Can the Bruce Peninsula stay ‘dark’? The last true piece of nature remaining in Ontario rests in our grip.

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"Using data from the Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project, this map's stress index shows a grim picture of the famous lakes' health." (Map: Chris Brackley/Canadian Geographic)
“Using data from the Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project, this map’s stress index shows a grim picture of the famous lakes’ health.” (Map: Chris Brackley/Canadian Geographic)

I was recently reading an on-line article published on CanadianGeographic.ca. What stuck as most interesting was the fact that roughly 20 North American researchers banded together in order to create a simple, yet very insightful, visual map depicting human and human-related impact on the Great Lakes. Visually, the map distinguishes each of the five lakes and surrounding land type, while clearly featuring and presenting stress levels within the Great Lakes. The concentration of “stress” is undoubtedly the result of different environmental factors in each location—from invasive species to pollution.

The matter got me thinking very at-large about the possible, substantial factors and indicators that helped researchers constitute and cartograph the graphic at whole. It then came to mind: how do similar maps displaying the intensification of light pollution on land compare? After all, not each troubled location surrounding the Great Lakes ranks high for the same reason. Places with high concentrations of population generally mean more strain on natural features in the form of waste management and so on, including light pollution. In essence, even though light pollution does not affect chemical contamination within the Great Lakes, there is a correlation linking population to strain on natural features; one of those features being air pollution and contamination.

Further digging on the subject led to a site called NightEarth.com, where current satellite imagery is used to depict light pollution and sources on earth. This website completely changed the way I saw the world. There is something interesting about seeing satellite radar that displays earth’s presence in the dark. Lights—all around—dot the globe, with higher concentrations and brightness in two distinct geographic locations. North-Western Europe and the North-Eastern Americas both illuminate bright white under the blanket of urbanization and civilization that hugs the topography.

A sense of awe overcame, and I began to picture what the ‘night-earth’ would have looked like before the industrial revolution—and even earlier, throughout the 1700s and 1800s. Probably very, very dark.

Consisting of somewhat the same ‘zoom’ features as seen on Google Maps, I began scanning across the globe, letting my curiosity freely wander as graphics of a light-lit Tokyo and Sydney flew before my eyes. Then came Canada’s turn. At first glance, the “great, white north” does not seem vibrantly bright as other destinations; a testament to our relatively miniscule population. In fact, most of the lights seen in Canada line the very southern terminus’ of the country (again, attesting to the positioning of Canada’s population in relation to availability of arable land). Victoria, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal– all cities which glow in the night sky from the stillness of the satellite imagery, while northern Canada is dark and shows no trace of human life.

Southern Ontario, specifically, sparkles as a diamond in the rough. It is certainly easy to see that this metropolis is one of the most densely populated in the country. The night-sky map is painted with light from London to Oshawa, and Flesherton to Niagara Falls. Then, right above Flesherton, lights dissipate and darkness reigns above the Bruce Peninsula. With that comes a “cut-off” in civilization, and there is a steady contrast between the urban and rural contours.

I sit here with a greater appreciation of our geographic location than ever before. It is simply amazing that mere kilometers away from such a dense concrete jungle exists untouched beauty (being visually displayed in the form of minimal lightpollution)—one with little lighting and less disturbances. One where life is slow, people are charming, nature is in abundance, and life as a whole is completely different. The Bruce Peninsula is different than any other place in Ontario for exactly those reasons.

However you like to describe our unmatched beauty; “desolate”, “barren”, “untouched” or “forgotten”, just remember that this very Peninsula is one of the last pieces of undisturbed land in all of Ontario. This arable land that so many call home is bountiful and diverse—and it’s high time to acknowledge that.

As much as it is a gift—this land of which we cherish, many forget what makes it truly unique perhaps because modernization is seen as more desirable. (Also, the crush of professional bloggers constantly ranking the night sky reserve on the Peninsula as the #1 in the country is devastating. Why broadcast it? As we see more trekking northbound, there will eventually be a need for increased road lighting on the side of county roads. What seems harmless in the form of a loving blog can spell catastrophe with a booming audience.)

One thing is for certain: this land is undeveloped and undisturbed for a reason, and is shown on many maps to be as free from contaminants. Shall we really be tampering with nature’s balance? Is greed going to help or degrade this landscape? This little unpolluted Peninsula we are familiar with can change for the worse if the almighty dollar allows it.

To conclude, the Bruce Peninsula is a gem that, even though widely known from June through September, is profoundly protected. It is a UNESCO World Biosphere Preserve and a national Dark Sky Preserve. But the modernization occurring to “advance” the peninsula may have unintended ramifications.

Joseph Gentile

J. Gentile is a freelancer who has been documenting tourism trends, and changes in Bruce-Grey, along with campaigning for a greener region.