THE STORY OF THE CORDOVA  (DEER) LAKE FISH HATCHERY  1938-1991

 

The original station, built in 1938, was the first permanent provincial fish culture station constructed to hatch and rear muskellunge (Esox masquinongy). The station had the facilities to hatch approximately 5 million eggs and 2 ponds to rear muskellunge (also called maskinonge or "musky") from the fry to the fingerling stage. In 1947 two additional ponds were constructed.

Deer Lake Fish Culture Station, which was one of the fourteen provincial fish culture facilities  operated by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, was the only station which reared muskellunge. It was classified as a pond station because fish were reared in a series of ponds. The water supply of 9,100 litres per minute was taken by gravity flow from Cordova Lake. The large amount of water was necessary to maintain a constant flow of water through the ponds to ensure an adequate supply of dissolved oxygen for the juvenile fish.

In addition to muskellunge, this facility was used to overwinter lake trout and rainbow trout produced in other stations. Deer Lake was important to the overall fish culture program because it allowed other stations to produce more fingerlings than they could rear to stocking size. The excess trout fingerlings were transferred in the fall to Deer Lake where space was sufficient to rear them until they were stocked in the next spring. Trout were fed artificial food pellets.

MUSKELLUNGE CULTURE

Adult muskellunge were caught each spring in pound nets in Stoney Lake. Eggs were taken from females and fertilized in a basin with sperm from males. The adult fish were then released unharmed. Fertilized eggs were rinsed with lake water then transferred to special buckets and allowed to stand for 1 hour to water harden. The collection period varied depending on weather conditions but was usually from 10 to 17 days. Up to 600,000 eggs could be collected in a day.

Henry Jackson - Superintendent from 1939 to 1961.  (Contributed by Ron Barrons)

READ ABOUT  ED BOWEN

"PIONEER CALLS IT QUITS  .
After 40 years of part time work at the Deer Lake Fish Hatchery, located 22 km north- east of Havelock, Ed Bowen, a local farmer, has decided to direct his time and talents back to his farm and trapping, and take a few scenic trips with his wife, Dorothy. Ed owns the home farm not far from the Hatchery as well as the popular "Lost Lake", excellent for bass and musky fishing.
Ed 's history with the government began way back in 1938 when he and hf.s team of horses were paid $4.00 per day to scrape muck from a swampy area for the construction of the original hatchery ponds. In the past Ed also took out a contract to cut blocks of ice from Cordova Lake to store in the Hatchery ice house. The production of cutting ice was eventually eliminated once hydro arrived in the area around 1949. Since 1938 he has worked for every Deer Lake Hatchery Manager in producing bass, pickerel, muskellunge and many species of trout. Ed has been around to see all the changes at the Hatchery and has been a book of knowledge to new corners. The Hatchery won't be the same without Ed's presence but we all wish him a long and very happy retirement."

The buckets of washed eggs were transported back to the hatchery, rinsed again, measured, and placed in glass incubator jars (approximately 120,000 eggs per 2 quart jar). Water flowed through the jars to supply oxygen for the eggs. Periodically, the staff stirred the eggs with a feather to prevent them from clumping together and smothering. Approximately 4 days after fertilization the eggs would "eye up"; that is, the embryonic development  progressed to the point where the eyes could be seen through the egg shell. Throughout the incubation period any dead eggs were siphoned off. Dead eggs were distinguished from healthy eggs because they were opaque.

Sac-fry emerge from the egg approximately 2 weeks after fertilization. At this stage the large yolk sac, the source of nutrients for the juvenile fish, restricts their movement. The sac-fry are removed to trays which are placed in troughs. The sac-fry reach the "swim-up" stage approximately 2 weeks after hatching. At this stage the yolk sac has been absorbed. This allows the fry to swim actively in search of food. It was at this stage that most of the young muskellunge were stocked.

The "swim-up" fry that remained were transferred to outdoor ponds. These ponds had been fertilized previously with soybean meal to produce an abundance of plankton. Plankton is food for muskellunge fry for approximately 3 weeks after "swim-up".
After this 3 week period the muskellunge were fed young white suckers which had been hatched from eggs at the station. Then, large numbers of minnows which had been  netted daily from local lakes and streams were dumped into the rearing pond for food. Young muskellunge will become cannibalistic if other food is not available.
Most of the muskellunge fry were planted in late May as fry. Those which were retained grew quickly and reached fingerling stage (3-5 inches) in July. Some were stocked. The remaining fish were reared to the advanced fingerling stage (6 inches), and stocked in mid-August.


ANNUAL PRODUCTION*
Annual fish production included:

  • 1,500,000 muskellunge fry 20,000 - 40,000 muskellunge fingerlings
  • 2,000 advanced muskellunge fingerlings for research purposes
  • 120,000 rainbow trout for western Lake Ontario and inland waters
  • 200,000 lake trout for the western basin of Lake Ontario

*Actual production varied from year to year.

Assistant Manager,  Wayne Vanvolkenburg remembers:

The availability of a large and constant water source, a previously constructed channel for a pipeline, and an abundance of crown land, helped to establish the location for the hatchery.  Most of the work was likely completed in 1938-39.  From what some of the former staff have told me, it seems that the large upper pond (#1) and the lower pond (#2) were constructed at that time.  The small cement pond may have also been built then.  Seven outdoor cement raceways were also constructed at that time.
Initial buildings included:  the hatchery/office, ice house/storage, residences for the manager and his assistant and a large vehicle garage. Water came from Deer (Cordova) Lake via a 2 ft. wooden pipeline.  The line was wrapped with heavy wire and coated with a tar-like material. Smaller lines with shut-off valves fed ponds, hatchery, raceways and the houses.  A sufficient drop in elevation from the lake to the hatchery created the required water pressure.
 The bridge between the houses and the operational area was likely constructed at this time as well.
Early Production:      It seems that the earliest production likely centered exclusively on Maskinonge (Musky).  Over the years eggs were collected from various sources including: Crowe River, Stoney Lake and Deer Bay on Buckhorn Lake.  Eggs were transported to the hatchery and hatched over a 10-14 day period.  After another 7-10 days, the fry would reach the swim-up stage.  It is likely that most of Musky would have been stocked as swim-up fry.  This would eliminate the need to find forage minnows.  Some fry were raised to a larger size by placing them in the ponds and allowing them to feed on plankton.  The fry, and later the fingerlings, were shipped in large cans filled with water.  If the weather was warmer a chunk of ice could be placed in the recessed lid of the can to help control the temperature.
            In 1949 a major expansion took place.  Ponds 1A and 4 were constructed and pond 2 was divided, now becoming ponds  2 and 3.  A new home was constructed for the assistant manager; the old home becoming the office.  A workshop, car garage and fire equipment shed were also constructed.  Electricity became available and was installed at this time.  Over time, all of the water lines were replaced with an asbestos pipe.
            Other species that were raised or hatched here included: Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, White Sucker, Lake Trout, Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout, Whitefish and Splake.  To better utilize the facility, the numbers of fish held overwinter gradually increased.
With the introduction of “oxygen infusion” into the transportation tanks, the number of fished carried and the distance they were transported, increased greatly.  This also allowed for the capture of more forage minnow.   Minnows could not previously be held in the tanks for long periods of time before the oxygen supply would be depleted.  Musky production was extended and the fish size was increased, thus improving the survival rate for the stocked fish.
     Other areas of responsibility added over time included: operation and maintenance of Cordova and Round Lake dams, deer aging and hide collection, manning deer check stations, helping other fish culture stations with spawning operations, fire suppression and attending many training seminars.  The hatchery staff was responsible for the year-round maintenance of about one mile of road and several public access areas.
The hatchery managers were: Henry Jackson (1938-1959), John (Jock) Hunt (1959-1974) and George Cation (1975-1991).Assistant managers were: Harry Edwards, Jock Hunt, Jim Scott, Edward Cullen and Wayne VanVolkenburg.
 The hatchery provided part-time employment for many seasonal workers over the years.   In 1968 there were sixteen: four regular seasonal workers, five spawn-takers, four fin-clippers, two watchmen and one summer student.  This gradually declined and by1990 only two seasonal workers remained and the fin clipping operation was contracted out.

Ethel Jackson, daughter of Henry Jackson

This photo was taken of the  staff, past and present, gathering around the time the hatchery closed. (Fall 1991). People present are: Ed & Dorothy Bowen, John & Bernice Anderson, Joe & Sharon Barrons, Don & Gena Bowen, Wayne & Cathy VanVolkenburg, George & Millie Cation, John Kiss (a friend of Andersons) and Chris & Doris Steenburg.

Circumstances Leading To Closure

  •  As the lake was settled and developed, a public road bisecting the property became increasingly problematic.  Fish had been stolen from the raceways and vandalism was increasing.  Funds were not available for hiring a night watch person

  • .Several new fish culture stations were constructed to replace the antiquated ones

  • The temperature of the water supplied by Cordova Lake was not suitable for the wide variety of fish that were now required to be reared.

  • The tourist association was losing interest in their pond and Musky stocking.

  • There was increasing opposition to the removal of millions of minnows from the surrounding lakes.

  • A half-hearted effort was made to raise Musky with a diet of dry pellet food.  This method has been used successfully at Chatauqua hatchery in New York State.  Instead of adopting their diets and methods, we tried to re-invent the wheel.  Given only one summer to succeed, this program was doomed from the start.

            Whether right or wrong, it was now thought that warm-water species populations were governed by the available food supply and the quality of the fish habitat.  All that was necessary to increase numbers was to improve the spawning areas and regulate the catch.  Unfortunately, for species like Musky, a lot of their spawning areas were lost to cottage and home development.  The accidental introduction of Pike into many areas has further contributed to the decline in the Musky population.  Photos of “strings of Muskies” are fast becoming collectors’ items.

                                      Peterborough Examiner - 1938

Fish hatchery 2014,  grown over - Left -  Upper pond         Right - Lower pond