Portraying the Harsh Reality of Winter Survival on Isle Royale
An awe inspiring true story of one woman’s perseverance against the harsh winter of Northern Lake Superior on Isle Royale has been translated to a feature length film. Angelique’s Isle, adapted by writer Michelle Derosier from the novella Angelique Abandoned by James R. Stevens, was presented by the North of Superior Film Association (NOSFA) for its Thunder Bay premiere at Silver City Theatres on November 8. Infosuperior’s Ruby Reid-Sharp was lucky enough to get a ticket to the second of the two sold-out screenings. The film was produced by Thunderstone Pictures, Circle Blue Entertainment and Freddie Films and was co-directed by Michelle Derosier of Thunder Bay and Marie-Hélène Cousineau of Montreal.
Inspiration Through Angelique’s Strength
In her opening remarks Michelle Derosier expressed her hope that this story would show Anishinaabeg women how much strength they have and that it would leave viewers inspired. The film is based on the true story of newlyweds Angelique and Charlie being trapped on Isle Royale for 10 months through the winter of 1845–1846. The film presents the hardships faced by the couple against a stunning cinematographic background that truly captures the tone of northern Lake Superior in all it’s changing seasons. The film’s producer, Dave Clement, spoke about how films like this one are waiting to be made because the communities of northern Lake Superior have unique stories to tell.
Experience Lake Superior History
If you are interested in history and the spirit of northern Lake Superior, the perspective offered by Angelique’s Isle is one you will want to experience. Those interested in seeing the film should keep an eye out for future screenings and availability; but in the meantime, consider checking out the source material through James R. Stevens novella Angelique Abandoned, available at lakesuperiorstore.com and the Thunder Bay Art Gallery.
May 15, 2017 Infosuperior Article about pre-production of Angelique’s Isle: Angelique Mott: Lake Superior Survival Story Inspires Novella, Film
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Lakehead University Student Research to Focus on “Nurdles”
The following article is written by Audrey Nerino, an Honours student in the Department of Geography and the Environment at Lakehead University. Audrey’s research is being supervised by Dr. Rob Stewart. Audrey’s article below lays out the research she will be completing to better quantify the issue of “nurdles,” small plastic beads classified as microplastics under both Canadian and U.S. legislation, which are washing up on beaches across eastern Lake Superior. Audrey also sits on a Lake Superior Microplastics Workgroup focusing on nurdles and comprised of representatives of Lakehead University, Canadian Pacific Railway, Parks Canada and residents from the Rossport area. Thanks from Infosuperior to Audrey for providing the following research overview:
While microplastic pollution has been well-documented in all the world’s oceans, the issue persists closer to home in Lake Superior as well. In 2008, a Canadian Pacific Railway train derailment near Rossport, Ontario, between Wawa and Thunder Bay, caused an unknown quantity of small plastic pellets known as “nurdles” (used to manufacture plastic goods) to be spilled into the lake. Cleanup efforts are ongoing, however with the nurdles being distributed throughout Eastern lake Superior in both Canada and the United States, containing and cleaning them up has proven to be a great challenge. This issue is of concern because microplastic pollution has the potential to adversely affect both the lithosphere and hydrosphere, as well as the organisms that reside in both. The general purpose of this project is to investigate microplastic pollution on the Canadian North Shore of Lake Superior, more specifically, polution caused by the 2008 Canadian Pacific Railway train derailment.
Poly Met Mining Inc. has obtained all required permits from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for its NorthMet mining project—an open pit copper, nickel, cobalt and precious metals mine that would be located within the Lake Superior basin between Hoyt Lakes and Babbit, Minnesota. Although the project still requires water and air quality permits from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and a Wetlands permit from the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the news has been cause for celebration for some and opposition for others.
More information about the Polymet permitting process:
While many are anticipating the economic benefits of the mining project and potential to create good-paying jobs, environmental groups are concerned about the potential for pollution caused by the mine, which would affect nearby waterways that lead into Lake Superior. Copper-nickel open-pit mining has historically resulted in extensive damage to natural habitats through acid mine drainage, sulfur dioxide emissions, land degradation and physical effects associated with open-pit mining. Although the permits administered by the DNR include financial assurance plans for reclamation of the NorthMet mining project site, the fact is that reclamation of open-pit mines can take a very long time, and the site will most likely never return to its pre-mining condition.
The project was initially proposed 14 years ago and has undergone extensive review. Before any copper-nickel mining in Minnesota could even be considered, a regional copper-nickel study was completed between 1976 and 1979. The published study is made available electronically through the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library along with many other reference materials about the history of copper-nickel mining, or lack thereof, in Minnesota. The DNR held several opportunities for public review and engagement with stakeholder and indigenous groups, which did result in changes to the permits. Environmental groups are still pressuring the DNR to rescind their permits and will likely continue to fight to preserve this forest area for non-mining uses.
- December 16, 2016 Infosuperior article which links to a Bloomberg article entitled, “Will Copper Pots Destroy Lake Superior?”
- January 16, 2017 Infosuperior article entitled, “Toronto Company Completes Land Exchange to Build Minnesota Mine”
Economic Considerations Drive Great Lakes Safety
Somebody had to say it…. “Enough.”
After a 1905 storm damaged 29 ships and sent two ships to the bottom in the vicinity of the yet-to-be-built Split Rock Light, the president of U.S. Steel Corporation did just that. He, along with other ship owners, travelled to Washington to tell elected officials that a lighthouse was needed on Minnesota’s shore to improve safety. As a result, U.S. Congress appropriated $75,000 to construct Split Rock Light, which was completed in 1910. Split Rock Light is located some 47 miles/~76 kilometres northeast of Duluth, Minnesota on the shore of Lake Superior.
The “backstory” here is that ore from Minnesota’s Iron Range was a huge economic driver; steel production was the absolute backbone of the U.S. economy. The U.S. Steel Corporation alone had 112 ships, to say nothing of the other Great Lakes carriers. All had a vested interest in safety and preventing loss of life.
Financially, the bottom line may have played a role in the creation of Split Rock Light. Losses were huge when a ship went down, not to mention the loss of shipping capacity and associated revenue. In short, Great Lakes storms were bad for business. Shipping losses cut into profits. Taxes on natural-resource extraction and steel production might also have played a role. Shipowners may have felt that Great Lakes carriers were taking all of the risk, and that if government wanted a cut of profits, it should definitely be putting some skin in the economic game by providing a lighthouse to improve safety.
A Unique Engineering Feat
Split Rock light is definitely a feat of engineering, especially for its time. Unlike now, in 1905 there was no road to the site and all construction materials and supplies arrived by boat. To build the light, a steam-powered hoist had to be located at the top of the cliffs, well over 100 feet above Superior’s waters. This derrick lift was the only way to hoist construction materials and supplies when the lighthouse was built. Depending upon the phase of construction, anywhere from 35 to 50 workers were involved in the project—including carpenters, brick masons and labourers.
The U.S. Coast Guard took over operation of Split Rock from the U.S. Light Service in 1939 until the State of Minnesota took ownership of the light in 1971. Administrative responsibility for the light was transferred to the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) in 1976 and the light station has since been completely restored to what it would have looked like in the 1920s. As the pictures accompanying this article show, the MHS has done an incredible job. The light, fog signal, and accompanying houses and facilities present an absolutely charming display of Lake Superior history, complete with actors in period costume in many of the facilities.
November 10th Beacon Lighting – Remembering the Edmund Fitzgerald
A significant public event closes out Split Rock’s season each year on November 10th when all those who lost their lives in Great Lakes shipwrecks are remembered. The naval hymn is played, the names of all those lost on the Edmund Fitzgerald (Nov. 9, 1975) read out, the Split Rock beacon is lit and visitors can visit the lantern room. The ceremony attracts about 900 people each year (see link to this event below). Split Rock Light and historical buildings are closed during the winter, with only the Visitor Centre open: Split Rock Lighthouse website.
More Public Visits Than Any Other North American Lighthouse
There are a number of famous light stations in North America, in both USA and Canada—Cape Hatteras, North Carolina; Peggy’s Point in Nova Scotia; and Montauk Lighthouse, Long Island, New York State are a few of the most noteworthy. None of these lights is at the top of the list when it comes to public visits, however. According to the Minnesota Historical Society, Split Rock Light sees more people visit it than any other light in North America.
Infosuperior’s visit to Split Rock in August, 2018 backs up this claim. On a sunny Saturday morning there were literally hundreds of people visiting the light. Split Rock’s historical aspect, stunning views and cool lake breezes, go together to create a magical experience. Visiting the light is a wonderful way to learn about regional history and how Great Lakes commerce, in this case mining and steel production, drove the push to build Split Rock and other Great Lakes navigation aids. The large crowds visiting to view the light are no detraction.
In contrast to when it was built, Split Rock Light is now accessible from Hwy. 61, so this historic site is easy to visit for anyone on the road between Thunder Bay, Ontario and Duluth, Minnesota. Tip: take one of the guided tours offered by MHS. The guides are extremely knowledgeable and provide excellent, detailed, historical commentary providing an overview of Split Rock history. Participants start their tour by looking out over the lake at the cliff-top site of the steam hoist, high above Lake Superior. After the tour, visit the fog signal, the homes of lighthouse keepers and the light itself (right to the top of the tower if you like).
- Construction Completed – 1910
- Lighthouse Lens – Fresnel Lens manufactured by Barbier, Bernard and Turenne Company, Paris, France, floating and rotating on a liquid mercury bath. The lens was originally lit with kerosene and was electrified in 1940 utilizing a 1000 watt bulb. A mechanism running down the centre of the tower is wound up and slowly unwinds utilizing weights to rotate the light.
- Light Interval – Ten second rotation
- Light Visibility – Split Rock Light can be seen from about 20 miles/32 kilometres distance.
- Fog Signal – Originally two sirens powered by two Franklin 30-horsepower gasoline-driven air compressors from the Chicago Pneumatic Tool Company. The fog signal was electrified in 1940.
- Length of Service – 1910 to removal from service in 1969, when Split Rock Light was added to the National Register of Historic Places
- Visiting the Light – Minnesota Historical Society
- Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
- Architectural Digest: Great American Lighthouses (Split Rock is included)
- November 10th 2018 Beacon Lighting – Remembering Those Lost in Great Lakes Shipwrecks
- More Pictures of Split Rock Light, Keepers’ Homes, etc.
Previous Infosuperior articles about Lake Superior Lighthouses:
“Rock Snot” a Misunderstood Diatom
Lakehead University PhD candidate Nathan Wilson recently brought to our attention a story we linked in the “Flotsam and Jetsam” section of Infosuperior’s newsletter about a type of alga—rock snot—appearing in Lutsen’s Poplar River. Nathan asserts that the article, which appeared in Minnesota’s West Central Tribune was missing a big piece of the puzzle because some important research is being left out.
Didymosphenia geminate, known colloquially as didymo or “rock snot”, is a single cell alga (diatom) native to North America that can experience periods of rapid growth (blooms) forming large mats of brown-grey sludge on rocks and gravel in cold and shallow nutrient-poor waters. One such bloom was recently reported for the first time in the Poplar River, Lutsen.
News articles about the sudden appearance of didymo in Poplar River have suggested that blooms in new locations are due to introduction of the didymo cells to previously uninhabited areas and that the cells are brought in on waders and other fishing equipment. Nathan Wilson pointed out to us via e-mail that the idea of fishermen spreading didymo and causing blooms “was the traditional thought until research showed it occurs naturally and blooms when there are favourable nitrogen levels.”
The research that Nathan refers to is covered in “The Didymo story: the role of low dissolved phosphorus in the formation of Didymosphenia geminata blooms, Diatom Research” by Bothwell, Taylor and Kilroy, published in 2014 in the Diatom Research journal. It details the history of didymo research, through which we can learn how the misconceptions about fishermen causing didymo blooms began.
The Mystery of Didymo Blooms
It wasn’t until the 1980’s that dense mats of the diatom were reported in streams on Vancouver Island. Usually we associate alga blooms with the introduction of nutrients due to human activity; however, the didymo mats were appearing upstream of major human habitations. Early research could not determine why didymo, a native species on Vancouver Island, suddenly began blooming.
In 2004, didymo mats appeared in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time, specifically in New Zealand. The diatom was widely accepted as invasive to New Zealand and therefore must have been introduced by human activity. It was then suggested that the introduction of a mat-forming variety of didymo to Vancouver Island could explain the sudden appearance of blooms there decades earlier. The coincidental timing of increased fishing tourism, river use and felt-soled waders alongside the first appearance of blooms in Vancouver Island streams and rivers gave credibility to this idea.
The thing is, shortly after didymo began to bloom in New Zealand, it became apparent that simply introducing didymo cells to a new stream did not always result in blooms. From 2008 to 2010 Environment Canada and the New Zealand Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research collaborated on a research project to solve the Didymo problem for good and their results were published in three research papers referred to by Bothwell, Taylor and Kilroy as “the Didymo Trilogy.”
The Important Piece of the Puzzle
The results of the Didymo Trilogy showed that mats were formed when didymo cells colonized and grew taller than usual and that this type of growth could only occur when soluble inorganic phosphorous levels were less than two parts per billion. The authors suggest that this may be a strategy employed by the didymo cells to grow past the benthic boundary layer into the water column where phosphorous is more easily accessible.
Thus, it is true that didymo cells must be present to result in blooms, however the cause of blooms is a result of nutrient depletion in aquatic habitats. This is still something caused by human activity as our affects on climate, atmosphere and soil processes lead to acidification which causes nutrient depletion. Although didymo is not inherently bad for the water in which it is found and the transfer of alga to new streams will most likely not result in unsightly “blooms” when the soluble inorganic phosphorous levels are greater than 2ppb, it is still important to practice good cleaning habits with fishing equipment as many detrimental invasive species can be spread this way.
Max L. Bothwell, Brad W. Taylor & Cathy Kilroy (2014) The Didymo story: the role of low dissolved phosphorus in the formation of Didymosphenia geminata blooms, Diatom Research, 29:3, 229-236, DOI: 10.1080/0269249X.2014.889041