Looking Back: The Controversy Surrounding Lake Tamblyn

Weighing the pros and cons of the decision to create a lake in the centre of campus

By: Brady Coyle, Staff Writer

Lakehead university

When Lake Tamblyn became the centrepiece of Lakehead’s Thunder Bay campus, it was far from a unanimous decision.

Lake Tamblyn, which was built in the late 60s, is an artificially created pond. In order to build the lake, the natural flow of the river had to be entirely altered. This brought out large numbers of protesters, as the effects of these actions on the environment were profound. Despite this, the creation of Lake Tamblyn was not an unusual practice.

“At the time this sort of act was reasonable. It was not uncommon to do something like that. The aesthetic benefit was first and foremost,” says Jason Freeburn, an LU alumni and a technician in Lakehead’s Geography department.

Undoubtedly, there is a visual pleasure in having a lake in the heart of a university campus. The debate revolved around whether or not creating Lake Tamblyn was worth the environmental impact.

“There are a lot of aspects to consider, whether you think about the benefits or the impacts,” says Freeburn. “I suspect most people will find it easier to focus on the impacts.”

There are both positives and negatives when it comes to how Lake Tamblyn was formed. However, without a doubt, the creation of a lake in the middle of a river system is very disruptive. It involves a complete overhaul of the natural flow of the river.

“When you go into the middle of a river system and dredge it to create a pond, you are doing more then just creating a pond,” says Freeburn. “To pool that much water there, you have to slow it down and stop it from flowing. They had to put a dam there.”

While it was a necessity for the dam to be put into place in order to keep enough water in the lake, this caused a number of environmental problems. The dam slowed the water to the point where Lake Tamblyn became an area where sediment was deposited.

“Downstream of the dam is starved for sediment,” says Freeburn. “The reason is because the material is all dumped in the lake. So now we’ve created a different environment downstream (of the dam).”

And that ecosystem downstream of the dam was a fragile one. It was an area where many fish lived. The river as a whole was a migratory route for many fish that live in the MacIntyre River, such as Brook Trout and Rainbow Trout. In fact, the party that was most active in the protests was the fishing community, as the dam greatly disrupted migratory habits of fish.

“The migratory fish issue was a rallying point for lots of people,” says Mr. Freeburn. “There are plenty of fishermen in this community, and it’s a reasonably tight community, so you could pull them together in a hurry. That’s where the fish ladder came into play.”

The fish ladder below the dam was somewhat an attempt at compromise. Given a large population of the protesters were part of the fishing community, providing the fish a means to continue their migration upstream satisfied many activists concerns.

Lake Tamblyn is a cornerstone of the LU campus. It is a gathering place for many and has also been a spot for paddling a canoe or ice-skating. It adds to the visual beauty of the university and represents Northwest Ontario in many ways.

Whether in agreement with Lake Tamblyn’s creation or not, it is essential to remember that when natural systems are altered by human forces, it does come at a cost.

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