The history of Lake Scugog can be traced back to the last ice-age approximately 10,000 years ago. Ice as much as 1.5 km. thick pushed down from the north scraping and excavating out deep valleys in soft limestone of the area. At one point the glacier split into two lobes leaving a deep crevasse which, over thousands of years, received huge blankets of stratified sands, gravel and silt out-wash from the glacier. This ridge is now called the Oak Ridges Moraine. In some places even now is over 300 meters in elevation and over 200 meters thick.
This ridge prevented water runoff from the receding glaciers from running south to Lake Ontario. Lake Scugog was formed with the excess water runoff leaving the lake north through what is now the Scugog River. The original lake depth has been set at approximately 150 ft. Since that time the original lake aged relatively quickly because of the easily eroded glacial deposits surrounding it.
When the first European settlers and surveyors arrived, Lake Scugog had filled in so that there were just two sluggish rivers running north to the Scugog River. There were some areas of open water in the deeper areas and in the channels. The rest was varied wetland with large areas of wild rice, cattails and finally — deep in the acidic older areas — vast areas of cranberries. The current “Cartwright Lands” was a large tamarack swamp beloved by deer.
In the 1830’s permission was granted to build a grinding mill at Lindsay. This required a “head” of water so the Scugog River was dammed bringing the lake up originally 10 ft. This first dam was destroyed and the new dam, built further along the river only brought the lake up four feet. Without the dam at Lindsay now there would be no Lake Scugog as we know it now. History was changed on Lake Scugog and its watershed from then on.
The first years of the new life of the lake were very turbulent times. Many areas of forest, plowed field and even newly built settlers cabins were inundated by the new water level. This caused years of decomposition and swamp gas within the Scugog basin which proved a great area for breeding disease-causing mosquitoes. A native malaria made many ill with what they called “ague” at the time. The native malaria was less vigorous than tropical malaria and did not result in as many deaths but it spread widely in populated, wet areas such as that found in the labour camps for the construction of the Rideau Canal and around the newly flooded Lake Scugog. Availability of quinine basically eradicated the disease in Ontario by the 1890’s.
In the meantime, the new depths of Lake Scugog allowed the transport of goods and settlers north and huge quantities of logs and other goods south to the railhead in Port Perry. Scugog’s dense maple, beech, pine and oak forests gave way to the settler’s axe and agriculture became, and still is, the backbone of our economy.
The 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s saw Lake Scugog as a convenient and pleasant vacation area, with hundreds of small summer cottages in tight, fun loving summer communities around the lake. Slowly that changed, cottages grew up and became permanent residences. They they grew further and became very desirable shoreline communities. Life on the lake was good!
Slowly, slowly, however, Lake Scugog started aging once again. The invasive exotic water plant, Eurasian Milfoil exploded on to the scene peaking in the 1980’s. This choking over abundance of plant life, began to recreate some of the conditions that existed after the erection of the dam. There was too much decomposition, it was robbing the lake of its important oxygen.
Nature to the rescue. The native milfoil weevil, which normally just lived on the native milfoil in the lake, found the enjoyed the imported variety much better. Their population burgeoned and soon the lake was not perfect but certainly enjoyable as a boater and fisherman’s paradise. Crash! Without the vast beds of Eurasian milfoil, the weevil numbers sank. So, once again in 2006, the milfoil beds sprang back.
Chemicals are out of the question. Cutting is contra-productive and kills many tiny fish as the cut weed is collected. Look to “What’s New” section of this website to see what the Lake Stewards are working on to solve the problem.
Meanwhile, much is being done to protect the lake through the planning process and the engagement of the public, business and agriculture. The Lake Stewards look forward to knowing the Lake should be healthy for many more years to come.