Nested in lush forests atop the stunning Niagara Escarpment, Crawford Lake Conservation Area is enjoyable to visit any time of the year.
You can step back in time and explore the 15th century longhouse Iroquoian Village. Sample maple taffy during Sweet Water Season. Watch soaring turkey vultures glide through the Nassagaweya Canyon. Observe the turtles paddling in the meromictic lake on a walk around the boardwalk. Go cross-country skiing with your friends or join a Moonlight Snowshoe Hike. But if the summer is hot and you’d like to plunge into the water to beat the heat, keep in mind that there is no beach on this lake.
How to get to Crawford Lake Conservation Area from Toronto
It’s easy and fast. On Hwy 401, we head west, drive through the city of Milton and soon turn onto Guelph Line (exit 312) towards Campbellville. After a few kilometers, we see the sign Crawford Lake Conservation Area. The distance from Toronto is a little over 60km, so it will take you about an hour to get there.
Three unique features make Crawford Lake special:
- The 24-metres-deep meromictic Crawford Lake
- A 15th century reconstructed Iroquoian Village with a few long houses
- The 1.4km elevated boardwalk that curls around the lake
Meromictic Crawford Lake
Crawford Lake requires a separate attention. Small in the surface area (only 5.9 acres or 2.4ha), it has a depth of 23m (!!!) and belongs to a very rare type of meromictic lakes, i.e. lakes with different layers of water that do not intermix, and the deepest of which does not contain dissolved oxygen. In ordinary, “normal” lakes, at least once each year, there is a physical mixing of the surface and the deep waters. In meromictic lakes, the layers of water can remain unmixed for years, decades, and centuries.
Crawford Lake has sequentially deposited seasonal sediment laminations called varves at the bottom; these allow for accurate dating of sediment cores and make Crawford Lake a prime site for archeological and geochemical studies. The sedimentary layers remain relatively undisturbed, and according to them, as in the annual rings of trees, one can clearly trace the history of the adjacent territory.
A study of the bottom sediments conducted in 1971 led to the discovery of traces of an ancient settlement and served as the beginning of archaeological excavations. The pollen analysis revealed corn pollen, indicating a possible Iroquoian settlement nearby, as corn was a staple of their agriculture.
A meromictic lake may form for a number of reasons, but most important of them are the following two:
- The basin is unusually deep and steep-sided compared to the lake’s surface area
- The lower layer of the lake is highly saline and denser than the upper layers of water
There are only 10 meromictic lakes in Canada and 5 of them are located in Ontario (including Crawford Lake):
- Lakes A and C1 on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut
- Blackcat Lake near Dorset, Ontario, in Frost Centre
- Crawford Lake near Milton, Ontario
- Mahoney Lake in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
- McGinnis Lake in Petroglyphs Provincial Park, Ontario
- Pink Lake in Gatineau Park, Quebec
- Powell Lake in the town of Powell River, British Columbia
- Sunfish Lake near Waterloo, Ontario
- Teapot Lake, Heart Lake Conservation Area, Brampton, Ontario
Archaeological research on the lake began in 1973 and lasted 15 years. During this time, more than 10,000 artifacts were found that, along with the oral traditions of the Indians transmitted from generation to generation, helped to understand and recreate the lifestyle of people of that time.
It is believed that about 250 people lived in the territory of this village of the 15th century, housed in five long houses, two of which belonged to the clan of the tortoise and the clan of the wolf, were reconstructed. Inside each of the longhouses an individual clan lived. Smaller longhouses may have had 30 people while larger ones up to 100. The site offers interpretive programs of Iroquoian life and culture and has three reconstructed longhouses and a palisade.
There are no windows in the houses, so it is always relatively dark there. Three-level racks stretch along the walls: people slept on the lower ones, and simple utensils and foods were stored on the upper ones. Food was hung in the rafters where smoke kept both insect and rodent away. On the earthen floor, several bonfires were kindled, smoke from which went out into the openings in the roof. The walls of such a house were made high enough so that at the level of a human height there was enough air to breathe.
Naturally, there was no “personal life” (or “privacy”) there: the life of any person, even in its most intimate aspects, proceeded in front of the people around them.
The average life expectancy was 28-30 years. For girls, the period of childbearing began from 10-13 years. An old and experienced woman was a “boss” in the long house. She determined if a girl was ready to get married. The marriages were allowed between the representatives of different clans, not inside the same clan.
There is a small covered chamber inside one of the longhouses – Sweat Lodge – something like a Russian steam bath. Usually, Sweat Lodge was a separate hut, the walls of which were made of flexible willow, and the top was covered with animal skins. Stones were heated at the stake, which were then carefully brought in and placed in the center. A cedar tree was laid on top of the stones and water splashed. A person entered the steam room on their knees through a low door, which symbolized the equality of all forms of life. The procedure of “cleansing” the body, thoughts and spirit in Sweat Lodge occupied and still occupies a special place in the culture of the native people.
The spirits still sing in the rustic longhouses where tools, animal hides and the smell of smoke let you experience the life and times of Ontario’s First Peoples.
To be honest with you, I couldn’t imagine that visiting this park would be so exciting.
By Natalia Grytsan