The Sturgeon

What's in a name?

This mural depicts the lake sturgeon, a species of fish that has a long history in the area and for which the community of Sturgeon Falls was named.  

The mural was originally created for a display that welcomed visitors travelling through Sturgeon Falls to attend the International Ploughing Match held in Verner in 2019.  It has since been reworked by artist Hélène Chayer and relocated to its current spot at the MineHaha Bay. 

Ancient bottom feeder

A North American temperate freshwater fish, the lake sturgeon is an evolutionarily ancient bottom feeder with a partly cartilaginous skeleton, an overall streamlined shape and skin bearing rows of bony plates on its sides and back. 

Lake sturgeons can grow to a relatively large size, topping 7.25 ft (2.2 m) long and weighing over 240 lb (108 kg). The species has a long life span, and many lake sturgeon live be 100 years old.  

Like most species of sturgeon, the lake sturgeon is rare now and is protected in many areas, including Lake Nipissing.

Black Gold

While North American lake sturgeon was plentiful in the colonial era, they were often considered a pest that would find its way into nets intended for a more profitable catch.

Perceptions changed however when, in the 19th century, a Russian immigrant living in Philadelphia purchased live sturgeon from fishermen and cured the roe to produce fine caviar. 

Species of special concern

Supplying gourmets both above and below the border was big business for Cockburn and others who had followed his lead to the sturgeon spawning grounds.

Upwards of 2000 lbs of fragile sturgeon eggs were netted and packed annually by Lake Nipissing's commercial fishermen, eventually leading to the collapse of the fishery.  

Lake sturgeon has since been listed as a species of special concern in the Ontario Endangered Species Act.

Depleting the stocks

This discovery of caviar resulted in an intense boom in the industry and by the mid to late 1880’s, Sturgeon stocks had been depleted in the Great Lakes.  Opportunists turned their sights to smaller bodies of water such as Lake Nipissing to meet European demand for the product. 

The period with the largest harvests of the species in the lake’s history 1900-1908, saw an average of over 11,000 pounds of caviar being harvested annually.  The lake’s sturgeon population was hard hit by overfishing and by 1908 a moratorium was ordered to let the fish stock recover.

The closure was short lived however, and by 1917 harvesting commercially was once again allowed.

Caviar King

By 1946 Roy Cockburn, the sole owner operator of the Cockburn fishery on Lake Nipissing, was netting some 50 to 60 40-pound sturgeon per day. Having successfully predicted and bet on the demand for Nipissing caviar, Roy earned the moniker “The King of Caviar” among locals.

MineHaha Bay

Historically, the Indigenous nation of the Nipissings used the Minnehaha Bay as an access point to Lake Temagami. In later years the bay was used by the paper and pulp mills of Sturgeon Falls to collect logs coming from upstream lumberyards in Field and River Valley.

Under the terms of law, a dock had to be built by the Government of Ontario to accommodate the pulp and paper mill and, by extension, the community. This is the reason why local residents colloquially call the latter ''Government Dock''.

Minnehaha Bay is now home to a 6,700-square-foot building, boat slips, a boardwalk and an outdoor amphitheatre and has become an important panoramic site and tourist attraction for Sturgeon Falls.



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Excerpt of
West Nipissing Mural and Sign Tour

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