A Mystery Lake, An Idyllic Cove
Photo Credits: Jeffrey Round
It’s eerie. It’s the kind of place where murder might have been
committed. In fact, legend has it that a murderous chase ended here in a
It’s also stunningly beautiful. That’s why it’s hard to reconcile the
eeriness with the splendour of the view from Lake on the Mountain.
Half-an-hour southwest of Kingston, and two-and-a-half hours northeast of
Toronto, the lake was once a sacred native site. Today it’s a geologic
County Road 7 eases gently upward from Glenora, an out-of-time ferry
crossing that connects eastern Prince Edward County with the mainland along
the Loyalist Parkway.
Above, the sky opens into a splendid panorama over the Bay of Quinte. Far
below, ferries crisscross each other’s wake as sailboats float like
butterflies in the sun. Then you turn and catch a flash of turquoise on the
And a voice inside says something is wrong here.
How come there’s such a difference in water levels? Why doesn’t Lake on the
Mountain simply drain into the bay far below? That’s when the eeriness sets
Despite its brooding character, the site appealed to a group of
bone-weary United Empire Loyalists who’d left New York following the
American Revolution. After an arduous trek through the wilderness, they
finally stopped at the lake more than 200 years ago.
As the settlement grew to include a school, a church and highly prosperous
grist and lumber mills, the area’s renown increased with it. Lake on the
Mountain quickly became known as “the greatest curiosity in the country.”
Common lore had it that the lake was bottomless. Its shores drop off so
quickly that one early-19th century boater described it as a “deep, dark,
This would hardly surprise the Mohawk, who believed that three sisters—Corn,
Squash and Beans—lived in its depths. When the daughter of a Mohawk chief
eloped with her beau, the pair was hunted down here. Rather than be
captured, they committed suicide—she at the waterfall and he by plunging
into the lake.
Because the site was sacred the gods condemned the pair to wander the lake
for eternity, but the sisters helped them escape. They showed the brave a
hole in the lake wall. He broke through and was reunited with his lover.
That same hole once created a torrent of water comparable to Niagara Falls,
which only added to the lake’s mystery. Despite the fact it had no visible
source to replenish it, the water level remained constant.
The waterfall was eventually tamed to give Glenora its economic scope by
powering huge wheels to grind wheat and cut lumber. John A. MacDonald lived
there for three years while his father operated a grist mill, eventually
moving on to lasting fame as the country’s first Prime Minister.
The mills now house research projects for the Ministry of Natural
Resources. Today, Glenora’s most prized export comes from the Glenora
Springs Brewery: Triple Chin Irish Dark Ale, Red Coat Pale Ale and White Cap
Over time, some of the lake’s mysteries have been solved. We now know it’s
37 metres deep. By comparison, the Bay of Quinte’s deepest point at Glenora
is a mere 17 metres.
It’s also known that Lake on the Mountain is fed by underground springs, but
their origins remain elusive. An experiment releasing radioactive isotopes
into the great lakes suggests that the water comes from Lake Superior,
several hundred kilometers to the west.
While most experts agree the lake was formed during the last ice age, there
are a number of competing ideas on how it formed. One theory claims it was a
ravine cut into the limestone by a retreating glacier; another says it was
formed by the rushing movement of melting water.
Natives referred to the lake as a “smoking mountain.” This suggests it was
created by the impact of a meteorite hitting earth or even that it’s an
extinct volcano. The most widely accepted theory, somewhat less glamorous,
is that Lake on the Mountain is simply a giant sinkhole.
If you want to see it in person, Lake on the Mountain Resort rents boats as
well as cottages. The use of gas motors is forbidden, however, and the only
thing to disturb the silence is the wind.
Nearby Prinyer's Cove is another site with a
bit of history attached. Seventeen kilometres down County Road 7 from the Lake
on the Mountain parking lot, it rivals any beauty spot in Canada.
It's best approached by boat, however, to take
full advantage of the view of the cottages lining the hillsides, which range
from the enchanting to the magnificent. The only mystery here is why it isn't
better known. The answer is because it can't be fully appreciated from the road.
The cove is named for Captain John Prinyer, who
effected a daring capture of American soldiers in the War of 1812. Surrounding a
larger group with only five men hidden in the bush, he convinced the Americans
to surrender or be scalped by the natives, while the woods resounded with
imitation war cries.
Whether you arrive by boat or car, the cove is
seen in its full glory at sunset. Placid waters mirror the sails of moored
boats, while the setting sun silhouettes the cove's western arm through the
flushed outline of trees.
As dusk settles over the water, the nearby
woods and fields light up with the gentle flicker of fireflies. Even the most
imperturbable would be moved by this natural display of perfection.
HOW TO GET TO LAKE ON THE MOUNTAIN
From Toronto, drive east along the 401. Exit south onto the Loyalist Parkway
(Hwy. 33) at Trenton. Glenora is 10 km. east of Picton. County Road 7 turns off
to the right just before the ferry. From Kingston, follow Highway 33 to the
The ferry boats passing between Glenora and Adolphustown
The Glenora Ferry is part of the provincial highway system, so it's free. The
trip across the Bay of Quinte takes about 10 minutes. Boats leave frequently
throughout the year, starting at 6 a.m. and running till 1:45 a.m. For park
www.ontarioparks.com/english/lakem.html. For information concerning Lake on
the Mountain Resort: phone/fax (613) 476-1321;
View of the ferry boat from Lake on the Mountain