Tonawanda News

October 6, 2013

Author focuses on Lake Ontario

By Anne Calos
The Tonawanda News

— Author Susan Peterson Gateley’s fascination with Lake Ontario started as she was growing up along the lake, east of Rochester.

It grew when her father bought a boat when she was a teenager and she learned to sail.

“My father bought an old wooden 19-foot long boat and we learned to sail as a family. I loved it,” Gateley said.

After working as a fisheries biologist and a high school science teacher, Gately now offers sailing lessons on the lake through her seasonal business, Silver Water Sailing on Little Sodus Bay in Fair Haven.

But in addition, she is a prolific author. Gateley has sold more than 6,700 copies of her various titles, which range from half a dozen full-length books to guidebooks on public access to the lake.

Although her earlier works were self-published — she calls herself an artisan publisher — her latest two books, “Maritime Tales of Lake Ontario” and “Legends and Lore of Lake Ontario,” were published by the History Press.

She was recently in Lockport talking about her newest book, which deals with the mysteries of Lake Ontario, including stories of ghosts and sea monsters, Native American lore and how the lake played a significant role in the history of our nation.

The book describes a number of bizarre and odd occurrences, such as the a comet that sunk the schooner “Charity” and frogs and fish falling from the skies. It also details the sudden catastrophic crash in population of the lake’s most mysterious fish, the amazing American eel.

“I think a lot of us are fascinated by the history of Lake Ontario. It’s been largely unreported — there’s just not a lot written about it. It seems that around here, you hear about the canal all the time, but not the lake,” Gateley said.

She attributes that to the sheer size of the lake.

“When you drive around the shores of smaller lakes, you can see the whole lake and land surrounding it. But when you drive along the shore of Lake Ontario, it all looks the same,” Gateley said.

The lack of stories about Lake Ontario seems to be an American thing, though.

“What really sparked the interest was going to Canada with my boat and talking to locals. Their biggest city (Toronto) is on the lake, so they seem to talk about it a lot more,” Gateley said.

Her first History Press book, “Maritime Tales of Lake Ontario,” dealt primarily with shipwrecks on the lake.

“One of the most interesting shipwrecks was the HMS Ontario, which sunk during the Revolutionary War. It happened on Halloween night, and lots of people died — men, women and children. It was the largest loss of life (in a shipwreck on Lake Ontario). It was a British ship, and they didn’t want the Americans to know it was gone, so not a lot was known about until it was discovered about five years ago,” Gateley said.

That wreck is especially interesting to Western New Yorker, since the boat sunk after leaving Fort Niagara en route to Oswego, and some of the artifacts and bodies washed ashore at the time of the shipwreck — 1780 — in Somerset and Wilson.

Like most authors, Gateley is already thinking about her next book.

“I think the next one might be about the environmental history of the lake. Lake Ontario has 16 nuclear power plants on its shores, and huge hydro dams.

“Right now, I have four books still in print. As long as people keep buying them, I’ll keep writing them,” Gateley said.