Lake Simcoe Science
Hatching Friendships Through Fish
Our story takes place on and around Georgina Island, one of three Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nations islands on Lake Simcoe. Kerry-Ann Charles, Georgina Island’s Environmental Coordinator when the program materialized and Gina Marucci, the grade 3-5 teacher at the First Nation School at time, wanted to enhance the students’ connections with the natural environment.
Gina had heard about a salmon hatchery program in a Toronto area School Board, so Kerry-Ann approached staff at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) to see if they would be open to collaborating on a similar program. Staff from the Ministry welcomed the idea and so began the Lake Trout Hatchery Program at Waagbon Gamig School.
Aquatic Ecologists at the MNRF undertook their usual collection of trout eggs from live wild trout in Lake Simcoe during spawning season. They transferred the eggs to these special incubators known as “Scotty Boxes”. But instead of housing them all in Ministry labs, Gabrielle Liddle delivered a box of 100 eggs to Waabgon Gamig to be placed in a tank and monitored and cared for by the children in the classroom with support from the Ministry staff.
Lake trout spawn in autumn, between September and December, in water between 48 and 57ºF. Their eggs hatch about 4 or 5 months afterwards, in March or April.
The delivery of the first Scotty Box to the Waabgon classroom began in October 2013. Since then, it has become a big part of the curriculum, teaching the kids not only the life cycle of the fish but also the connection of the Lake Trout to Lake Simcoe as well as aspects of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan and Act.
From October onwards, the children care for the trout eggs, raising them from the “alevin” stage when they first leave the Scotty Box, until the “fry” stage when they are ready for release into the lake. They also track their fish rearing duties and activities in journals.
Expanding the Program
With the program being such a success, KerryAnn and the staff of Waabgon Gamig thought it would be a great idea to explore an expansion. The perfect opportunity existed with the students at Morning Glory Public School, in Pefferlaw, where the students from Waagbon Gamig transition to starting in grade 6.
In 2015, in partnership with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and the Ontario/Anishnabek Fisheries Resource Centre, the fish hatchery project was expanded to include a grade 4/5 split class at Morning Glory. The program would now not only help develop students’ connection with the natural environment, but it would aid in the transition for students attending school on the mainland for the first time.
The Big Day
When the fish fry are ready for life in the lake, a specific date is coordinated to bring the students from both schools together for the release. The day becomes one of making new friends, sharing experiences and learning a little bit about the First Nations culture and traditions as well as the First Nations ties to Lake Simcoe.
Because the release takes place on Georgina Island, on the morning of the release, the students from Morning Glory take the ferry to Georgina Island. For many, the ferry ride is their first experience on Lake Simcoe and to the First Nation community.
Part 2 of this story, we explain how Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority got involved in a further expansion of the program.