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7 things you may not know about Muskrat Lake

Muskrat Lake was once part of a glacial sea

Illustration depicting organisms that lived in the Champlain Sea

Like many other lakes in the Ottawa Valley, Muskrat Lake formed roughly 10,000 years ago when the glaciers of the last ice age receded. At that point, Muskrat Lake was part of the much larger water body known as the Champlain Sea. About 6,000 years ago, water levels dropped and the Champlain Sea receded, leaving behind what we know presently as Muskrat Lake and its surrounding tributaries.

Currently, Muskrat Lake is approximately 16km (9.9 mi) in length with an average depth of 17.9m (59ft). The deepest point on the lake is 64m (210ft) and is located just off McNaughton Bay.

Samuel de Champlain’s astrolabe was found near Muskrat Lake

While looking for a route from the Ottawa River to Hudson Bay in 1613, Samuel de Champlain came across a lake that matched the location and description of present-day Muskrat Lake. At the time, Champlain referred to the lake as Lac de Nibachis, named after an Algonquin man, he met there.

During his visit to Muskrat Lake, Champlain lost his infamous astrolabe. The astrolabe was found over 200 years later in 1867 by a 15-year-old boy name Edward G. Lee who was helping his father clear a plot of land in Ross Township. The astrolabe was acquired by the New York Historian Society in 1943 and only later returned to Canada when purchased by the Canadian Government in 1989 for $250,000. Champlain’s astrolabe is currently displayed at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. A stone monument commemorating the discovery was erected near Logos Land in 1952.

Muskrat Lake was part of an 18th century forwarding service

From 1848-1853 Muskrat Lake was part of a much larger forwarding service, owned by a man named Jason Gould, that transported individuals from Portage-Du-Fort on the Ottawa River to Pembroke via ferry across Muskrat Lake and the Muskrat River. The original ferries on Muskrat Lake were flat-bottomed row boats that required the passengers to paddle them. The Muskrat was the first steamboat operating on Muskrat Lake, followed by The North Star in the spring of 1853.

On May 16th, 1853, The Muskrat was lost in a great fire that began in Pembroke and traveled all the way to Horton Township. The North Star managed to survive the fire on the happenstance that it was out on the water returning from a trip to Pembroke that morning. The loss of the ferry, storehouses, and wharf was too much for Jason Gould, so in 1860 he sold his business to the Union Forwarding Co., principally owned by Daniel Crowley (the former captain of the North Star). In 1863, Crowley built a new ferry and named it the Jason Gould. The ferrying service continued to flourish on Muskrat Lake until the arrival of the railroad in Cobden in 1876.

In 1965, Kim Charlebois, 28, and Jack Tremblay, 26, came across the burnt remains of the ferry The Muskrat a few feet off the shores of Muskrat Lake while scuba diving. They were able to bring up pieces of timber, iron fittings, and several bottles, two of them still corked.

Muskrat Lake was a way for students to get to school

Over the years, Cobden’s elementary school has changed location and size. In 1865, the elementary school was reported to be situated along Bonnechere Street closer to the shores of Muskrat Lake. Children attending Cobden's Elementary School at the time would skate or travel by rowboat across Muskrat Lake each day to get to school. An old ledger recovered from the school reported “two new oars for the school rowboat” under the annual expenses.

Individuals have swam the length of Muskrat Lake

To date, two individuals have swam the entire length of Muskrat Lake. These include Lawrence Dack in June 1923 and Sarah Hall (pictured below) on June 17, 2017.

Government officials have visited Muskrat Lake

In September 1961, the much-awaited reconstructed Cobden Memorial Hall was scheduled to re-open. Premier Frost arrived via float plane on Muskrat Lake to commemorate this special moment in Cobden’s history.

Muskrat Lake is home to some interesting aquatic life

Since 1916, residents have reported sightings of a lake monster, now known as “Mussie”, living in Muskrat Lake. Eyewitness reports have described Mussie as “…having three eyes, three ears, one big fin halfway down its back, two legs, [and] one big tooth in front, is silvery-green in color, and stretches for twenty-four feet”. Though many scientist and lake monster enthusiasts have come to Muskrat Lake in search of the elusive creature, no one has been able to produce any physical evidence of Mussie’s existence…yet! However, there have been reports of other elusive aquatic creatures in Muskrat Lake. In 1912, local resident Peter Pappin caught a 65lb lake sturgeon on Muskrat Lake. Members of the Muskrat Watershed Council have reported seeing the large, pre-historic-like lake sturgeon as well as the longnose garr, while collecting water samples on Muskrat Lake. Could these two species be behind the sightings of our beloved Mussie? Only time will tell.

Historical Sources:

Cobden Then and Now by George Wallace

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