A History of Lake Waseosa and Its Surrounding Area: Recollections of long time local residents
The first people to arrive in the Huntsville area since the First Nations people were fur trappers. Fur-bearing animals were abundant along the waterways and lakes. In 1858, a party of men was dispatched from Lake Muskoka to map all the waterways that fed into the area. They mapped as far as what is now known as Lake Vernon.
The Free Grant Land Act was passed in 1868, drawing settlers who received one hundred acres of land and the option to purchase an additional one hundred acres for the sum of fifty cents an acre. During the period beginning in 1870, logging and lumbering were the most attractive activities. Sawmills were erected adjacent to waterways and lakes. During this time the first bridge across the Muskoka River was built in Huntsville. The river was very shallow as the locks between Fairy and Mary Lakes were not constructed until 1877. This raised the level upstream ten to twelve feet.
In 1885 a decision was made to extend the railway from Gravenhurst to Huntsville. Early settlers traveling north of Huntsville followed the Old North Road to Melissa, which had a general store and post office. Mail was obtained from the train as it passed by means
of a collection arm. A school on old Schoolhouse Road was also part of Melissa. The area around Lake Waseosa was logged around the turn of the century for white pine that was used for construction materials, and for hemlock bark for the Huntsville Tannery. There were few farms established around Lake Waseosa, as the land was gravel filled and steep at the shoreline.
One farm was owned by the Solway family, and was located on what is now Camp Huronda. The farm was subsequently purchased by the Miss Coventry and Miss Rothwell, who operated a camp under the name of Camp Waseosa. Initially it may have been exclusively for girls, but was definitely co-ed later in it's life. Eventually the property was purchased by the Ontario Diabetes Association, which presently operates Camp Huronda, a camp for boys and girls. One of the early families on Lake Waseosa was the Norton family. During the free land grant of 1868, brothers George and Nathan Norton obtained abutting 100-acre parcels between the 2nd and 3rd concessions of Chaffey Township. This is now the area at the intersection of Highway 60 and Earl's Road. It is reported that in 1926, George Norton's son Ernie traded two pigs for 200 acres on the north end of Lake Waseosa. During the 1930's, 40's and 50's, Ernie operated "Waseosa Beach Resort," which had seven housekeeping cottages around the north end of the lake. Since properties adjacent to the lake were not valuable for farming, this is how development on Lake Waseosa began. A sawmill previously operated where Bill Norton's home is located now, close to the road leading to nearby Ripple and Palette Lakes.
In 1920, a number of lakes in Muskoka had more than one name. Several lakes were called Long Lake, including Lake Waseosa. Ernie Norton petitioned the Ministry of Natural Resources in the late 1920's to see if another name was on record for the lake. He was informed that the lake was also called Wasooa, or Waseosa, an Indian translation of "Lake of Shining Waters". From that time forward the lake was referred to as Waseosa. Ripple Lake was previously known as Deep Lake, Palette Lake as Round Lake, Jessop Lake as Jingo Lake and Clark Lake as Hopkins Lake.
The 1940's and 50's brought improvements to roads creating interest for those wishing to locate cottages on the lakes. Waterfront lots, at a minimum of one hundred feet or greater were established initially on Waseosa, but development quickly spread to the other lakes. The Lake Waseosa Ratepayers' Association was incorporated in 1963. Over the years, the adjacent lakes, Jessop, Palette and Ripple, have joined the Association. Since its inception, the Association has provided social activities as well as representation for lake issues at local and district levels.
Character of the Lakes
Traditionally, this area has been settled by cottagers who could not afford to purchase land or a cottage on one of the larger lakes or preferred to live on or have a cottage on a smaller lake. If there were one word that could be used to describe Lakes Waseosa, Ripple, Palette, and Jessop lakes, it would be "stability". Changes do occur. Houses are built on existing lots. People build new docks, or change their lake frontages from time to time. Evolutionary changes are expected; the nature of the use of the lake has changed, homes change, lake use within the limits of a small lake changes. What has not changed is the small lake "natural" setting feel and the sense of community in the area. There are no formal restrictions on the types of boating that can take place on these lakes. However, because they are small lakes and had no obvious "destinations", they have not
attracted large fast boats. Similarly, personal watercraft only appear occasionally on the lakes, in part because of the nature of community and the social pressure (expressed informally from time to time at Annual meetings of the Lake Association) to limit their use. On summer weekends, however, there is a marked increase in boat traffic. (e.g., for waterskiing). There are a number of legally established lots that have not yet been built upon and their inevitable development will increase the traffic use on the lakes. In addition, smaller homes are expanded or torn down and larger homes take their place. In order to protect the existing character, it is imperative that all development and redevelopment be controlled to minimize impact on the vistas and water quality and the right of other residents to peaceful enjoyment of their properties.
The Character of Lake Waseosa
Lake Waseosa is the largest of the four, but still a small lake (approximately 157 hectares). The average depth is about 20 feet throughout much of the lake, but there are 4 significantly deeper basins descending up to 70 feet making it a cold-water lake with a native population of lake trout and cisco. Waseosa has relatively little flow of water. There is one small stream that flows out through a culvert under North Waseosa Lake Road into Ripple Lake so the lake has a very low flushing rate. There are two wetland areas from which a very small amount of water flows to Lake Waseosa from two other lakes (Jessop and Clark) as well as several smaller wetland areas near the shore and a few streams draining nearby wetlands. There are also a number of springs that feed the lake.
Lake Waseosa was closed to development for almost 30 years due to declining water quality. The first warning signs were noted in the early 1970s when the MNR discovered deep-water oxygen levels were deteriorating to critical levels, endangering the native Lake Trout population. Other indicators, such as high phosphorus levels, were subsequently noted. The development restrictions, combined with proactive actions by existing residents seem to have halted the deterioration. However, the "closed" status was instrumental in creating a unique character for the lake and residents have a right to believe any future development will reverse the degradation of water quality and respect the guiding principles to maintain natural features and environmental values.
The homes on the lake vary considerably, from seasonal to year-round, from vacation homes to permanent residences. Slightly over 30% of all properties on Waseosa are now full-time domiciles. Despite the high density of development around the lake, the shoreline largely retains a natural flavor as the buildings tend to be modest (between 600 and 2,500 square feet) and largely obscured by vegetation. There are a very few exceptions, primarily fairly recent redevelopments creating larger residences that are not very well screened. Increased conversion of seasonal cottages to year-round residences is an evolutionary change that adds to the stress on the lake. However, the increased size and use of the existing dwellings (as permanent residences) contributes to the economic health of the Town of Huntsville.
There is a children's camp (Camp Huronda), which serves diabetic children. It is an important - and growing - part of the community at Lake Waseosa. It is the only camp in Ontario dedicated solely to the needs of diabetic children. Its future is obviously dependent on the health of the lake on which it is situated. The children at the camp are heavily involved in swimming, canoeing, and sailing. They do not use motorboats, excepting two pontoon boats and a utility runabout and do not water ski.
There are no commercial facilities on the lake and because it is a small lake in relation to other larger lakes in the vicinity it does not attract members of the public to use it for "day" recreation purposes. The exceptions are generally local "back lot" residents who access the lake through the Town Dock or friendly waterfront neighbours. At the present time, there are one hundred and thirty-five subdivided lots bordering Lake Waseosa, of which fifteen are vacant.
The Character of Palette Lake.
Pallete Lake gets its name from the shape, which is reminiscent of an artist's paint palette. A protruding peninsula almost bifurcates the lake resulting in a dramatically increased shoreline length for the surface area. In addition, cluster development along the eastern shore provides multiple residences with a concentrated point of access. Palette is a shallow lake, with a maximum depth of 30 feet and an average depth of 20'.
Unfortunately, this excess of shoreline coupled with the archaic measure of shoreline frontage to control development and existing "grandfathered" cluster development has resulted in the highest density of lake development in all of Huntsville. Palette also has the highest proportion of year-round residents, at nearly 50% and consequently the average size tends to be larger. Fortunately, development is screened by vegetation on significant stretches of shoreline and boathouses and boatports are nonexistent, helping to retain some illusion of natural shoreline, but this illusion does not stand up to close scrutiny.
Palette is very closely tied to Ripple Lake and the waterflow can -- and apparently has been -- reversed in the past. A number of properties actually front on both lakes, with Palette on one side and Ripple on the other.
The small size of the lake means use of large boats can be challenging, particularly for activities such as waterskiing which must be confined to one basin or the other.
The recreational water quality, as measured by the spring phosphorus readings, is deteriorating at an alarming rate. The 10 year average is well above the calculated threshold and increasing. Continued development and redevelopment pressures are undoubtedly a contributing factor. To date, municipal officials have not responded to this pending crisis.
At the present time, there are fifty-three subdivided lots accessing Palette Lake, of which eight are vacant.
The Character of Ripple Lake
Ripple Lake is a shallow and narrow lake with little surface area compared to the overall shoreline. The maximum depth is 35 feet with an average depth of about 20 feet. Fish species include rainbow trout, but it is likely they are not native and have migrated from stocks placed in Waseosa by the MNR. It drains into a significant wetland to the northeast. It is almost as densely developed as Palette along the southern and eastern shores. Only the northern end has largely escaped settlement. Nonetheless, the overall density of development ranks it very high compared to other lakes in Huntsville. Most buildings are well-screened by vegetation. Of the four lakes, the Ripple Lake shoreline shows the least evidence of human occupation.
Currently only about 1/3 of the properties on Ripple are year-round residences, but we expect that will rise in the same manner as is happening on the other lakes and recent subdivision plans would seem to support this assumption.
Unfortunately, little is known about the water quality of Ripple, since the District does not monitor this lake and data collection by the Lake Partner program is still in its infancy. This may lead to a sense of complacence about the water quality, since there is no identified cause for alarm but given that Palette Lake drains into Ripple and given the high development density, we suspect the phosphorus level may be dangerously high here also.
The Character of Jessop (Jingo) Lake
Officially named "Jessop", this lake was originally known as "Jingo" according to a map dating from 1879. It is still often referred to as "Jingo" by local residents. and the principal perimeter road is named "Jingo Lake Road". It is a very shallow lake, currently home to only two year-round residents, and so sees primarily seasonal use. Many of those seasonal properties are serviced by a lone dirt road with no winter maintenance. Consequently the lake has a very "backwoods retreat" feel - generally small buildings, less than 1,000 square feet and of simple construction with functional, low maintenance landscaping. One property features nothing more than a tent trailer and outhouse. This shallow lake is also unique in that the level is strongly influenced by beavers who frequently dam the outlet to Waseosa, but the "official" maximum depth is 11 feet. Some 30% of the lake is bordered by wetlands, concentrating the development to the dry sections of shoreline.
Jessop is the least developed lake of the four and the only one besides Waseosa that the District monitors for recreational water quality. There are currently nine vacant lots and 14 developed properties, but despite this low level of development the spring phosphorous readings are generally at or above the calculated threshold.