LAKE LEWIS — A HISTORICAL SKETCH
By Roy Bishop (2007)
Lake Lewis lies near the centre of mainland Nova Scotia — about halfway between Yarmouth and New Glasgow, halfway between Minas Basin and Mahone Bay. Lake Lewis is the top lake in the drainage basin of the east branch of the Gold River. The Gold River flows into the Atlantic. The microwave tower 3 km east of Lake Lewis stands on the highest point along the New Ross/Vaughan highway. Rain falling to the east and north of that tower flows in the opposite direction, into Avon River which empties into the Bay of Fundy at Windsor.
Gold Brook, exiting Lake Lewis between lots A and E is the first piece of the east branch of the Gold River. The river flows into Nova Scotia Lake, then Long Lake, Grassy Lake, Wallaback Lake, and Camp Lake. Below Camp Lake and before it reaches Harris Lake, it joins the north branch of the Gold River. Past Harris Lake, the Gold River enters De Adder Lake, followed by Lake Lawson near New Ross, and then on to the ocean at the community of Gold River on Mahone Bay. In the 1960s Gold River was studied by Nova Scotia Light and Power Company (now part of Nova Scotia Power) for possible hydroelectric power development. Fortunately this development did not take place, and Lake Lewis today is much as it has been for the past 10 000 years, since the last ice sheet melted.
Geology and Ice
Lake Lewis lies on Devonian granite, the 380 million-year-old basement rock of a long-gone mountain range. Those vanished mountains were pushed up when the North American and African plates collided, closing the predecessor to today’s Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic Ocean began to re-open 190 million years ago and erosion swept away those mountains, although remnants are still visible: the Appalachians of eastern North America and the Caledonian mountains in Scotland and Norway. In southern Nova Scotia, ice sheets have removed most of the sediments subsequently deposited on the granite core of those ancient mountains.
The light grey colour of the granite is due to large white crystals of plagioclase feldspar mixed in with smaller crystals of clear quartz and black mica. The large size of the crystals is indicative of the slow cooling that took place deep beneath the mountains 380 million years ago. Granite typically contains small amounts of uranium — around 10 parts per million. About 11 km northeast of Lake Lewis, near Millet Brook, an area particularly rich in uranium was discovered in 1976, although the provincial government placed a moratorium on commercial development.
The name “Gold River” may have originated from the yellow-brown colour of the acidic water typical of the poorly-drained, rocky soils of the region. However, the name may have come from gold discoveries made on the east shore of Wallaback lake, about 3 km northwest of Lake Lewis.
Evidence of the last immense ice sheet that covered Nova Scotia 20 000 years ago is visible around Lake Lewis. The many granite boulders that rest randomly in the lake, along the lake shore and within the forest are glacial erratics, carried along by the ice and then dropped where they lie today when the ice sheet melted 10 000 years ago. We view the debris field of the last ice age. Granite bedrock in exposed locations was ground almost flat by the motion of the ice sheet (for example: the tip of lot 34, the rocky islet near lot 32, part of the shore of lot 23). Weathering has removed the finer scratches in this bedrock made by stones imbedded in the ice, but gouges, oriented north-south, can still be found.
The island in Lake Lewis was created as that great mass of ice ground southward: the long axis of the island lies north–south, along the direction of motion of the ice, with rocky debris strewn on the down-stream (south) side of the largest rocks forming the island. The island itself is probably the debris shadow of the large granite boulder at its north end.
After the ice sheet melted leaving the Lake Lewis topography much as it is today, a small hummock of rocks and soil formed along many sections of the edge of the shoreline as lake ice shoved against the land during each of the succeeding 10 000 winters.
There is evidence based on variations in Earth’s axial tilt and the shape of its orbit that we are now between two ice ages, and that perhaps in another 20 000 years (a mere 0.0004% of the age of our planet) Nova Scotia will again lie beneath an ice sheet. If global warming does not override this cycle, the Lake Lewis we have today will be a transient thing, although not so transient as an individual human life!
Sawmills and a Dam
The forests in this region were cut early in the 20th century. As a consequence, there is no old-growth forest near Lake Lewis or Nova Scotia Lake. There was a sawmill at the east end of Lake Lewis where lots 1 and 2 exist today, and a second sawmill on the northwest shore in the vicinity of lot 30. Remnants of these mills were obvious in the 1940s, but the forest has now reclaimed these sites. In a few locations one can still see large logs beneath the water that sunk before they reached the mills. On the south shore of Lake Lewis east of the island there is an iron ring in a large boulder that was used to hold a log boom for the mill on that part of the lake. Following the sawmill activity, the forests were untouched for about 70 years, up until the 1990s when large areas were cut south and east of the lake, and also to the northeast. Fortunately, this time, the forest in the vicinity of the lakes was spared.
In the sawmill era, to float logs from Nova Scotia Lake to the sawmills, a dam was placed on Sugar Brook at the exit of Nova Scotia Lake to raise that lake to the level of Lake Lewis. Also, rocks were removed from the upper end of Gold Brook joining the two lakes. By the end of the 20th century, ice and time had destroyed nearly all of Sugar Brook dam. Also, because Gold Brook had been deepened for log transport, without a rock barrier in place, in the dry part of the year (late summer) Lake Lewis will drop lower than its historical level. To keep both Lake Lewis and Nova Scotia Lake near their pre-sawmill, historical levels, the MPHA maintains small rock barriers on Gold Brook and Sugar Brook, respectively.
Cottages and Changes
The first cottage on Lake Lewis was the one that still exists on the island. It was built 70 years ago, in 1936, by my uncle Frank Huston (1896–1959) and Charles Townsend of Wolfville. Townsend sold his interest to my father, Lovett Bishop, about 1940, and I took over the island in 1961.
A second cottage on Lake Lewis appeared in the early 1950s by the highway on the southeast shore. In the mid-1960s the cottages on the east sawmill site (lots 1 and 2) were built, and in the 1970s the rather crowded development on the southwest shore took place. The Maritime Parklands development (lots 3 through 45, plus A through H) began in 1987. The two houses near the shore south of the island appeared in the 1990s. Above these two houses, the house beside the highway was built on the site of an earlier home that burnt about 1950. Other than the cottage on the island, up until the 1950s the latter home was the only dwelling within a mile of Lake Lewis.
In addition to 80-odd building lots appearing around Lake Lewis, other changes since the mid-20th century have included the straightening and paving of the highways in this part of the province, including the Vaughan/New Ross road, and the erection of the microwave tower east of Lake Lewis. A more subtle change has been the increasing sky glow to the southeast, light pollution from the Halifax metropolitan area. Smaller light domes have also appeared to the northeast (Windsor) and north (Kentville/New Minas/Wolfville). At Lake Lewis, most lot owners have not brought city lights with them, and around much of the lake night still comes with its stars, owls, and fireflies.
A brochure from the early days of the Maritime Parklands Development