Lakeland: Ballad of a Freshwater Country

Paperback | January 31, 2011

byAllan Casey

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In this wry, sensual, and entertaining journey into the greatest lake country on earth, Allan Casey encounters cottagers, boat captains, marathon swimmers, Aboriginal fishery managers, hermits, and tourists. Through his sharply drawn characters, lively storytelling, and intimate evocation of wild beauty, he celebrates the rich culture and unsung splendor of Canada's lakeland. Decrying reckless development in a paradise often taken for granted, Casey tempers evangelical outrage with deep compassion. Often humorous, always thought-provoking, Lakeland should find a place in every lakeside cottage, in the corner of every tent.

Nominated for the Saskatchewan Book Award and the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction, Lakeland was the recipient of the prestigious Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction in 2010.

Published in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation. Also available in hardcover.

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From the Publisher

In this wry, sensual, and entertaining journey into the greatest lake country on earth, Allan Casey encounters cottagers, boat captains, marathon swimmers, Aboriginal fishery managers, hermits, and tourists. Through his sharply drawn characters, lively storytelling, and intimate evocation of wild beauty, he celebrates the rich culture ...

Allan Casey is an award-winning journalist whose writing and photography appear in major magazines and newspapers. He is the co-founder of, a national forum promoting responsible use of private property in natural areas. He lives in Saskatoon, SK.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:272 pages, 9.25 × 6.25 × 0.5 inPublished:January 31, 2011Publisher:Greystone Books Ltd.Language:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:155365885X

ISBN - 13:9781553658856

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Extra Content

Read from the Book

From the chapter The Walleye Factory: Lake Nipissing, Ontario I rarely go fishing anymore. As sport, it is pretty slow. As a means to fill the belly, it is too much work. Still, I am glad to know how to catch a fish-almost a badge of citizenship in this country. It is a knowledge acquired without conscious effort, like language, by anyone who grows up in Lakeland. And I marvel at the power there is in angling to connect people to nature. There is a mythological ripeness to the act of plumbing the unconscious deeps for a meal, feeding the soul and the body at the same time. A taste for fishing cuts through social strata. The poor student fishes below the weir in town. The wealthy industrialist charters a plane for the Far North. But they tie their lures on with the same knot, are hooked into the same primal anticipation. Fishing is an elemental form of sounding the matrix of life on earth, and touches a deep place in the collective unconscious. It is an act of passion. When a man of the Canadian hinterland says, "I love to fish," this may be the most heartfelt truth he can express about himself in casual company. Women, though emotionally more capable, also love to fish. My reserved and elegant neighbour, Ivy, goes out in her Lund skiff every summer, looking like Sophia Loren there in the bow. Kids can hardly be prevented from fishing if there are water, rod, and tackle to be had. David Suzuki devotes much of his recent autobiography to the subject of fishing. He never travels without his rod, and he fundamentally defines himself as a consumer of fish. Most of the photographs in the book are of people holding up big fish they have caught, a thing impossible to do with artifice or pretension. What is left is always bliss and childlike wonder. As a university student, I worked at a lake camp for mentally handicapped adults who languished fifty-one weeks a year in institutions. During their precious days in Lakeland, they enjoyed nothing more than to fish. To their line leaders I would clip Len Thompson red-and-white spoons-or five-of-diamonds if they preferred- and get the lures safely overboard before anyone hooked me. I would help them light their pipes and cigarettes so they could enjoy a double pleasure, and then watch them fall under the spell of fishing while I trolled the "reef" off our camp. Fishing calmed those troubled, forgotten souls in a way drugs could not. ***The secret to good fishing is local knowledge. And few people knew as much about the fish in Lake Nipissing as Richard Rowe. I found him just west of the city in a place called Garden Village, a grassy bank of a winding creek that seemed indeed like a good place for planting vegetables. A cool wind came across the lake and shook the small maple leaves like little flags. O Canada. The water bore a muddy yellow undertone that suggested fertility, and many fish. Garden Village is the main settlement on the Nipissing First Nation reserve. Richard himself was not of Aboriginal descent. A fishery biologist, he had recently been hired by the band to manage its commercial fishery. But this job description hardly did justice to the political nature of his new post, or to the scale of the task before him. Or hinted at the possibilities if all went well. Much rested upon his shoulders. He was a slender fellow, his head shorn like a monk, and he spoke with Jesuitical passion about what seemed to him like destiny. "This was always my dream job, to manage the fishery on Lake Nipissing," he said, sitting behind his desk in an office housed in one of those metal portables. Richard first saw Nipissing as a boy vacationing with his family. People who visit here once tend to return for many summers-the locals say the average is seventeen years-and Richard's family did likewise. A picture of him from those early days stood behind his desk like a window in time: he and his older brother on a dock wearing life jackets and holding a catch of fish between them. Technically, Richard had already been managing the Lake Nipissing fishery for years before the band hired him. He worked for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. But it was frustrating in the way of government bureaucracy. He spent 95 percent of his time in the office, writing reports to ministry headquarters in Peterborough, just another lake scientist who never got on the lake. When the ministry granted him leave to take up this new office, he jumped at the chance. "I never want to go back. This is where the action is." That was certainly true. Even in the context of Lakeland, a country defined by superlative fishing, Nipissing is outstandingly productive. Of the two hundred-odd freshwater fish species in Lakeland, forty-four are found here, including most of the important sport fish: muskellunge and northern pike, bass, perch, whitefish, bullhead, and ling. There are also ciscoes, stickleback, darters, shiners, and suckers. The antique, long-nosed gar preys aggressively near the surface, whereas the equally primitive lake sturgeon lives unobtrusively on the bottom. The sturgeon is one of my favourite Lakeland creatures, though I have never seen a wild one. These resilient animals have come down to us almost unchanged in the fossil record in two hundred million years, still wearing their armour plating from the dinosaur age. They grow slowly, feeding almost exclusively on tiny invertebrates of the muddy bottom with their toothless mouths. They can live well beyond a century and grow to over one hundred kilograms, by far the largest freshwater fish we have. Occasionally, a large sturgeon is caught somewhere in the country and six or eight people are required to hold it up for the photograph. Most Canadian lakes accessible to southern human populations have been depleted of fish, and the sturgeon is the bellwether of an ill-fated flock. A hundred years ago, sturgeon were so common in Canadian lakes and rivers that they were harvested and stacked on the shore like cordwood. They were thought of as coarse fish, though their eggs, or roe, became a pricey delicacy as caviar. Overharvesting, dams, and its own slow-growing ways have conspired against the lake sturgeon, which is now rare over much of its range. Still, I like to think its long tenure in the biosphere will tide the lake sturgeon over the blink of time it will take our species to either expire-or achieve sustainability. Though Lake Nipissing, too, had all but lost its sturgeon (it was closed to sturgeon fishing two decades ago), it remained rich in walleye, probably the most prized angling fish of all in Canadian inland waters. Like Lake Winnipeg, Nipissing was shallow, warm, and turbid. Its shores were lined with numerous rocky shoals and good spawning grounds, perfect habitat for the emeraldand- gold fish.

Table of Contents

AcknowledgmentsOnly in Canada: The Proximate WildernessThe Home Place: Emma Lake, SaskatchewanThe Grey Wizard: Ajawaan Lake, SaskatchewanThe Citizen Ship of Science: Lake Winnipeg, ManitobaAlmost the Sea: Bras d'Or Lake, Nova ScotiaFinding Lakeland: The Lakes of Gros Morne National Park, NewfoundlandThe Ice Road: Lake Athabasca, Alberta-SaskatchewanEat the Peach: Lake Okanagan, British ColumbiaRiding in Boats with Women: Lake of the Woods, OntarioThe Walleye Factory: Lake Nipissing, OntarioLa Grande Traversée: Lac Saint-Jean, QuebecInto the Lake-Lap of the Mountain: Waterton Lakes National Park, AlbertaEpilogue: The Home Place AgainNotes