Head Lake ice out date breaks record
by Olivia Robinson
Published May 15, 2018
The ice on Haliburton’s Head Lake finally melted on May 5, marking 2018 as the latest ice out date on record since 1945.
The previous record was set May 4, 1956, according to notes of late local Haliburton resident Bud Thayer, who started recording the ice out history of Head Lake in 1945. Thayer was an avid canoeist and teacher at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School.
Based on Thayer’s notes, the previous record was set May 4, 1956 – a time when Louis St. Laurent was prime minister, the Montreal Canadiens had just won their eighth Stanley Cup, and it would be still another decade before the maple leaf design would be chosen as the country’s national flag.
Dr. Karl Hartwick eventually joined forces with Thayer as an ice-watcher to keep track of the ice out dates every spring. Thanks to photocopies of Thayer’s original notes, Hartwick confirmed the previous record.
“He and I spoke about what consisted of the ice going out,” said Hartwick. “We both basically agreed that if it’s 98 per cent out, it becomes subjective. There has to be absolutely no ice left on the lake.”
Hartwick said that the first year Thayer began taking notes, he was scrawling them into an ancient history textbook. The following year, he bought a book in which to record his observations.
“He comments on what kind of winter it was, sometimes he had notes about how they almost had a green Christmas in 1949,” said Hartwick of Thayer’s observations.
Thayer would also record other “little snippets of information,” like in 1951 when the lake froze over in the fall and people were skating on the lake, only to have the ice go out again on Dec. 7, 1951. Or, in 1953, when Thayer noted it was a low snow year, and only had one chance to use his snowshoes that season.
Since Thayer began his record-keeping, there have been just six springs – until now – when it has taken until May for the ice to disappear from Head Lake. By Hartwick’s calculations, the average date is around April 19.
Although Hartwick no longer keeps official track of the ice out date, his passion for the outdoors remains.
“I’ve been a keen canoe-tripper going back into my 20s,” he said.
Hartwick has covered all corners of the country, including northern Ontario, Labrador and the Northwest Territories.
“If the ice isn’t out, you’re not going too far very fast!”
Hartwick said that if the May 4 windstorm – a tempest that left 180,000 Hydro One customers without power across Ontario – hadn’t swept across Head Lake when it did, the ice likely would have hung on for a few more days.
Candle ice, a brittle kind of ice that makes a tinkling sound when it moves in water, would likely have melted fairly quickly after a storm, he said.
Hartwick said he hopes to pass along a copy of Thayer’s notes to the Haliburton Highlands Museum for future use.