Before Kitchener was Kitchener, before Berlin was Berlin, before Ontario was Ontario, there was, at this location, a simple land with a stream and a swamp.
The first Mennonite settlers to this area, including Joseph Schneider and his family, arrived at the dawn of the 1800's looking for fertile lands to settle. When they set foot here, it was a German tract of land considered "Wilt land" - dense forests, swamps, flooding creeks - not too friendly. Yet, it irresistably sat next to the Grand River.
Joseph settled in 1807 next to a stream that flowed under where you're standing, purchasing a 448 acre tract around what we know today as Victoria Park. As the Waterloo Township grew around the region, his land remained virtually untouched as he toiled, working it and improving it for his family, even clearing a road (now Queen St.) towards King Street.
The stream called Schneider's Creek was altered dramatically in the 1890s, when the town of Berlin (now Kitchener) purchased the nearby swamp-land and created the man-made lake you see before you, in preparation for the grand opening of Victoria Park in 1896.
The area you're in, including the Schneider Haus itself, have been given heritage status, considered very precious elements of Kitchener's history. As such, Victoria Park and its lake receive significant attention, such as the recent endeavour to rehabilitate this man-made lake.
Building a lake in the back yard
Disclaimer: Do not try this at home! (Well, unless you have a virtual backyard)
Artificial lakes can be created in multiple ways. The easiest way is demonstrated by nature, by the common beaver. At any point of a flow of water, a dam may be constructed which will halt, or severely restrict, the flow of water. Naturally, the incoming water will collect at the dam, raising the water level and flooding over nearby land, creating a wider pooling of water - a large pond, small lake or reservoire. This is often done in valleys where the spread of water is predictable and water level more easily controlled (see for example Lake Vyrnwy
in Wales). On a worldwide scale, Victoria Park Lake really is just a pond.
Another more costly method involves digging to create a valley in the location where the lake is desired. Clearly, this requires more work as the water flow would need to be redirected during the digging process, before allowing it to fill. A dam may still be built to help regulate water flow in to or out of the body of water.
Whichever method or combination of methods is used to create the artificial lake, the process will inevitably have environmental effects on the surrounding region and biota (plants and animals), and so pre-planning on a larger and long term environmental scale is an essential component of its construction.
1895: Victoria Park Lake created
In the case of Victoria Park Lake, the swamp land purchased from the Schneiders was cleared out and the ground dug to a depth of about one meter. Very soon, the area was filled with water collected from Schneider Creek, still feeding it from upstream.
This inflow from Schneider Creek brought with it an endless flow of sediment as stormwater from the region drained into the newly formed lake. This water runoff is collected from 1400 hectares of the upstream watershed. As depicted above, sediment and silt naturally collects over time at the bottom of a lake – whether natural or artificial. This growing layer of sediment can take its toll on the aquatic life, and surrounding biota. Additionally, algae has a greater opportunity to thrive, which also increases the speed at which silt settles along the lake bottom.
In order for the lake to provide a good aquatic habitat and positive surrounding environment, there must be an adequate depth to remain healthy:
- During the summer, surface temperatures can rise, and deeper water allows aquatic life a cooler location to live.
- During winter, aquatic life has more room to remain active below the frozen surface
- Deeper water provides more room for sediment and silt to build before needing to be cleaned
- Aesthetically, the deeper the water, the deeper its hue, and the cleaner the lake presents itself
Grooming a lake ain't easy
"Management of reservoir water levels result in large areas of sediments that are alternately flooded and exposed; frequent manipulation of water levels prevents the establishment of stabilizing wetlands and shoreline vegetation, and increases shoreline erosion and sediment loading. The frequent alternation between flooding and exposure may encourage sediments to release more nutrients than are found in natural lakes. The higher nutrient load encourages the growth of algae and other organisms that sink to the sediments upon death. The sediments gradually fill in the reservoir, so that the life span of the reservoir is shorter than that of natural lake systems."
1987: Botulism outbreak kills 200 birds
1993: Deep layer of sediment found
1995: Lake dredged
Since its construction, Victoria Park Lake suffered from water quality concerns. A number of properties of the lake were considered to be significant sources of this ongoing problem. Primarily, the relatively shallow depth made the lake’s water quality difficult to maintain. Additionally, shorelines composed of gabion baskets, and in places gentle slopes, provided areas for natural waste and litter to gather, and algae to grow. It was hoped that dredging the lake in 1995 would alleviate these concerns, but a few short years later, another outbreak of botulism took its toll.
1999: Botulism in the lake and in Schneider Creek again kills more than 200 birds
Deeper research revealed the source of the outbreak upstream, which was promptly cleaned. But further steps were considered as a means to dissuade similar situations from occurring again the future. A recommendation was made to turn Victoria Park Lake into a naturalized channel with vegetation surrounding it. In 2007 more sediment build up raised concerns, and another dredging measure was considered. A costly measure.
Revitalization of Victoria Park Lake included a number of significant steps, in an effort to provide a longer and more bio-friendly lifespan between costly, and inevitable, cleanups and dredgings.
Lakes with a constant inflow of water will always produce a sediment layer along its floor, so intense planning is required to form an environment that will find a balance of sediment growth, sustenance of aquatic life, and a healthy surrounding terrestrial biota.
A little fix'er upper
To accomplish this, a number of renovative steps (depicted above) were taken:
- The gabion walls and slopes spanning 2.2km around the lake were replaced by layers of cement blocks and a top layer of armour stones – 6000 blocks in total. A special tarp was also laid around the edge before the blocks went in, to help keep the backfill and topsoil out.
- The lake was deepened an additional meter, and to 3m at its deepest points.
- Extracted sediment was collected – 85000 tons of sludge laid over 15 years – and provided for analysis for potential use as nutrient rich topsoil.
- A deepened forebay was improved near the head of the lake where Schneider Creek feeds in. The forebay slows the incoming water and traps sediment, providing a location at which cleanup can be controlled and carried out away from the main park and at much lower cost, and at regular intervals as low as every 7-10 years. The forebay’s walls remain sloped and a new weir separates it from the rest of the lake.
- The David St. shoreline was considered an area with high stagnation, so land area was increased to bolster water flow towards the outflow culvert, and help reduce algae buildup.
- The lake’s basin habitat was improved for aquatic life by providing specific fish habitat structures as well as aquatic flora. Native fish would then have a better chance for survival against invasive species and throughout the seasons.
- Plant life and vegetation were revitalized around the lake’s perimeter, making as few alterations to existing life as possible.
- Of course, visual esthetic for park visitors was also of importance - from trail accessibility to enhancement of the romantic landscape.
All of these steps were employed with the hopes that the need for significant cleanup endeavours would be pushed up to every 75 years, instead of 10-15. Ongoing maintenance should now be easier and cheaper.
At the posted coordinates, where you stand, is the outflow culvert, designed to trap litter and larger items while still allowing smaller twigs and sticks through, helping to keep the current active and avoid surface waste stagnation.
It’s been in place since 1895.
In order to log this Earthcache...
Please read the following questions and send me your answers via this form
(remember, this is a 5 difficulty! You may need to research and/or do some Maths! ;)
Friendly disclaimer: If you want to log this Earthcache found as part of a larger group, claiming the find with one or two people doing all the 5-Difficulty work, please either do at least some of the research yourself (MUCH work went into this listing), or provide a favourite point with your Find log as a thank you. I hope you enjoy your experience in the park while you complete the field work for this Earthcache!
- Standing at the posted coordinates, look down at the water and estimate the average rate of flow of water under the culvert.
- What distance do you think the water here travels underground before emerging again past Queen St?
- What is the depth of water at the lowest point of the lake? (please don't measure water depth yourself; stay safely away from the water's edge)
- Estimate the surface area of Victoria Park Lake (from the rail bridge at the forebay, to the David St culvert)
- Estimate the volume of the lake both before and after it was deepened, and tell me how much more water the lake was made to hold because of this new depth. (note that the lake isn't uniformly deep!)
- Research existing man-made lakes, and send me your favourite name and location of a lake (anywhere in the world) that was created in a similar manner to Victoria Park Lake.
- Are there other man-made bodies of water within the Kitchener/Waterloo area? If so, name one and briefly describe what process you think was used to create it.
- Fun fact: With the dredging, a LOT of human trash was extracting from the lake bed. Including numerous shopping carts. Take a best guess and tell me how many shopping carts you think were retrieved from the lake when it was last emptied.
- Optional: Take a photo at the posted coordinates or along the trail nearby looking over the lake and share it with your log. (or share more!)
Finally, spend some time if the weather’s nice, and take a walk around the park. Enjoy this treasured natural area in the heart of downtown Kitchener!
And please consider awarding a favorite point if you enjoy Victoria Park, and appreciate the revitalized natural area! (and this Earthcache ;)
Extra: Want a bit of intrigue from a historic mystery? Read about the Kaiser's bust, dropped in the lake, retrieved, and whereabouts no longer known - here! [@ cbc.ca]
(imagery taken pre-rehabilitation)
|Man-Made versus Natural Lakes
|Dredging and Revitalization of Vicpark Lake, 2012
|Dredging digs of foul smell in Victoria Park
|Open house to explain dredging work planned for lake at Victoria Park
|Heaviest lifting almost done at Victoria Park pond
|Environmental use of sediment
|Victoria Park Lake Improvements
|Ezra Eby's Introduction
|A little detour for historic maps
|Map of Berlin, 1879
|Wikipedia: Victoria Park, Kitchener