A New Brunswick documentary filmmaker’s new documentary on freshwater ecosystems is a passion project a decade in the making.
Harrison Burton and his team want to draw attention to the history, majesty and dangers facing lakes in the province through a three-part documentary series titled Fresh Waters.
“I spent my childhood fishing and growing up in nature and I always felt that freshwater ecosystems didn’t really have a voice and that we generally abused them as a society,” he said.
Nictau Lake is the first stop in the series and he had to seek permission from multiple parties like the Ministry of Tourism, Heritage and Culture and Mount Carleton Provincial Park because areas surrounding the lake are registered Indigenous archeological sites.
Burton said he’s not able to go into detail as to whether the team found any objects of note due to privacy concerns, but the team witnessed an abundance of wildlife, like brook trout.
Six dives into the lake were conducted near the end of June over a span of three days.
In an email to CBC News, the Ministry of Tourism said it believes this was the first dive of this nature to happen in the park.
“As is standard practice, if any archaeological objects of Indigenous origin are reported, the department will report the finds to First Nations,” it said.
For Burton, the lake was a prime location to explore because of the history tied to the land.
“The lake was really a passageway, it was a place where people have lived and worked for millennia and centuries,” he said.
In the Nictau Lake episode, Burton wants to explore the ways in which people have touched the land, such as the Wolastoqiyik and Mi’kmaq, who travelled from the Fundy coast to the Chaleur Bay using the area’s vast waterway.
Other focuses of the documentary include exploring the heritage behind the log driving that took place in the 1800s and early 1900s, at the far west end of the lake.
Preparing for the dives was no small feat, with Burton describing how the actual process began two years ago when he was scouting suitable lakes for the project.
“One prerequisite of going into any freshwater ecosystem to dive it, is understanding how the visibility is because if we can’t see anything, we can’t document anything in the ecosystem,” he said.
For some divers, the preference is to dive into oceans due to increased visibility. Burton said many lakes in the province contain a high percentage of heavy minerals and so low visibility is very common.
But he also added the element of mystery surrounding lakes is a fascinating aspect.
“For me, that’s also intriguing … the idea that because it’s dark … people haven’t taken the time to look,” he said.
Once the camping preparations for the dives were set, Burton and his team of Moncton divers — Serge Cormier and Julien Bourque — set out to begin their three-day odyssey.
There were various freshwater safety concerns that needed to be taken into account, such as making contact with the bottom.
“It becomes a cloud,” he said. “It’s basically lights out, so diving with somebody that’s not only skilled enough to prevent that and stay off of the bottom, but someone that can also keep their stuff together.”
The journey was also captured by wildlife photographer Nate Gaffney, who found this shoot to be one of the most exciting of his career.
“Lakes are historical … they tell a story … protecting them is extremely important and it’s something that I would want my children someday to be able to go and have a similar experience that I did,” he said.
Connecting to one’s family history
For Gaffney, who is Wolastoqey, there is deep personal meaning behind being on the land.
“Being a First Nations person, I couldn’t help but think about some of my ancestors that have physically been on that lake at one point and used those trail systems themselves,” he said.
“I was connecting to a part of my culture that I hadn’t connected to before, a part of it that hadn’t been necessarily written about or spoken about too often.”
While the three-part documentary will explore lakes in the province, it’s Burton’s aspiration to take a bigger look at all the lakes in the country.
“There are more lakes in Canada than anywhere else in the world and that’s got to be worth something … so whether you’re into exploration, or whether you’re into conservation and believe that we need to do more … I think you’ll be inspired by by this piece.”
Fresh Waters is expected to be completed near the end of this year.