Virtual Museum of Canada

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Lake Saint-Pierre is the largest continuous area of wetlands remaining along the St. Lawrence. This environment is probably the one whose appearance remains closest to how the river looked when Jacques Cartier arrived over 400 years ago.

The surface area of Lake Saint-Pierre’s wetlands is equal to or greater than all the wetlands on the Canadian side of any of the five Great Lakes. In the Great Lakes, wetlands are restricted to around the mouths of tributaries and to a few strips in isolated areas or in places that have not been disturbed by human activities. Therefore, the area of wetlands is very small. However, in Lake Saint-Pierre we have an immense habitat which has not been broken up, and which is vitally important for the survival of endangered species and for maintaining animal populations in general.

Aquatic plants are central to the structure of the habitat. They provide shelter and protection for a wide variety of small organisms, from microscopic invertebrates to fish larvae and adult fish. They support food sources for all these organisms, whose food grows on these plants. They also contribute to the food chain when they die, becoming detritus which is used by other organisms. Plants provide the basic architecture of aquatic habitats and support everything else. If aquatic plants are removed from an area, the environment loses its diversity. This effect is very rapidly seen. As soon as aquatic macrophytes are eliminated, the whole environment changes.

Numerous changes have taken place. Although this habitat continues to exist and remains an important environment, human activities have profoundly affected it in several ways. Tributaries like this river bring the effects of agriculture to the lake. As you can see, the water quality is very poor. There is a lot of erosion, and nutrient loads are very high, in large part because of agriculture along the shores. Here is an example: a cornfield that grows right up to the river bank.

In the Lake Saint-Pierre area, there are beautiful villages on stilts that are adapted to variations in water level and that allow people - hunters, fishers, vacationers - to coexist with the lake while minimizing the damage they cause, because their cottages are on stilts. These people are used to variations in water levels. When summers are dry, people forget that water levels sometimes rise. They tend to think, "I’ll close up the space between my pilings and make a little storage area." Then, after two years: "I’ll add a block foundation to make it more livable." A few years later, they dig a foundation. Then, since they have a house instead of a little cottage on stilts, they decide that they would rather not get flooded. So they start encroaching on the environment and build a barrier to keep water from reaching the shore. As the years go by, the little houses that weren’t bothering anyone and that existed in harmony with nature end up bringing the city to the country and make people want to stop nature from following its course. People settle in the floodplain and hope not to get flooded. And when the floods come, people ask for compensation and demand greater regulation of the water flow. This is profoundly illogical, because an environment like Lake Saint-Pierre’s should be respected. Of course it can be developed, but our first priority should be to respect the environment we love so much. And that’s exactly why people come here, because they love this place.

How’s the fishing?

We have to remember that variability must be maintained in a natural environment. Not everyone can win all the time, every year. Some years are good for herons or for some kinds of fish. Other years are less good. During their reproductive lives, all organisms need to find a niche and be able to reproduce at least once. This means that sometimes there has to be a lot of water, sometimes rain, sometimes no rain, sometimes drought. It’s part of life. However, by trying to stabilize the flow of the St. Lawrence, little by little we are slowly chipping away at its integrity. Stabilizing the lake damages it. Nature can manage very well on its own!