North of Long Tail

A documentary photo series celebrating Lake Erie

Todd – Port Stanley

1

“Lake Erie offers views, smells, sounds, and feelings that are more educational than any book or lecture. Lake Erie fostered my sense of place, my love of the outdoors, and my desire to protect our natural areas.”

While growing up in the greater London area, Lake Erie, specifically “Port” (what the locals call “Port Stanley”), became Todd’s “second home.” His uncle Gary had a quaint cottage up on School House Hill where Todd spent every summer.

2
3
4

(top) Todd looks out from the stairs down to Little Beach from School House Hill. (bottom right) Todd on the porch of his Uncle Gary’s place.

Todd and his cousins canoed, sailed, and floated in dinghies around Lake Erie. They swam off the pier, built sandcastles at Little Beach, climbed the cliffs, explored the shoreline, and ate any of the fish they could catch. The lake was their playground.

“Other people may like mountains or desserts. I’m a water person.”

Todd remembers how polluted Lake Erie was in the 70s when he was growing up. It was a time when rivers feeding into Lake Erie, like The Cuyahoga River in Ohio, were catching fire due to industrial pollution. At the time, Port Stanley was full of industrial activity associated with fishing, coal, grain, and corn.

Todd remembers swimming in the harbour as a child, in the effluents from the coal docks. When Todd was seven, he developed impetigo (sores on his body, face, and neck). The only explanation his mom came up with was her son’s regular swimming in a polluted lake.

Hofhuis Park, with the MC asphalt mixing plant in the background (a reminder of Port Stanley’s industrial past).

Hofhuis Park, with the MC asphalt mixing plant in the background (a reminder of Port Stanley’s industrial past).

Most of Todd’s childhood memories associated with the lake are positive. He loved lying in a hammock outside of his uncle’s cottage listening to the foghorn sound off down on the pier every few minutes.

Port Stanley’s Breakwater Lighthouse, out on the pier, was constructed in 1911. In the 1970s, it had a loud foghorn.

“The sound of the foghorn indicated that the lake was there — a peaceful sense of place. The haunting low tone in the night mixed with the waves’ noise at Little Beach is deeply memorable. It reminded my young mind of the beauty and power of Lake Erie.”

Another vivid memory that foreshadowed Todd’s future career as a firefighter in Port was the Clifton Hotel’s 1991 fire. Todd, in his early 20s, ran down the hill from his uncle’s cottage. In front of the fire station, he stood and watched with a gasp as this historic hotel burned to the ground. Todd remembers the firefighters trying to save that building, and him dreaming of one day being one. At the time, this remained only a dream, as his top priority was his new baby and working whatever job he could get.

8
9

(left) Todd stands in the exact spot where he watched the Clifton Hotel burn to the ground in 1991. (right) Todd shows a news photo from the London Free Press of the 112-year-old hotel burning. 

In his mid-20s, Todd worked a job as a canoe and kayak guide along Georgian Bay. While guiding, Todd noticed the way people damaged the environments they visited. This realization pushed Todd to pursue multiple degrees in outdoor recreation at the post-secondary level. He also helped to bring the U.S. non-profit “Leave No Trace” to Canada. Its mission is to educate people on how to manage recreational resources, like Lake Erie, properly.

10
11
12

(top) Todd stores his kayaks and canoes in his garage. He has built a little door to pull them out the side when he and his wife want to use them. (bottom left/right) A booklet and badge from Todd's work with the nonprofit "Leave No Trace". 

In 1999, Todd moved from London to Port Stanley, which wasn’t a difficult decision for him.

“It’s important that people have a sense of place. Port Stanley has always given me a sense of place. Leaving the city of London wasn’t hard because it didn’t feel like home like how the shores of Lake Erie do.”

Working as an outdoor guide required intense first aid training, something Todd found such a passion for that he ended up teaching first aid. In 2007, Todd started working as a volunteer firefighter with the Port Stanley Fire Department.

Todd stands in front of The Port Stanley firehall. It has been in service since the 70s. The town is building a new, much larger firehall to keep up with the village’s expansion.

Todd stands in front of the Port Stanley firehall. It has been in service since the 70s. The town is building a new, much larger firehall to keep up with the village’s expansion.

In 2011, aside from firefighting, Todd started studying to be a paramedic. In the summers, Todd worked controlling Port Stanley’s iconic lift bridge. In 2013, Todd began to drive into London to work as a paramedic.

In 2011, aside from firefighting, Todd started studying to be a paramedic. In the summers, Todd worked controlling Port Stanley’s iconic lift bridge. In 2013, Todd began to drive into London to work as a paramedic.

The fire department in Port Stanley has a long history of marine rescue. Each year, they get more than a dozen rescue calls.

“This year, we have had boat fires, boat sinkings, and people hitting the pier with their personal watercraft.”

This year, Todd helped to rescue Liddle Lady V, a fishing tug taking on water nine nautical miles offshore. Another boat in the area helped pull them into the harbour where Todd, dressed in a drysuit, jumped onto the tug and began pumping out the water. Subsequently, a crane pulled the boat out and placed it on the dock where it sits today.

15
16
Todd always wears shoes in the water. He has learned his lesson from multiple cuts from sharp rocks and zebra mussels. “I have responded many times to calls for lacerations that people got not realizing how sharp zebra mussels can be.”

(below) Todd always wears shoes in the water. He has learned his lesson from multiple cuts from sharp rocks and zebra mussels. “I have responded many times to calls for lacerations that people got not realizing how sharp zebra mussels can be.”

Aside from keeping busy as a paramedic and volunteer firefighter, when he has time, Todd enjoys spending time by the lake with his wife, Stephanie, and their two daughters and grandkids.

Todd with his wife and kids on Little Beach in Port Stanley in the early 2000s.

Todd with his wife and kids on Little Beach in Port Stanley in the early 2000s.

The water today is much cleaner around Port Stanley than when Todd was a child. Still, he knows that the lake’s preservation is a work in progress and is worried about the current water levels and shoreline erosion.

“I’ve never seen the harbour water levels this high. They are just a few inches below the harbour wall.”

19

Todd is also worried about the U.S. clawing back on environmental regulations.

“We aren’t living in a good time for the lake.”

20

Todd knows that without Lake Erie, Port Stanley wouldn’t exist, and he definitely wouldn’t have any water to fight fires.  In Todd’s opinion, Lake Erie has intrinsic value — a right to exist in and of itself. He sees it as a natural wonder that should be cherished and allowed to flourish.

Read More

STORIES FROM THE LAKE

Patricia – Pelee Island

Read More

Heidi – Pigeon Bay

Read More

Take Action

Lake Erie and the millions of people who rely on it for their drinking water, local jobs, and so much more need your help.

The health of Lake Erie continues to decline. Action is needed more than ever to restore its health for current and future generations.

You can make a difference. Here’s how you can help protect the lake and support the people who are closely connected to it.

EXHIBITION BY: documentary photographer COLIN BOYD SHAFER in collaboration with ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE

ED-LOGO-NO-TAGLINE-FINAL-transparent (1)