At The Land Between, stories are important to us. Stories are great at sharing knowledge between generations and individuals. This particular story comes from my Grandfather who was born and raised on the edge of Muskoka and Haliburton county as well as things I later learned at school. Near the town of Dorset, where my Grandfather grew up, there’s a pair of twin lakes far off the beaten path called Red Chalk and Blue Chalk lakes. These are special lakes today since they are headwater lakes to their whole watershed. For this reason, they are relatively pristine and aren’t inhabited by many people. Many years ago, long before either I or many of you were born, there was a very unique species of fish that lived in these lakes. These fish were the Arctic grayling or Thymallus arcticus. Although the Arctic was thousands of kilometers away, they managed to find a home in this small part of Central Ontario. Arctic grayling are a small and very colourful member of the Salmon family that typically are found in the Yukon and Northwest territories in either the Arctic ocean or rivers that feed into it. With that in mind, nobody could really figure out why Arctic grayling were swimming around a couple lakes in Ontario. Today, there’s still no scientific agreement on how Arctic graylings were so far from their normal home territories. The best theory now is that their eggs were picked up and deposited by the massive continental glaciers that once stood kilometers high over The Land Between. When the last glaciers began to travel south, out of the Arctic, eggs of these fish after being fertilized were frozen quickly and picked up by the glaciers and carried far south. Thousands of years later, the glaciers began to recede and the eggs thawed into the basins of what would become modern day Red Chalk and Blue Chalk lake. From then on, the Arctic grayling called the area home and for thousands of years continued their population by spawning in the small streams that feed into the lakes. Word got out about the strange species in these small remote lakes. The fish were a pleasure to catch and put up quite the fight by jumping out of the water. Fishermen from all over flocked to these lakes in the hope of hooking into one of these unusual fish. Since it was previously a difficult place to get to, requiring a hike over hills through thick forest and wetlands, the grayling had originally enjoyed being the top predator in the lakes. As more and more people came to experience this unique angling phenomenon and take their trophy away with them, the harder it became to find a fish to catch. The angling pressure coupled with the introduction of Largemouth bass by fisherman wishing for a second sportfish in the lake decimated the population of Arctic grayling as far as we know in Ontario. Unfortunately, this fantastical story of the out of place Arctic grayling does not have a happy ending for the fish or any fisherman that was not born early enough to visit the lake in its prime. However, there is another very special fish that calls The Land Between home that still has natural populations today. It isn’t a different species that traveled here from a faraway place. Instead it’s a Lake trout, a species you might already know about. This particular Lake trout is specific to each of three counties: to the Haliburton, Muskoka and Hastings areas, where they were somehow cut off from all other Lake trout long ago. When this happened the fish began to adapt to the lakes it lived in which were different from ones other Lake trout live in. For these reasons they became the Haliburton gold trout, Muskoka platinum and Hastings silver lake trout; all subspecies of Lake trout in general, and all unique to these areas/found nowhere else. It’s our duty as stewards of this land to take care of the place that these fish call home to avoid the same mistake that caused the loss of the lost Arctic graylings. Even though the graylings of Red Chalk they’re no longer here, the story of their journey south frozen in a glacier is awe inspiring. It’s my reminder of the resilience and wonder of nature all around us. Listen, look and learn from the fantastic nature around us, and find your place in the story.
Written by Lucas McLelland, Blue Lakes Program Coordinator, The Land Between.