Dog Lake at a Glance by Martha Wall
Beautiful Dog Lake, located twenty kilometers north of Kingston, is only one of Ontario’s approximately 250,000 lakes. These lakes cover about 15 per cent of the province and constitute an astonishing one-third of all the freshwater on the surface of the Earth. One other Ontario lake with the same name lies near Thunder Bay in Northern Ontario, and a few other Dog Lakes are scattered far and wide with four in the United States and one in British Columbia.
The natural phenomenon that gives our own lake its distinctive surroundings is the extraordinary Frontenac Arch. This ancient granite formation, 80 km wide, stretches from the Canadian Shield to the Adirondack Mountains, and was named in 2002 as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. And the ancient glacial origin of Dog Lake can be seen in its deepest sections where the glacier that covered most of northern Canada retreated, carving out a basin in the sedimentary bedrock of marble and sandstone. In the two original northeast basins of Dog Lake, the deepest waters reach 163 feet. However, in some more recent areas Dog Lake is quite shallow so that its average depth is 19 feet.
Despite its ancient glacial origins, it is the Rideau Canal System that has shaped our existing lake. Dog Lake is one link in this famous waterway of lakes, canals and locks joining Kingston to Ottawa and providing vacationers with some 200 km of boating. The Rideau Canal System was built from 1827 to 1832 using “slack water” methods, i.e. flooding obstacles like falls and rapids rather than carving through rock. This construction technique greatly altered the size and configuration of the original, smaller, natural Dog Lake. For after canal dams and locks were built at Morton and Upper Brewers, a large marsh lying between the Cataraqui and Gananoque watersheds was flooded, creating Cranberry Lake as part of the canal system. As a result, Dog Lake was also extensively flooded, creating our southern basin of drowned land, and connecting us to the Rideau Canal System through proximity to Cranberry Lake. The lake’s modern perimeter is 59 km or 36.9 miles; the surface area is 964 hectares or 2,382 acres; and the coordinates are: Lat. 44° 25' 49"; Long. 76° 20' 04".
A further consequence of the construction of the Rideau Canal was the creation of Crane’s Nest Lake, which flows into Dog Lake and was named after the cranes that nested in the tops of dead trees killed by the flooding. For a time, this tiny lake served as the start of a water route for logs felled in nearby forests. A more unpleasant result of canal construction flooding are those stumps we all dread to hit. These are always an indication of drowned land and are found along the entire Rideau Canal. Whether or not these remnants of forest growth remain in place depends on the kind of tree, the type of soil in which they were rooted, and the severity of current or wave action in their area.
Human Activities, Past and Present
Dog Lake attracts visitors every summer to enjoy fishing and boating, but its most famous visitor may have been Samuel de Champlain! While there is no firm evidence for his exact route and location, his own journal describes a trip in 1615 up a river onto a lake where he fished for pike and trout "of immense size." Speculation is that the route that best fits his description is up the Cataraqui River to Dog Lake and then by portage to Loughborough Lake. Let’s assume it’s true.
The public dock area at the western end of the lake, known as the Shipyards, serves as a reminder of Dog Lake's history. Boat building was once a vibrant industry here. Scows and barges to ship iron ore from mines near Battersea, or phosphate, wood, logs and lumber, were built here, as well as several steam-driven tugs. A community of workers was established near the Shipyards. The name alone remains!
Dog Lake was, for a large part of the twentieth century, a recreational area for summer residents who owned traditional cottages and for tourists attracted by the superb fishing. Since the 1990's, Dog Lake has also become a residential area with permanent homes built by retirees and people commuting to work in Kingston and other nearby locations.
Dog Lake is still well known for its fishing opportunities. Major species include large and smallmouth bass, splake, northern pike, perch, bluegill, and black crappie.
Loons with their plaintive calls are also a common sight on Dog Lake. Did you know that the word “loon” comes from a Scandinavian word meaning “clumsy?” This would seem to reflect their difficulty moving on land, as their legs are placed very far back on their bodies. In the water, however, they are excellent divers and swimmers, easily overtaking fish and staying underwater up to 3 minutes if necessary.
Other animal species present on the lake include, beavers, muskrats, herons, osprey, and in recent years, a few golden eagles.
As with many other waterways in Ontario, Dog Lake has been subjected to unwanted invasions by plants and animals. Key among these are aquatic vegetation and zebra mussels. Aquatic vegetation grows in all the shallows (12 feet or under), and in wind- or current-sheltered areas of water. The predominant invasive species is Eurasian Milfoil, which was introduced to the Rideau Canal system in the 1960s. Zebra mussels are believed to have been introduced into North American in the late 1980's by ballast water from transoceanic ships from Europe carrying veligers (larvae), juveniles, or adult mussels. These mollusks increase water clarity, thereby allowing the growth of weeds in much deeper water, due to the further penetration of sunlight.
There is no doubt that Dog Lake and its environs have a long rich geologic and biologic history. While little is known about the aboriginal peoples that may have enjoyed the bounties of what is now Dog Lake, the influences of European settlers and their descendants have had profound effects in altering the shape of the lake, using the lake for recreational opportunities, and developing the shore-lands for agricultural and residential settlement.