A fascinating new book on Ontario’s waterfalls was recently published in an updated second edition by Firefly Books.
Waterfalls of Ontario, by Mark Harris and George Fischer, is an engaging in-depth photographic investigation into a distinctive part of our landscape.
Straddling the boundaries between a colourful coffee table book and a readable scientific guide, Waterfalls of Ontario makes for a very engaging experience. It includes over 100 sites covering eight distinct regions, each printed with lovely colour photographs by Fischer, a professional photographer, and informed descriptions by Harris, a geographer.
The book also includes complete driving instructions, map co-ordinates, information on nearby towns, walking time and trail conditions. It proves to be a complete and unique source for waterfall seekers.
Harris began assembling the information for the book after being contacted by Firefly Books. Harris had an ambitious website he had developed on waterfalls in southwestern Ontario so the book was a natural progression of that work.
He was asked to write captions for a collection of Fischer’s photographs. But it provided too much of an opportunity for him to indulge in one of his fascinations – the scientific lore and beauty of waterfalls.
“I said to them then that I think we can do a lot better than captions,” explains Harris.
He is no stranger to the waterfalls of Muskoka. His grandparents had a cottage on Kahshe Lake up until the late 1980s.
“That’s what got me interested in the north woods,” he explains. “Compared to the suburbia of north Toronto, it seemed like a wonderful new world.”
Visiting his grandparents’ cottage allowed him to begin a lifelong fascination with the landscape of Ontario, an interest that eventually led him to Brock University where he studied physical geography.
As he states in the foreword of the book, his professors from Brock would often take the class out into the wilderness to encounter the landscape first-hand. Here they encountered natural laboratories in which they learned the finer details of geomorphology, hydrology, and sedimentology.
It is a devotion and love that is clearly shared by the book’s photographer. Fischer’s shots of the many waterfall sites are very intimate and engaging.
As stated in his preface, Fischer often had to wade waist-deep into the various rivers to set up his tripod, the current from the falls nearly pushing him downstream.
“I also stood on the brink of waterfalls before they plunged into the pools below, and even managed to squeeze behind some falls and watched the curtain of water tumble in front of me,” Fischer writes in the foreward.
Fischer’s background in professional photography extends to credits in The New York Times and Explore.
“It was my need to be one with nature that prepared me for this assignment,” says Fischer. “Not too many people can say they are content spending the whole day beside a waterfall – for me it’s therapeutic.”
He admits, though, that at first the task seemed daunting. Photographing 100 waterfalls across the province provided quite a challenge. But with some careful preparation, he made it work.
“I would plan to do three or four waterfalls per day in some kind of order so that I wasn’t going from one end of Ontario to another,” explains Fischer. “I would arrive at each waterfall and spend a half hour scouting the area to see where I could get the best and most dramatic shot.”
The sites farthest away from civilization impressed him the most, he says. Here were waterfalls in their most pristine condition.
The vitality of Muskoka’s waterfalls also impressed him. The book has several wonderful images from the region, including a stunning shot of Muskoka Falls from atop the rocks, and another lovely view of Wilson’s Falls, near Bracebridge.
“All of the falls in Muskoka were very impressive and had a lot of power,” says Fischer, “which made for beautiful shots.”
This is a sentiment echoed by Harris.
“Waterfalls in Muskoka are far more interesting to explore,” he says. “They have all sorts of little nooks and crannies.”
Waterfalls of Ontario reads like an adventure, with the authors exploring the beauty and power of the wilderness.
“Walking through the woods and hearing the muffled roar of water in the distance always quickened my pulse,” Fischer writes in the introduction:
Waterfalls play a very important role in Muskoka’s history and the book explores this interesting historical information, exhibiting the cultural relationships that waterfalls have within their larger communities.
With over 100 waterfalls profiled in the book – from Algoma to the Golden Horseshoe, each one unique and interesting – Harris and Fischer capture the character of different types of falls.
Fischer’s image of the Devil’s Punch Bowl near Stoney Creek, for example, is dramatic, with the plume plunging from a layered wall of sedimentary rock directly into a dramatic gorge beneath.
Whereas Washboard Falls, a little ramp fall near Ancaster, appears small and quiet, its water rippling over a sequence of tiny rock edges into a slowly moving river.
It is clear that both Harris and Fischer hold these sites in great esteem and mean to communicate this enthusiasm to the reader. Their passion for Ontario’s waterfalls certainly comes through in this stunning and fascinating book.