North of Long Tail

A documentary photo series celebrating Lake Erie

Sandra – Leamington

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“Lake Erie feeds my soul. I feel calm, centred, and ‘at one’ with this planet when I gaze upon this inland sea. I love the variety of colour and texture of the water.”

Sandra grew up in Alberta. In the late 70s, she met her husband Joe, from Essex County, when he moved to Alberta to work in the oil industry. When Joe, like many others, lost his job after the early 80s oil crash, they decided to move to Essex County.

Sandra holds a photograph she took on her honeymoon. In it are her husband Joe, a cousin and the cousin’s fiancée on Holiday Beach (a favourite spot from Joe’s childhood). Sandra explains how this was when she started to fall in love with the Great Lakes
Sandra stands at the original location of the photograph she took of Cedar Beach while on her honeymoon

Sandra and Joe honeymooned in 1980 by Lake Erie. (left) Sandra holds a photograph she took on her honeymoon of her husband Joe, a cousin, and the cousin’s fiancée on Holiday Beach (a favourite spot from Joe’s childhood). This was when she started to fall in love with the Great Lakes. (right) Sandra stands at the original location of the photograph she took of Cedar Beach while on her honeymoon.

In 1989, they moved back to Alberta.

“I desperately wanted my two daughters to know my side of the family. The pull of family was the main reason we went back to Alberta.”

Sandra worked in Alberta as a secondary school teacher for more than two decades. But, with each passing year, life in Alberta seemed to be more expensive. In 2012 Sandra and Joe decided to move again and return to Lake Erie’s shores. The desire to return to the lake had never left Sandra.

“If we stayed in Alberta, retirement would have had to come several years later than it did.”

For Sandra and Joe’s anniversary two decades ago, Sandra’s late mom Marian paid for them to take a chair-building class. Together, they built this chair from a willow tree Joe cut from their property. When Sandra looks at the chair, she thinks of Alberta and her mother.

For Sandra and Joe’s anniversary two decades ago, Sandra’s late mom, Marian, paid for them to take a chair-building class. Together, they built this chair from a willow tree Joe cut from their property. When Sandra looks at the chair, she thinks of Alberta and her mother.

Some of Sandra’s best memories have been out on their boat on Lake Erie, although they haven’t had it in the water for a few years. One memory that stands out is of a particular day when she explored the west end of the basin with her husband, daughter, and grandson. The water was “calm like glass” while they fished.

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Sandra is an avid collector of beach glass and "lucky stones" (the earbone of a sheepshead fish) that wash up on the shore.

Sandra finds Seacliff Beach in Leamington to be a great place to find beach glass.
She has turned a lot of her beach glass into decorative dishes.
Sandra shows her collection of “lucky stones,” which are the unique ear bone or otolith of a freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens), also known as the sheepshead fish.

(top left) Sandra finds Seacliff Beach in Leamington to be a great place to find beach glass. (top right) She has turned a lot of her beach glass into decorative dishes. (bottom) Sandra shows her collection of lucky stones.

In retirement, one of the activities that keeps Sandra busy is quilting, something she started doing in Alberta (previously she made clothes and home décor). In the mid-90s, a fabric shop had a contest to make a quilt block, Sandra entered, and her creation ended up winning.

“The colours of the lake — the trees and the blue of the sky — are an inspiration for my quilts.”

In 2016, an American fabric company released a fabric line called “Better at the Lake” and looking for someone to be their designer of the month. Sandra wrote in explaining how she left the prairies and moved to this great lake that Canada and the U.S. share. She was so surprised when they chose her.

Sandra holds the pillow she made for the “better at the lake” theme. Sandra ended up making a quilt, backpack, coffee coasters, and pillows.

Sandra holds the pillow she made for the “Better at the Lake” theme. Sandra ended up making a quilt, backpack, coffee coasters, and pillows.

This positive experience pushed Sandra to continue quilting for other companies, and she continues looking at the lake for inspiration.

 Sandra holds her water-themed quilt of a kelpie’s star. A kelpie is a shape-shifting water spirit who lives in the lochs of Scotland.

Sandra holds her water-themed quilt of a kelpie’s star. A kelpie is a shape-shifting water spirit who lives in the lochs of Scotland.

Sandra often photographs her quilts down by the lake for her blog. The name of this particular quilt pattern is “Storm at Sea”.

Sandra often photographs her quilts down by the lake for her blog. The name of this particular quilt pattern is “Storm at Sea”.

Aside from quilting and beach collecting, Sandra enjoys teaching yoga part-time in her retirement where she can explore “the meditative aspects of it and feeling connected with nature.”

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“The lake puts things in perspective, deep in my soul. Standing there on the shore, thinking of the vastness. My worries are insignificant.”

Sandra says she has always been a “treehugger” and finds humanity’s general lack of care or concern for the environment upsetting.

“I fear for Lake Erie. The disregard for the future frightens me. There is no planet B. I just hope and pray that we find ways to be less destructive to the environment."

Read More

STORIES FROM THE LAKE

Patricia – Pelee Island

Read More

Heidi – Pigeon Bay

Read More

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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