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Ian Macintosh

Reflections

In collaboration with

Perch Magazine - Logo

Story by Dr. Leigh McGaughey
Photos by Stephany Hildebrand

A boat ride on the St. Lawrence with Ian Macintosh is a trip back in time—and a painful reminder of tragedy.

Last fall, on a trip on the St. Lawrence River just south of Cooper Marsh, Ian brings a photo taken 100 years ago from Bass Island looking out towards Butternut Island. He talks about how the emergent vegetation has changed over time and ferries us to the precise spot where the photograph was taken. Ian comments on the difference between the past and the present: there is far less vegetation, even accounting for seasonal differences. Looking towards Butternut Island, he points to a now-dilapidated house he built in 1969, and the dying trees that are victims to a colony of cormorants and their feces.

Ian also shares memories of fishing in his early years on the river.

“In the 1960s, when fishing for perch, if we got four or five fish to a pound it was good. Six or seven to the pound was average’ today you need eight or nine,” he says.

A boat ride on the st lawrence with ian macintosh is a trip back in time—and a painful reminder of tragedy.

Last fall, on a trip on the St. Lawrence River just south of Cooper Marsh, Ian brings a photo taken 100 years ago from Bass Island looking out towards Butternut Island. He talks about how the emergent vegetation has changed over time and ferries us to the precise spot where the photograph was taken. Ian comments on the difference between the past and the present: there is far less vegetation, even accounting for seasonal differences. Looking towards Butternut Island, he points to a now-dilapidated house he built in 1969, and the dying trees that are victims to a colony of cormorants and their feces.

Ian also shares memories of fishing in his early years on the river.

“In the 1960s, when fishing for perch, if we got four or five fish to a pound it was good. Six or seven to the pound was average’ today you need eight or nine,” he says.

Ian remembers how the perch from Lancaster were famed for their distinct flavour and in high demand by New Yorkers. According to Ian, these fish tasted so good because of their diet: a mix of freshwater shrimp and aquatic snails.

Back on the dock at his home in South Lancaster, he points to a corner of the bay and talks about how he used to set up gill nets to catch carp. He used 10-inch mesh that would only catch fish that were 10 pounds or greater. His haul out usually consisted of fish ranging between 12 and 40 pounds and on a good day, he could fill the boat in one haul! Back then, fishermen could sell their carp catch—heads off and stomachs removed—for 25 cents a pound.

Things are different now; Ian has noticed a decline in the size of perch as well as the total number of fish on the river over time. These are precisely the kinds of observations I’m interested in noting for the Great River Rapport, an ecosystem report that links community lived experiences with scientific data.

For most of our discussions, Ian was animated and generous in sharing his knowledge. At one point though, he quieted considerably as he talked about his good friend, a mentor really, who held the commercial fishing license for the area in the 1960s. (Out of respect for him and his family, he will remain unnamed in this story.)

At the time, locally-caught carp was sold by the fisherman to a fishery in Kingston who then sold it to other companies. During the processing of the frozen fish in Toronto later that year, a devastating discovery was made: the fish was contaminated.

As a result, the young fisherman and local industry became embroiled in a civil court case which dragged on for years. It was eventually settled but the strain on the young entrepreneur, and by extension his family, was immense. He died late in December 1969.

Early in the New Year 1970, the media widely shared information about the contamination of fish and water pollution by local industry, but for family and friends—including Ian—, the news came too late. They had lost a husband, a father, a dear friend, and a cherished community member.

Ian and I have talked about his friend on more than one occasion. Each time, he has had to hold back emotion and collect himself before moving onto something else. I am always moved by this story which serves as a harsh reminder that lack of environmental awareness and general knowledge of contaminants has a great impact on our food web. Disrespect for the planet comes at a very real and very sad price.

By looking back at the story about his cherished friend, we can note that this story and others like it are what prompted the development of provincial environmental legislation in the 1970s and the monitoring programs that continue to this day. Locally, significant change has taken place: stricter policies and regulations for industry and regular sampling and testing of fish that result in provincial consumption advisories.

One day—one day soon, we hope—there will come an understanding that human health is intrinsically linked to the health of the environment. Through reports like the Great River Rapport, storytelling from people like Ian, relentless advocacy work, and public engagement, we can get there.

In collaboration with

Perch Magazine - Logo

Story by Leigh McGaughey
Photos by Stephany Hildebrand

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