed Iroquoian village, my mother wanted to see the lake, I wanted to hike out to the Nassagaweya canyon and my six year-old wanted to go to the visitors centre for ice cream. Eventually we managed to please everyone, but it took some negotiating.
As it turns out grandmothers rule, so with promises of ice cream at the end of the walk we headed through the sun-dappled forest to discover Crawford Lake. Crawford Lake is circled by a boardwalk which, besides being wheelchair accessible, allows visitors to walk the perimeter without harming the unique ecosystem surrounding it. The boardwalk passes through beautiful limestone-studded forest and along the banks of the remarkably clear lake where fish can be seen swimming above shallow ledges.
Beyond the narrow shallow ledge, Crawford Lake plunges into the limestone to a depth of 24 metres, which is part of the reason it is special and classified as a meromictic lake. Because of its depth and small surface area, the lake has limited circulation, little oxygen below 15 metres and the annual layers of sediment at the bottom of the lake have been preserved intact. Studies have revealed corn pollen in the sediment layers dating more than 600 years ago, which means the Iroquoian people were farming corn nearby at that time. We were lucky enough to see not only a variety of fish on our walk, one large catfish included, but we also watched two large turtles swimming lazily in circles, their quiet lives revealed by the algae growing on their backs and along their tails.
Next on the agenda was a hike out to the Nassagaweya canyon, which was breathtaking and well worth the walk. As I gazed out across the canyon, a flicker of shadow on the trees below made me look up in time to see a turkey vulture swoop just above my head. That’s when I looked the length of the canyon and realized there were dozens of turkey vultures circling and soaring on the gentle breeze. As I watched them I recalled one of the traditional Iroquoian thanksgiving addresses I had read along the trail.
We have been given the duty
To live in harmony with one another
And with other livings things.
We give thanks that this is true.
“Look at that!” I said out loud - to myself - when another appeared suddenly from the trees behind me and only metres above my head. But my exclamation went unheard because the kids and their grandmother had left me by then and were back at the visitors centre making paper-plate turtles at the kids’ art station. I soaked up the peaceful view for a few more minutes and understood why the Iroquoian people had chosen Crawford Lake as their home. Then I went to find my kids who I discovered smiling and covered in green paint.
The Iroquoian village was another highlight of our visit. Reconstructed from archaeological evidence, the village dates back to the 1400’s when it is estimated that approximately 250 people lived in five longhouses on the exact site. The village is rooted in history and as we discovered the many hands-on exhibits we felt connected to the spirit of the people who lived there. In addition to a protective palisade, a maple syrup making area, a sacred garden, a lacrosse field and drying racks, there are two completed longhouses. One longhouse is a cleverly disguised learning centre that includes displays on Iroquoian culture and modern archaeological techniques. The other longhouse, provides a first-hand experience of what life would have been like in an Iroquoian village hundreds of years ago.
Like its historical counterpart, the Turtle Clan Longhouse was filled with furs and dried foods, woven baskets, birch bark containers, fire pits, children’s toys and a variety of tools. In addition, an interpretive guide was available to explain how things were done back then: how rope was braided from cedar bark, how longhouses were constructed, how corn bread was made. We all tried grinding corn with a mortar and pestle and hooking rings of bone on tethered sticks. We also tried to imagine ourselves five hundred years ago cooking over a firepit, with smoke spiraling up through the beams of sunlight shooting down from the roof above. Both my mother and I imagined that life would have been hard at times, but somehow satisfying, even with forty family members living under the same roof.
On the drive home I asked everyone to name their favourite part of the Crawford Lake Conservation Area. My nine-year-old liked learning about how the Iroquoian people turned deer hides into clothing, my mother picked the walk around the lake, I could still see the turkey vultures soaring overhead and, of course, my six-year-old voted for the ice cream!
Christina Kilbourne is an avid outdoor enthusiast and writer. She is the author of four novels, including Dear Jo, winner of the 2009 Manitoba Young Readers Choice Award , the 2010 Saskatchewan Snow Willow Award in 2010 and the 2010 British Columbia Red Cedar Award. She lives in Bracebridge with her family and various four-legged creatures.