North of Long Tail

A documentary photo series celebrating Lake Erie

Mohamad sits on the shores of Lake Erie with his feet in the water.

In Syria, Mohamad had swimming pools to enjoy at both his parents’ and his grandfather’s home. He remembers the joy of being a kid and sitting by the edge of the pool with his feet in the water.

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In 2012, when Mohamad was 10, his family fled to Turkey because of the civil war in Syria. In Turkey, Mohamad couldn’t go to school. Instead, he started working in a big factory. At age 11, he made sofas and chairs alongside his brothers and father to pay the rent.

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When Mohamad thinks back to those years in Turkey, the memories are of the hard work and never having time to play or be a child. He had to wake up at six in the morning, and he returned home from the factory at ten at night.

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In 2017, when Mohamad was 15 years of age, he and his family moved to Canada. Mohamad's uncle had moved to Leamington, Ont., six months before. He encouraged Mohamad's parents to come too, telling them that the lake was beautiful, and the people were friendly. In June 2017, they found themselves in a new country, where Mohamad didn't have to work in a factory and, instead, could start attending school — something he hadn't done since he was 10.

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"When I first came to Canada, I didn't speak English. It was difficult to communicate for the first five months, so I went on a lot of walks, and all I could say to people was ‘hi’.”

Lake Erie means a lot to Mohamad. It is the place where he has found peace. Mohamad especially loves going down to the marina to sit on the rocks and read a book.

The memoir Educated by Tara Westover is Mohamad's favourite book. In it, Westover recounts overcoming her isolated Mormon upbringing in Idaho's mountains, starting college at 17 (her first formal education), and eventually completing a PhD in history at Cambridge University. "It motivates me because I feel like I can relate. I missed school until I was 15. I came here, started high school, and now I'm hoping to go to university. If she can do it, I can do it too."

The memoir Educated by Tara Westover is Mohamad's favourite book. In it, Westover recounts overcoming her isolated Mormon upbringing in Idaho's mountains, starting college at 17 (her first formal education), and eventually completing a PhD in history at Cambridge University. "It motivates me because I feel like I can relate. I missed school until I was 15. I came here, started high school, and now I'm hoping to go to university. If she can do it, I can do it too."

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Mohamad has a real passion for fitness and loves how it challenges him mentally and physically. In 2020, he completed his first half marathon. “I wasn’t even planning on it. I woke up and decided to run."

One activity that has helped Mohamad adjust to life in North America is Crossfit. It has been an excellent way for him to unleash competitive energy and make friends. In 2018, Mohamad represented Canada for his age category at the CrossFit Open Games and proudly came in 22nd place.

One activity that has helped Mohamad adjust to life in North America is Crossfit. It has been an excellent way for him to unleash competitive energy and make friends. In 2018, Mohamad represented Canada for his age category at the CrossFit Open Games and proudly came in 22nd place.

Mohamad with his brother Khalid (age 13) and sister Razan (age 5)

Mohamad with his brother Khalid (age 13) and sister Razan (age five).

Today, Mohamad’s dad works in a factory where he packs vegetables while his mom stays home to look after her four children. When they have free time to spend together, Mohamad loves it when they all head down to Seacliff Park to look out at the water and eat watermelon or ice cream.

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Mohamad, who saw his beautiful homeland destroyed, can’t believe how some people seem to take Lake Erie and its natural beauty for granted.

“Sometimes I see people throw garbage on the ground. I have tried to talk to them, but people don’t listen. I also try to go around and clean up the garbage around the lake. I try my best. It makes me happy when the beach is clean.”

At school, Mohamad’s teacher showed the class an image of a dissected fish from Lake Erie with a stomach full of plastic.

“Honestly it made me feel awful. It shows how we aren’t only ruining the water; we are ruining the animals and ourselves.”

Every time he sees a feather, Mohamad reflects on the harm humans do to the various species living along Lake Erie
Mohamad sorts through a collection of garbage he found in less than a minute along Seacliff Beach.

(left) Every time he sees a feather, Mohamad reflects on the harm humans do to the various species living along Lake Erie. (right) Mohamad sorts through a collection of garbage he found in less than a minute along Seacliff Beach.

Mohamad knows that recreational activities like fishing and swimming that people enjoy won’t be available for future generations without a healthy lake. He is sick of seeing how improving the environment is a responsibility that society keeps passing on to the next generation.

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“We need to think about the future and take care of this lake. I hope that when I’m old, I can take my kids to Lake Erie, and it will be a clean nice place with fish in it.”

Read More

STORIES FROM THE LAKE

Patricia – Pelee Island

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Heidi – Pigeon Bay

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Take Action

Lake Erie and the millions of people who rely on it for their drinking water, local jobs, and so much more need your help.

The health of Lake Erie continues to decline. Action is needed more than ever to restore its health for current and future generations.

You can make a difference. Here’s how you can help protect the lake and support the people who are closely connected to it.

EXHIBITION BY: documentary photographer COLIN BOYD SHAFER in collaboration with ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE

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