Lake Erie

Lake Erie

Fourth from the top in the Great Lakes system

Lake Erie is part of the Great Lakes System of North America and is located on the border of the United States and Canada. It is not only the smallest lake in the group, but it is also the southernmost and the lowest-water lake of them all. Several small rivers flow into the Erie, while the Niagara River, a 54-kilometer long river, flows out and connects Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. The Erie is also connected to Lakes Guron and St. Clair, and through the Erie Canal to the Hudson River and the Atlantic Coast of the United States.

The name Lake Erie comes from one of the Iroquois tribes, the Erie (Erielhonan), who lived on the south shore. Literally it means “long tail”: that is how the Indians of the tribe called the puma, their sacred animal.

Lake Erie acquired its present borders only 4,000 years ago, which is very little by the standards of geology. Its bowl was dug into relatively soft rock by glaciers. The lake shores are mostly high and slightly indented. In many places there are sand dunes, on which the Indians many centuries ago laid hunting trails. Only a few species of oak may grow on the slopes of the dunes, forming the rarest plant community on the banks of the Erie – the oak savannah.

The inhabited Pili Island (Ontario, Canada) is the largest island on Lake Erie and also the most southerly inhabited area in Canada. It is located in the western part of the lake. This island serves as a large stopover on the bird migration route. The nature of Pili is also unique, because here grow rare plants for Canada – wild hyacinth and three-cauliflower.

Equally unique is the climate of Erie, which can have a “snow effect” when cold winter winds circulate over the warm water of the lake. When they reach Buffalo, they bring down masses of snow. But the “snow effect” is a short-lived phenomenon, because the lake’s influence ends when it freezes, and being the shallowest of the Great Lakes, it freezes faster than the others. But even a little is enough: “thanks to” the influence of the climate of Erie Buffalo ranks eleventh in “snowiness” among U.S. cities.

The vicinity of Lake Erie, subject to the vagaries of nature, was in ancient times inhabited by two main groups of Iroquois tribes: the Erie tribe in the south and the Attawandaron tribe in the north.


The first European to reach Lake Erie was Louis Jolier (1645-1700), a French Canadian trapper (fur trapper) and pioneer explorer of North America. He visited the lake in 1669. French settlements later began to appear near the lake. At the end of the XVII century the English became interested in the territory and found a common language with the natives.

The local Indians did not prevent the Europeans from settling on the shores of Erie and did not fight with their neighboring Iroquois.

But the peace in the mastered region was short-lived: during the French-Iroquois wars in the struggle for the right to trade in furs (called “beaver wars”) the indigenous population of the Erie coast was exterminated, and the Algonquin tribes of Ottawa, Ojibwe, Wyandot and Mingo Indians settled on the territories.

During the Anglo-American War of 1812-1815 (during the Napoleonic Wars) a famous battle took place on Lake Erie: on September 10, 1813, the ships of American Commodore Oliver Perry (1785-1819) defeated the British.


Lake Erie creates a microclimate that plays an important role for agriculture. On the northern shore of the reservoir is one of Canada’s largest horticultural and vegetable-growing areas. On the southeast shore (the U.S. states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York) grapes are grown.

Today, shipping, fishing, and agriculture are developed on Lake Erie. The largest port on Lake Erie is Cleveland: its cargo turnover reaches 15 million tons a year. The shipping on Lake Erie is the most intense compared to the other Great Lakes. However, because of this, Lake Erie has the reputation of being the lake with the highest number of shipwrecks (again, compared to other Great Lakes).

The climatic conditions for agriculture in Lake Erie are exceptionally favorable. The best grapes on the U.S.-Canadian border are grown here, and viticulture and winemaking flourish on both sides of the border. The downside of this prosperity is the significant amount of fertilizers and pesticides applied to the soil, from which harmful substances are subsequently leached by groundwater directly into the lake.

Erie was the first of the Great Lakes to see a dramatic deterioration in water quality as a result of sewage discharges. In the 1960s and 1970s, there were noticeable changes associated with the phenomenon of eutrophication: phosphorus and nitrogen levels increased in the water and bottom sediments due to increased algae reproduction rates. Masses of decomposing algae and shoreline pollution have created “dead zones. Canada and the United States needed several intergovernmental agreements to reduce phosphorus runoff into the lake.

In the 20th century, commercial fisheries flourished on Lake Erie. However, after elevated levels of substances harmful to health were detected in local waters, the number of people wishing to fish on Lake Erie declined. Companies that continued catching fish in the lake were subsequently faced with severe restrictions that the U.S. and Canadian governments had developed to preserve the local fish population. As a result, only the Canadian shores are now involved in fishing on a relatively serious scale.

Several nature preserves and parks have been established to protect the lake. One of the most famous is Long Point Provincial Nature Park (Ontario) where 383 endangered species of animals and birds are protected. Sand Hill Park in Ontario was created to preserve a 140-metre-high dune from destruction. On the American side of the lake, in Michigan, is Sterling State Park.

The U.S.-Canadian border along the lake is not guarded or patrolled in any way, giving anyone the freedom to cross in any direction.

General Information

  • Location: North America. One of the Great Lakes.
  • Origin: Glacial.
  • Feeding: mainly snow, rain.
  • Rivers: flows in – Detroit, Grand, Raisin, Huron, Momi, Sandusky, Cayahoga; flows out – Niagara.
  • The largest islands are Pili (Ontario), Kellys (Ohio), South Bass (Ohio), Middle Bass (Ohio), North Bass (Ohio), and Johnson (Ohio).
  • Major cities: Cleveland (Ohio) – 396,815 (2010), Toledo (Ohio) – 287,208 (2010), Buffalo (New York) – 261,025 (2011), Erie (Pennsylvania) – 101,807 (2011), Monroe (Michigan) – 20,733 (2010).
  • Major ports: Toledo (Ohio), Cleveland (Ohio), Buffalo (New York).
  • Language: English.
  • Currency: Canadian dollar, U.S. dollar.
  • Area: 25,744 sq km.
  • Catchment area: 78,000 km2.
  • Volume: 480 km3.
  • Length: 388 km.
  • Width: 92 km.
  • Length of the coastline: 1370 km.
  • Maximum depth: 64 m.
  • Average depth: 19 m.
  • Salinity type: freshwater.
  • Height above sea level: 174 m.
  • Period of complete change of water: 2,5 years.
  • Number of islands: 31 (13 in Canada, 18 in the USA).

Climate and weather

  • Moderate.
  • Water temperature in winter: 0 – +2°C.
  • Water temperature in summer: +24°C.
  • Coastal freeze-up: December to March to April.
  • Average annual precipitation: 920 mm.
  • Relative humidity: 70%.


  • Lake navigation.
  • Fishing.
  • Agriculture: plant growing (viniculture, gardening), cattle breeding (meat-dairy).
  • Industry: metalworking, chemical.
  • Services: tourist (sport fishery), transport.


  • Historical: the International Peace and Victory Memorial in honor of Commodore Oliver Perry (South Bass Island).
  • Natural: Point Peeley National Park (Ontario), Peeley Island (Ontario), Niagara River, Long Point Provincial Nature Park (Ontario), Sand Hill (Ontario), Sterling State Park (Michigan).

Fun Facts

  • Lake Erie is the tenth largest freshwater lake in the world.
  • Because of its shallow depth, Lake Erie is also the warmest of the Great Lakes. In 1999 it caused problems at two coastal nuclear power plants, which constantly need cold water to cool their reactors.
  • The U.S.-Canadian border runs along Lake Erie, which is the cause of many disputes over cell phone charges: very often calls are considered international and billed accordingly.
  • South Bass Island is the site of rare sports car races, attracting many vintage car enthusiasts.
  • In 1913, to commemorate the American victory over the British at the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813, the International Peace and Victory Memorial was erected on South Bass Island in honor of Commodore Oliver Perry. The 107-foot monument is considered the tallest Doric column in the world. Every year the monument is visited by 200,000 people.
  • Slavery was banned in Canada in 1833 but was still legal in the United States at the time. Fugitive slaves crossed Lake Erie by boat or on the ice, making their way to Canada in search of freedom.
  • In 1857, one John Steiner of Philadelphia was the first person to cross the expanse over Lake Erie in a hot air balloon.
  • The largest fish in Lake Erie is the sturgeon, which reaches 3-4 meters in length. Fishermen have caught sturgeons weighing up to 120 kilograms.
    Currently, all caught sturgeons are released back into the lake in order to restore the population.
  • Lake Erie attracts many divers, as there are 1,400 to 8,000 shipwrecks at the bottom of the body of water. Local sources claim that there are more shipwrecks per square kilometer of bottom in Lake Erie than in any other freshwater basin in the world. And it is forbidden to raise them. In 1998, a shipwrecked propeller of the wreck Edventure was raised from the bottom and scrapped. But police intervened and the propeller was returned to its original location, under the water.
  • There are many lighthouses on Lake Erie. The most famous is the lighthouse near Cleveland: in winter its top is covered with ice, which gives the lighthouse a very unusual and attractive appearance, although it prevents it from performing its direct functions.
  • More than once there have been reports from locals and tourists on the American coast that they observed an unusual optical effect similar to a mirage: the Canadian coast suddenly appeared before their eyes, although in fact the Canadian coast is at least 80 km away.
  • During the Prohibition years (1919 to 1933), Lake Erie became one of the main routes for smuggling alcohol into the United States from Canada.
  • There are legends that Lake Erie is home to a monster known as Bessie.
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