By Alisha Postma, scuba diver and underwater photographer based in Ontario
Dressed in an exorbitant amount of diving gear, I gazed out along the pebble-framed shoreline of Fairbank. The spring-fed lake was transparently clear and sparkling like a diamond-studded bracelet in the sunlight. Together with my dad, Andy, and husband, Joey, we began our final preparations before submersion.
After hundreds of dives out of province, heading underwater in Fairbank Provincial Park was a shakeup from our status quo diving routine. As one of our first dives back in the province after several years of world travel, Joey and I were excited to be home in northern Ontario exploring the freshwater bounty that inland lakes have to offer.
Swimming through the shallows of Fairbank, I enjoyed rocky benthos framed with the occasional sprig of vegetation. The visibility ran for about 10 meters, making it a very appealing dive site when compared to other freshwater lakes in the vicinity.
Minnows and small juvenile fish circled at the surface of the water. I watched as several darted left and right in full-fledged hunting mode. They playfully chased and ate bugs, plankton and other bottom-of-the-food-chain snacks to appease their hearty appetites. It was surprising how much something so small could consume. I floated and observed this fishy feast for several minutes before moving on and gluing myself to the lakebed. Here I spied hundreds of crayfish littering to bottom like leaves on a windy fall day. As a macro photography enthusiast, it was interesting to approach and capture the individualized behaviour of these crustaceans. Some crayfish were bold enough to rear their pincers at the lens of my camera while others proved to be timid and reclusive, seeking refuge beneath the closest object.
Next, we dove at Finlayson Point Provincial Park. Wading out from the beach into the lush water of Lake Temagami, we donned our dive equipment and sunk below the surface. Right away our dive trio descended a cascading ridge to a maximum depth of 12 meters. At the point where the rocky ledge met the muddy bottom, we felt the sudden and bone-chilling temperature change of a thermocline. Even encased in a drysuit, it was enough to give me goosebumps.
Casually finning along the ridge, we spotted tadpoles, snails, clams and bass, but by far the most interesting critters were the hundreds of dainty transparent shrimp inhabiting the rocky crevasses. They were so glass-like, they hardly looked real. Much to my delight, we ended the dive in a jungle wetland. Weaving through the vibrant green plants, I photographed the beauty and wonder of these tremendously productive ecosystems.
Our third diving stop was in Marten River Provincial Park. Lying just off the Trans-Canada Highway, Marten River interconnects the region’s lakes to the Temagami watershed.
Being first and foremost a river, we knew this diving location would be shallow, and thus chose our entry point carefully to maximize depth. Although Marten River is known by anglers to boast fish species such as northern pike, bass, walleye and perch, on this dive, anything with gills and scales seemed to give us a wide berth. Sadly, I only caught a few fleeting glimpses of pumpkinseeds, tadpoles and silver baitfish darting about the water column. Overall, I would have to say this was my least favorite park in terms of scuba diving.
We wrapped up our Ontario Parks summer scuba project with a dip in Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park. Given the region’s connection to its waterways—as the primary means of transportation for Indigenous peoples for hundreds of years—I was very eager to dive into this location.
Aesthetically, the gently flowing Mattawa River had a rocky bottom with long ribbons of tape grass and green porous sponges encrusting many of the stones. Letting the current push us along felt like a lazy river ride, and allowed Joey, Andy and me to focus on the outer proximity of the river where we found the bulk of the aquatic life. Trees and fallen debris lay waterlogged on the bottom, creating interesting habitats for fish and invertebrate. Perch and pumpkinseed lurked in the shade of the banks, but the show stealers were the largemouth bass that followed and chased our bubbles. My dad was also fortunate enough to discover a discarded logging artifact which we believe to be the end of a peavey hook, a traditional logging tool used for handling and turning logs as they moved down the river.
When it comes to getting outside and immersed in nature, Ontario Parks is one of the largest providers of outdoor recreation in the region. While scuba diving is still a vastly unexplored venue for the provincial parks, the protected lakes and wetland environments are unsung diamonds in the rough. After several months of scuba diving around the province, we only had the opportunity to organize a handful of dives in collaboration with Ontario Parks, but that in and of itself was enough to inspire us to plan our return—soon!