20 amazing facts about Lake Ontario

Photo by Gordo25/ Shutterstock

Lake Ontario has been in the news a lot this summer, but for all the wrong reasons. With waters reaching up to half a metre higher than usual, flooding along the lakeshore has led to property damage, major event cancellations and even the closure of Toronto’s beloved Centre Island.

It’s had a rough summer, but we still think Lake Ontario is worth celebrating.

Here are 20 reasons why

1. The lake wasn’t named for the province—the province was named for the lake. “Ontario” comes from an indigenous word and may mean “great lake,” “lake of shining waters,” “beautiful lake,” or “sparkling waters.” Whatever the true etymology might be, the description is astute.

2. However, the lake has had several identity crises throughout the centuries. After French explorers arrived in the area, they called it everything from Lac de St. Louis, Ondiara, Lacus Ontarius and Lac Frontenac.

3. Lake Ontario is the namesake of a lake found on Saturn’s moon, Titan. “Ontario Lacus” is 20 per cent smaller than Earth’s version, but according to NASA it boasts attractive beaches and mooring spots. (Y’know—for all those extraterrestrial boating enthusiasts.)

4. Before French explorers arrived in Canada in the 1600s, Lake Ontario’s shores were home to the Iroquois for thousands of years.

5. Canada’s largest freshwater fish, the Lake Sturgeon, was once plentiful. Unfortunately overfishing by the commercial fishing industry in the 20th century led to the fish being named a “species at risk.”

6. Around 50 people have swum across Lake Ontario. If that doesn’t make you feel inadequate, this will—many of the swimmers have been teenagers. Sixteen-year-old Marilyn Bell was the first to succeed in 1954.

7. Anyone who has jumped in the lake can tell you that it’s the perfect temperature for keeping beer cold. In July 2017, one beachgoer even discovered vintage beer bottles that may have been kept cool in the lake for around 30 years.

8. It’s not cold enough to freeze over, though. Due to its depth and size, the last time Lake Ontario fully froze was in 1934.

9. Occasionally, the waters of Lake Ontario aren’t blue; they’re white. An increase in calcium carbonate can result in the “whiting” of the water, as illustrated by this International Space Station photo.

10. There aren’t any sharks, but watch your toes. The lake is home to the American Eel, which has been called “the quintessential Lake Ontario fish.” Growing up to one metre in length, its name is a misnomer; it knows no nationality and frequents both sides of the lake. It used to be one of the most common fish in the lake but is now endangered.

11. The second-oldest Great Lakes shipwreck, which was built in 1798, can be found in Lake Ontario.

12. In addition to shipwrecks, there are other scuba diving treasures to be found. For example, a U.S. Air Force C-45 aircraft, which was abandoned during flight, is located off Oswego, New York.

13. More than one-quarter of Canada’s population lives within Lake Ontario’s watersheds. That equals nine million people (plus two million more south of the border).

14. Although it’s “great,” Lake Ontario only the 14th largest lake in the world.

15. Thank Lake Ontario for your summer peaches and ice wines. Lake breezes create microclimates, including longer growing seasons. That’s why Lake Ontario’s shores are some of the best wine country in Canada.

16. Lake Ontario has an average water retention time of six years. That might make you think twice about peeing in the lake.

17. If that doesn’t make you think twice about peeing in the lake (or any lake) this might; all of the water for the Great Lakes flows through Lake Ontario last.

18. Allegedly, Babe Ruth’s first home run ball sunk just off Toronto Island, never to be seen again. (Put away your scuba gear, though. Experts say that the “holy grail” of baseballs will likely never be found.)

19. Lake Superior may play a staring role in Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald,” but Lake Ontario is frequently mentioned in Canadian songs, including “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” by Blue Rodeo.

20. There are over 100 beaches on Lake Ontario, including Sandbanks Provincial Park. Located in Prince Edward County, it’s the largest freshwater dune system on earth.