New project plans to make lakes great again

Lake Huron beach

If you live in the Great Lakes region, chances are you’re pretty familiar with these epic bodies of water. But too much familiarity can lead to taking things for granted — and that’s something that an Ontario group hopes to combat with “Greatness — the Great Lakes Project.”

The idea is simple: launch a campaign to remind people that we are the caretakers of some of the most amazing, awe-inspiring natural phenomena in the world. “Why not? The Amazon rainforest is the lungs of the planet. Why can’t the Great Lakes be the heart and arteries of North America . . . ?” Douglas Wright, the leader of the initiative, told the Star. The project was unveiled at the Great Lakes Public Forum, a once-every-three-years gathering that brings together Canadian and American leaders to discuss preservation and restoration of the lakes.

So what exactly does the Great Lakes Project hope to inspire? Scott Thornley, a writer and ad executive who is involved with the project, puts it this way: “The largest lake system in the world goes mainly invisible to those of us who’ve been born and grown up around it. We use them for what we use them for, whether it’s pleasure or resources, but we’re not really as awestruck as a visitor would be.”

Great Lakes as seen from space
We live right at the doorstep of the largest freshwater lake system on the planet. Astronaut Chris Hadfield caught this amazing view of the lakes as seen from space.

The difference between a local’s perspective on the lake and a visitor’s was brought home to Thornley years ago, when he met a tourist who truly appreciated the lakes’ greatness. “It was a Japanese photographer whom I met in the early 1970s who said he came from Osaka because he’d studied maps of Ontario and seen these incredible lakes and saw that they were called the Great Lakes—and he really believed it,” Thornley told the Star. “For me, that was an incredible eye-opener.”

The Great Lakes Project has formed a committee to work on engaging the public with the lakes — not to mention striking them with a little awe. They are planning to raise funds for a Great Lakes Centre that would ensure the lakes are well managed and would act as an archive for information on the lakes.

Why all this trouble for the lakes? Perhaps former TV broadcaster Valerie Pringle put it best: “We are lake people . . . It is our history.”

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