4 swimmers. 24 hours. 1 goal: defend Lake Erie

In September 2018, four swimmers took on the challenge to swim the north shore of Lake Erie. They swam day and night, hitting 10 different locations in the watershed over a 24-hours period.


Their journey began in western basin at the Detroit River and ended 450 kilometres later away at Crystal Beach in Fort Erie.

The idea for the swim challenge began with Josh Reid after he attended a Freshwater Alliance strategy session. We have been expanding our collaborative efforts with the recreation and tourism sectors to work together on the issue of Lake Erie’s algae blooms. Research shows that the majority of Great Lakes residents (89%) believe it is important to protect the Great Lakes for recreational purposes (IJC’s Second Binational Great Lakes Basin Poll, 2018). Yet the recreation and tourism sectors will be the hardest hit if nothing is done to address the algae blooms in Lake Erie (Canada-Ontario Lake Erie Action Plan, 2018).

Taking to the waters were four accomplished open-water swimmers: Jennifer Agnew from Harrow, Michael Kenny from Cambridge, Josh Reid from Simcoe, and Anita Doppenberg from Niagara-on-the-Lake. The swimmers battled high winds and waves for most of the 24-hour challenge. The first swim out to Peche Island had to be modified as it was safer to swim closer to shore. The Turkey Point swim was cancelled altogether due to a windstorm that made this night swim too dangerous to attempt.

There was incredible support from communities along the swim route. Local radio, television and newspapers interviewed the swimmers. Guest swimmers including cartoonist Jef Mallett joined in. Local youth did their own version of the swim closer to shore. Kayakers volunteered time to paddle support boats. Café owners treated the team to warm croissants and hot chocolate, and new volunteers got up at 5 am to bring dry towels.

The Swim for Erie was a fantastic launch for the Freshwater Alliance’s Lake Erie Guardians program. The Guardians work together to network and mobilize concerned citizens, community groups and businesses to help protect Lake Erie. From surfers and swimmers and cottagers to students and business owners, the Guardians are a diverse group. Each brings their own passion and skills to our movement. We’d love to hear from you, and how you too can be part of the exciting Lake Erie Guardians community.

Check out this video documenting their journey. 


Why they did it

A treasure to us all, Lake Erie is the heart of Southwest Ontario. However Lake Erie and its rivers are being plagued by numerous problems, from sewage spills, to plastics pollution, to harmful and toxic algae blooms. These issues frequently close beaches, make recreational activities dangerous, kill fish and wildlife, and even restrict access to drinking water. As swimmers, Josh, Anita, Michael and Jennifer have seen first-hand the issues that affect the lake. They know that we need to act quickly to stop the pollution before it’s too late.

But our team of swimmers knew that they alone cannot save the lake. That's why they set out to raise awareness and funds for the Lake Erie Guardians—a new program to support leaders in the Lake Erie watershed to defend local rivers, streams, and the Great Lake itself.

Learn more about the swim: