My Lake

A short walk from our new home in the city, through parkland, along residential streets, beside a bike path, and soon we come to – ta dah – Lake Ontario!

I have been a big fan of Lake Ontario from the time I was eight and my parents bought a “summer cottage” on lakefront property. My early years were filled with swimming in big waves, learning to row a boat, and riding on Rudy’s sea-doo. Have I mentioned Rudy before? That muscular, blue-eyed, blond-haired neighbour whom I thought looked like Marlon Brando? But I digress. There were problems with the lake: seaweed washing ashore after a storm, and dead fish littering the beach when the pollution levels got too high. But the lake was always there, a constant and powerful force of nature in the back yard of my youth.

I spent a lot of time sitting at the end of the dock, comforted by the waves; when I failed a subject at school, when our beloved dog died, when Rudy moved on…Then the family cottage was sold and my connection to the lake moved to Kingston where I went to university. The Queen’s campus was only a couple of blocks from the shoreline and I often walked down to sit on the rocks and study on warm fall or spring days.

After Queen’s, the lake and I broke up. I spent most of my adult life in the Toronto suburbs some distance from the lake, and the memories were dimmed by more immediate water bodies: swimming lessons for kids in a neighbourhood pool, visits to a summer cottage on a Muskoka lake, a couple of ocean cruises. I almost forgot about my lake; aptly named Ontario, the Iroquois word for “beautiful lake,” by Etienne Brulé, many years ago. Although the smallest of the Great Lakes, it is part of that system, the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth, and a major route for transportation, migration, and trading, crucial to the history of Canada.

When my husband Peter and I decided to move to the city last year we didn’t think about being close to a lake. We were preoccupied with more practical considerations like access to public transportation and an extra bathroom. But after we moved, we began to explore the neighbourhood. And there it was – a short walk south from our house – My Lake!

In June I made a vow to have at least one swim in Lake Ontario before the end of the summer. But life got in the way and soon it was Labour Day weekend. I confessed my one weekend wish – to walk down to the lake and jump in. My brave husband agreed to go with me. We checked the weather forecast and chose the warmest day. As we put on our bathing suits, I began to feel like my eight-year-old self again, all excited and eager. I hurried down the path towards the shore, far ahead of Peter who was taking his time, hampered by his Mediterranean blood. Meanwhile I unzipped my beach cover-up and made a dash for the water.

Yikes! The water temperature was glacial!! I plodded ahead anyway and the water got to my knees. When I looked down, they seemed to be turning blue. I inched forward until the water came up to you-know-where. It was freezing! How had I not remembered this from my childhood? Or had the water temperature plummeted in the last sixty years? Peter, who had given up at his toes, stood by admiring my progress. I took a few more tiny arctic steps, submersing my arms as I went. Still unbearable. Finally, waist-deep, I was done.

I turned towards the shore, shivering and disappointed, as a show-off dog swam by. I surveyed the water from the warmth of the shoreline, thinking that my lake was still truly wonderful. And realizing that there are some things you just can’t do at seventy, even in the city.


4 thoughts on “My Lake

  1. Dad’s Mediterranean blood. That had me laughing so hard. The last time I swam in Lake Ontario was at Ash bridges Bay on a particularly hot day and I still only stayed in a few minutes. The tepid waters of small lakes in cottage country have spoiled us.


  2. Sue, you are one brave and adventurous lass! You look remarkably calm in the photo. I remember once going for a dip in early June in Sandy Lake in northwestern Ontario, two weeks after the ice had gone out. The one consolation was the warm 30 degree air temperature and warm sunshine. May you enjoy days of exploring the shoreline of Lake Ontario with Peter.


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