From ages 16-20, every year, I would spend a few weeks as a camp counselor in Algonquin Park taking the kids on canoe trips. I do identify with the waterways of Algonquin, but I wouldn’t call them my Watermark. For me when you canoe, you’re always moving, you don’t often stop and get to know one place.
The summers of my youth were spent at my family’s cottage on Lake Bernard, south of North Bay. It had massive sandy beaches and on some level, I identify with this waterbody too. But when I was about 20, my parents decided to sell the property on Lake Bernard and build a cottage elsewhere. Starting in the 80’s, my uncle had built a small cabin on a lake not too far away, on a different waterbody called Long Lake, and we would visit for camping trips. As time passed, in order to escape the increasing population around Lake Bernard, my parents decided to build on Long Lake as well. I remember my first impression of it: I didn’t like it. It was deep and rocky and I couldn’t see the bottom; so different than Lake Bernard’s sandy beaches.
But as my relationship with my family grew, I spent more time at Long Lake with them and my relationship with the lake grew too. I had friends who visited and would point out the trout & bass in the lake, so I learned to fish them. I developed my skills in astral photography because there was no light pollution and the views of the Milky Way were spectacular. My time spent there was really the first time I stopped and listened to the water. It’s clear to me that even with all the other waters that have been present in my life, Long Lake is my Watermark.
I now have a deep relationship with Long Lake, and I find myself searching for new ways to explore it. I remember noticing in August, that despite how deep the water is, it was also clear. So I rented scuba equipment because I wanted to see where the bass lived and I wanted to see it from the bottom, looking up. It has grown my photographic endeavours too, recently I bought a drone so that I could see it from high above.
They winterized the family cottages around the lake and brought power to them. This allowed us to be there all year round. To see it in winter is incredible, it’s almost the inverse of the spring where you see the run off and it’s all mud. Seeing the lake year round, I was able to see more of the lifecycle around the water. I was affected by this and the different ways it called me.
I had spent a lot of time in the surrounding nature and I would find myself pausing in a place and wonder, “Why here, why does this place draw me in?” Maybe it was the spring run off or in the winter, it would have 12 feet of snow. Sometimes I would find some unique feature of the place that would explain why this particular spot captured my attention.
Over the last few years, I began a project with an oil painter, Steve Driscoll, which was displayed in the McMichael Canadian Art Collection last year. He wanted to feature his stunning nature scenes in different locations, so we took his paintings to graffiti filled concrete settings, in front of beautifully crafted architecture, humming busy streets and of course we took them to the bush. These beautiful places that I had come to know, the dramatic rock cuts created so the road could run through them and the dense forest that completely surrounds you. I photographed his paintings in those elements and this brought a whole new dynamic to them.
I think I’m more poetic than my family about my relationship with the lake but I know that if something threatened it or there was something wrong with it they wouldn’t hesitate for a second to protect it. I think that’s what a Watermark is, placing a waterbody in your set of values, placing it with your own life and marking it as important.
I think to understand those that might fear the water, you have to understand where their coming from. They may not have had the opportunity to foster a long term relationship with the water. It’s about building that relationship, so the first step is finding a place where you want to take time, where you want to slow down and get to know a place and start building that relationship. We forget to do that; slow down and take the time. I think that’s why the Great Lakes Guide will be useful, it will help people build those relationships.
It’s like with photography, it used to take time because you only had 24-36 shots on a roll of film. You used to have to take the time to understand how your camera was going to interpret the image in front of you and make sure it was captured the way you wanted. It’s great that people have so much access and now can just shoot on their iPhone but I wonder if they really are thinking about the image they are capturing.
I think we worry sometimes that somethings take too long. My most recent short film is 8 minutes and I initially panicked. I thought nobody would sit through it but they did because we were able to be mindful of the audience. Mindfulness is important, and I think with Swim Guide and the Watermark Project we build the tools for mindfulness and tools that encourage and help people take the time to build those long term relationships with water. It is necessary in this day and age to encourage logic and compassion, that needs to be the legacy that we leave behind. This starts with creating a space for mindfulness and finding places to go seek it out. I think one of the greatest gifts that Long Lake gave me and the reason I have such a significant relationship with the lake, is it created a space for me to be mindful.
I’m currently working on a short video for Swim Drink Fish. There’s the intention that we’ll be able to capture people’s attention for 30 seconds. That 30 seconds can be really powerful. We want to showcase the Toronto Harbour but we don’t want them to know immediately that they are looking at Lake Ontario. People are going to think it’s the ocean and the reveal will be the Toronto Skyline, a moment to jar them into realizing you can swim in this giant vast lake, it’s not a cesspool. The hope is that it will be a hammer strike and spark the first conversation that will change perspectives on Lake Ontario. We want to get things started, to change minds. We want to create a new opportunity for people to build that mindful relationship.
I feel I have interacted with a lot of different waters in my life, though the experiences vary greatly. For example, I grew up in Caledon near the Credit River but I really had no relationship with it.