Photo project focuses on Ontarians' deep connection to troubled Lake Erie

A new documentary photography project, which launches today, shines a spotlight on the problems facing Lake Erie and their impact on people who live along the lake.
At the age of 14, Julia Notebomer became the youngest person to swim across Lake Erie. Now, she and the lake have a lifelong bond, says documentary photographer Colin Boyd Shafer. (Colin Boyd Shafer)

A new documentary photography project, which launches today, shines a spotlight on the problems facing Lake Erie and their impact on people who live along the lake.

North of Long Tail is a collaboration between Environmental Defence — a Canadian environmental charity — and Kitchener-native documentary photographer Colin Boyd Shafer.

The documentary contains 20 stories from the north side of Lake Erie — from Essex County all the way to Niagara region.

"Lake Erie has an interesting story of being worse and getting better and then now maybe the question is what's the trajectory? Is the lake going to get healthier or is it going to continue to suffer from algae blooms and plastic pollution and climate change?," Shafer told CBC News.

"We can't take these incredible bodies of water for granted and maybe one way that we can connect better with them is to hear about the people that are living along them and most connected to them."

An avid surfer from Oshawa, Ont., Robin helped form The Lake Surfistas — a community of women connected through their love of surfing the Great Lakes. (Colin Boyd Shafer)

For the project, Shafer travelled along the lake's north shore, meeting with people from all different backgrounds and walks of life. 

He said they all had one thing in common — the lake is essential to them. 

The stories include a teenage swimming phenom from Stratford, an associate professor from the University of Waterloo, and a farmer from Guelph.

"Hopefully by reading and viewing these stories people will feel a deeper connection and understanding the importance of Lake Erie to so many people," Shafer said.

"Hopefully this provides a human side to this incredible body of water."

Charlie grew up in a farming family. Now, he works to find ways to reduce phosphorus runoff from agricultural fields into Lake Erie. (Colin Boyd Shafer)

Meanwhile, Environmental Defence's programs director Keith Brooks says for their part, the hope is to get more attention on Lake Erie to spur the government to follow through on the promises that they have made to restore the health of the lake.

"The government of Ontario has committed to reduce the nutrient pollution that goes into Lake Erie and causes the algae blooms, and they promise to work on climate change and they promised to do a bunch of other things but they are far behind on delivering on any of those promises," Brooks told CBC News.

"I think sometimes Lake Erie struggles to get much attention and what we really want to do was shine a light on the problems that Lake Erie is facing and on the impact of those problems to the people that live by and use the lake."

Today's free virtual launch is open to everyone but registration is required.


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