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Lake History

Historical Development

The recorded history of Jack’s Lake has been undergoing planning and research for 20 years, and remains an ongoing project of the Jack’s Lake Association. Interesting stories, notes, photographs and memories about the people and events that helped shape Jack Lake have been and will continue to be collected. The intention is to eventually produce an illustrated book, for sale to anyone with an interest in the lake and its stories.

From the standpoint of recording important details in an organized fashion for posterity as well as current interest, there are basically four semi-overlapping periods that make up the lake’s chronology: natural history and the time of the native peoples; the era of exploitation of natural resources by Europeans; the advent of fishing camps and cottaging; and the gradual build-up to today’s primarily recreational environment. The latter two periods are probably of most relevance to lake planning because they have the most influence on what the lake is today, and what its stakeholders hope and expect it will be tomorrow.

To begin with, the name of the lake is a matter of some debate.

Officially, i.e. according to the Gazetteer of Canada; the Canadian Geographical Names Data Base; and the National Topographic Systems maps, the body of water immediately south of Apsley, Ontario, is named Jack Lake.

However, older and long-term lake residents and their families tend to use the possessive Jack’s Lake, based on an eponymous connection with a local native chief called "Handsome Jack”, who died in 1835; (and whose English name may in fact have been a backhanded nickname for an unpleasant looking fellow.)

Delving deeper, we find that in the latter half of the 19th century, the water body we know as Jack Lake was labelled White Lake. This is recorded in the Rand McNally & Co. map collections entitled National Atlas Ontario No. 2, 1879, and Indexed Atlas of the World, 1897.

The dues-funded representative group for lake stakeholders, founded in 1950, has theregistered name "Jack’s Lake Association” (JLA). For many years it also used the title "Jack’s Lake Cottagers’ Association” (JLCA), which is formally referenced in the Association’s 1986 bylaws. Though still a legitimate corporate name, JLCA is being phased out to reflect both the correct "legal” appellation as well as the fact that today’s membership includes permanent residents, businesses, and regular renters in addition to cottage owners.

The Lake Plan uses the official geographical feature name, Jack Lake throughout, for simplicity and clarity.

The dam – It is fair to say that Jack Lake is defined by the concrete dam at its south end, for without that permanent obstruction the lake would be smaller and familiar physical features such as islands, points and bays would look much different. In a very dry year the lake might even split into two, connected at the Narrows by a small stream.

By the end of the 19th century, temporary log and rock dams had been built across the entrance from the lake to the creek leading down to Little Jack Lake. The barriers, along with a system of wooden slides built in the creek, were to facilitate log drives between Jack Lake and Stony Lake, through Little Jack.

The double-sluice, 650 ft. concrete dam in position today was built in 1910, some four years after the federal government took over the Jack Lake watershed as a reservoir for the Trent Canal system.

Since 1926, Jack Lake had been filled from snow melt each year to a maximum level of 6.33 ft. above the sill of the east sluice in the dam. By late fall the lake can be down to its natural low level, which is 1.25 ft. above the sill, and is left at that level over winter as a flood control measure for the following spring snow melt.

Construction of the dam in 1910 would have been quite a feat. There was no road access, so all materials would have to have been barged to the site in summer or brought in by horsedrawn sled over the ice in winter.

The builders overcame the transportation problems, but by modern standards the structure was constructed poorly. There is no evidence of reinforcing steel, and one belief is that the sand aggregate used with the cement came from Hatton Bay and was "half sand and half dirt”.   Certainly, nearly a century after it was built, the dam shows signs of deterioration, including several minor leaks.

Control and maintenance of the Jack Lake dam is the responsibility of the federal government agency, the Trent-Severn Waterway, which has a responsibility to maintain specified minimum water levels for users of its lengthy navigable system, using Jack Lake as one of its over 50 feeders.

Other influences – One of the defining aspects of the lake’s history is an abiding interest in water quality and natural setting for a majority of residents, seasonal visitors, and developers.

Witness the formation in 1956 of the Jack Lake Land Company (JLLC) which advertised

"unspoiled vacation estates an easy two hours from Toronto," and whose purposes included the exclusion of any buyer who might do anything to spoil the lakeshore.

The clean water, sheltered bays, and myriad islands of Jack Lake originally offered anuncommon setting for native fishers and hunters, and eventually for fishing camps and a population of rustic-minded cottagers.

However, with greater popularity came greater environmental risk. And that is why the Jack Lake Land Company was founded. Its mandate was simple: acquire the remaining undeveloped land on Jack Lake so that the JLLC directors could oversee "appropriate” development of the resulting saleable cottage lots.

The JLLC principals had a vision of a growing cottage community on an unspoiled lake, to be supported by a solid commitment to prevent the hyper-development and over-commercialization that was becoming apparent on many Southern Ontario lakes in the ’50s.

The Land Company’s goals were to: "protect land by restriction of sales of lots to people of good character and reputation for their immediate family, by permitting one main building…one sleeping accommodation…one boat house…[and] by limiting the lots to a minimum of about 500 front feet, and by maintaining right of supervision over all building and lot usage plans.” In all, the JLLC acquired enough mainland property to create almost 60 large lots, as well as having more than 30 islands on the books.

It is not known how the JLLC actually enforced its property purchase and development rules, but a key tenet was to encourage buyers among like-minded people whose vision of a cottage community was consistent with current residents. "It is the wish of this Company to offer this property to people of discriminating taste, who appreciate the beauty of nature, and who will enhance its beauty with suitable dwellings properly maintained.”

During the Land Company’s tenure, a number of related activities were undertaken to ensure the protection of the environment and appropriate land usage. For example, a development and pollution impact study was initiated in 1969.

The Land Company’s final bulk sale of its remaining lots occurred in 1974. The buyer, a developer, agreed that it would be bound by the same "regulations” of any earlier purchaser, and, for good measure, confirmed that it was not its intention to "develop backlots, pollute the lake, cut down all the trees or create overcrowding.”

The paternalistic, controlling, even meddling nature of the Jack Lake Land Company would not be acceptable today. However, it may be said that largely as a result of the efforts of the Company, urban-flavoured "progress” was slowed on Jack Lake. This is seen as a benefit for cottagers then and now, though it must be acknowledged that not all current property owners would agree with this. Nevertheless, it is a fact that many visitors to Jack Lake enthusiastically comment on its relatively subdued shoreline, comparatively modest boat traffic, and pristine waters.