After nearly five years, the Summerside Ice Pond has finally returned to its former beauty – and a watershed group pays tribute to one of the key forces behind that change.
Volunteers from the Bedeque Bay Environmental Management Association (BBEMA) had worked hard at the 125-year-old pond since winning a grant from Fisheries and Oceans Canada to restore it in 2016.
Located at the western end of town, the Ice Pond has been a place of recreation and home to wildlife for over a century.
“It was sort of the hub of Summerside,” said BBEMA executive director Tracy Brown. “They would be skating. It was a swimming hole. It was your fishing hole. It was your general recreation area for the community.”
In the early 1900s, Prince Edward Island’s ice harvesting industry cut ice from the surface of the pond in winter and stored it nearby year-round, covered of sawdust to prevent melting. Large blocks of ice would be sold to homeowners to keep perishables cool in their own coolers.
But in the decades before the restoration, mud was “waist-deep” around the pond, and its surface was covered with weeds and aquatic vegetation.
“We kind of had our eye on it for years,” Brown said. “My chairman of the board at the time, Barry Mayne, he had fished in that area when he was young. And so when there was a funding opportunity that gave us the opportunity to…reopen ponds historical, he was very excited.
“It’s the only place in Summerside where you can fish in fresh water, and it has been for years…So it was nice to be able to give that back to people.”
BBEMA volunteers dug up the silt and mud, added infrastructure for a fish ladder, and planted gardens, trees and milkweed to make it a habitat for monarch butterflies. A few benches now stand around the pond for rest and contemplation.
The association also built a trail it named after Mayne, the longtime BBEMA volunteer who started it all.
He died two years ago of prostate cancer.
“A real nice little park”
“I remember going out in the car one day, and we drove past this seedy-looking swampy area,” said Carol Mayne, his widow.
“[Barry] was kind of telling me what the plans were. And I looked at it and thought, ‘Oh my country, that’s just not doable. It’s too much of a swamp and a mess now.
She added: “It looked like sewage, that’s what it looked like. But no, that’s not what it turned out to be. It’s a real nice little park now.”
Mayne said she was thrilled to see what her husband’s job meant to people.
“We started this in 2016,” Brown said. “We lost Barry in 2020, but we finally realized what our vision was for everyone, for the pond.”
Field supervisor Dave Allen said wildlife also appreciates the change.
“We noticed a big difference,” he said. “Particularly in the pond, you can see a lot of different things appearing, like beaver. We’ll also see ducks, cormorants and kingfishers.”