Port Elizabeth of Yore: The North End Lake

Also known as the Linden or Linton Reservoir, this lake is an oasis in the centre of the residential and industrial suburb and North End. Averaging a depth of three metres, at its deepest it measures four metres. Its verdant grassy banks invite visitors to partake in one of the activities such as boating, fishing and water-skiing.   

Main picture: North End Lake

The Herald for the 28th December 1908 provides an insight into what the North End Lake was like in that era.

Spectators enjoy regatta on the North End Lake

On Saturday there were many ladies and gentlemen at the North End Lake, who were the latest additions to the list of Bayonians to bear testimony to the ignorance which still prevails in Port Elizabeth in regard to that fine stretch of water behind Prince Alfred’s Park. “Sometimes in a large assembly of educated persons in town,” a well-known gentleman remarked, “you will scarcely find three with any knowledge of the Lake.”

We should be able to command attention by reason of our beautiful surroundings, if not for our people, our institutions, or our wealth. There is something a little irritating in the reflection that some townspeople, when they look at all, they should look at the Lake through the wrong end of the telescope.

What is the remedy? Mr. C. H. MacKay, the Mayor of Port Elizabeth, says, as everyone else says: Advertise. We may think that we have been doing a good deal of advertising in the past year or two. But it seems clear that it is not enough to have the necessary effect.

Saturday morning’s weather was not at all favourable when the Port Elizabeth Yachting and Rowing Club submitted a holiday programme, but, nevertheless, crowds of people lounged about the banks. In the afternoon the crowds increased, and during the evening the place resembled Humewood at its busiest. Surely, in the face of the great patronage, because people from all parts of the town assembled there, the 86 acres of water deserves more recognition than it has been getting of late from the hands of our City Fathers. Those who were responsible for the affair are deserving of the thanks of the community at large.

They went to work with a will for the pleasure of others, and there was absolutely nothing to gain. Everything went off satisfactorily from start to finish and the crowds took their departure at a late hour in the evening with contented minds. Not even a charge was made to view the sports and in addition gramophone concerts were given, and the Pierrots livened up matters at intervals. Altogether a glorious time was spent, and it is hoped that something will be done shortly to keep the water in the Lake so that at different dates similar functions can be arranged.

The day’s programme consisted of various events, comprising sailing, rowing and flat races, whilst in the evening there was a decorated illuminated boat procession which presented a pretty spectacle, and the fireworks display from a platform erected in the centre of the lake evoked general admiration.

Sea dwelling fish in the North End Lake

With the approval of the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality to draw fresh water from the North End Lake to supplement the Fish River Flats supply, it is pertinent to relate how sea water fish ended up in the lake.

The lake is a natural pan once openly connected to a depression now referred to the Korsten Dry Lake. Since the construction of Kempston Road, which cuts right through the dry lake, a railway cutting beneath the road has functioned as an overflow channel connecting it to the North End Lake. In 1905, work began on the Mount Road Power Station. As a large supply of water was required for the steam turbines, a decision was taken to tap into the North End Lake, then called Prince Alfred’s Park Lake which was formed from the run-off rainwater from the surrounding hills. It was considered one of the finest and safest lakes in South Africa.

Mount Road Power station in very early days. Cooling pond alongside was connected to North End Lake

Residents recognised its potential recreational and commercial opportunities and in January 1907, W. Chant was given permission to hire out boats. However, three months later, the water levels dropped substantially, making it too shallow for boating. It became very clear that winter rains were insufficient to keep boating going throughout summer. Hence new ways of maintaining the water level had to be found.

At a weekly council meeting on March 4, 1908, Mayor Max Gumpert realised the sporting possibilities offered by the lake and moved that “the Council vote a sum of £500 for the purposes of constructing the sluit to let floodwater into the lake.” The Council also discussed the possibility of piping in water from the Van Stadens Dam and suggested that there should be at least three feet of water in the lake at all times. Membership of the Boating Club had grown to 83 members and out of these, 20 intended to build boats.

Mount Road Power Station in 1910

The lake’s popularity grew and regattas were soon held on a regular basis. A boating and yachting club was founded and soon sufficient funds were available to build a boat house and small jetties. A group of men went to the creek, netted fish and released them into the lake, but they died within a few days.

In 1924, extensive additions were made to the Mount Road Power Station and in the early 1930s, the lake was taken over the by the power station. It is not known exactly when the decision was taken to pump sea water directly from the North End beach into the lake, but by the early 1930s, it had become a salt water lake.

Conditions were right for the breeding of the well-known little gnat, which appeared in huge swarms. By 1935, the salt level of the lake allowed marine fish to survive. In order to combat the gnats, city organ builder and fisherman, Claude Bredell, who hired the rights to the lake from the council, introduced 5000 marine fish into the lake. Included were ground feeders such as tiger, Steenbras and kabeljou as well as surface feeders such as mullet, maasbankers and Cape salmon (geelbek) were also introduced.

Laying power cables from the Mount Road Power Station

The gnats disappeared, the fish thrived, and a fishing club was started. The Prince Alfred Yachting and Angling Club was started in the 1940s with 75 members. They took their boats to the lake and crowds flocked to watch the power boats race, but the club had ceased to exist by the end of the war.

At one stage during the Second World War, all sorts of plans were put forward to promote the lake, including plans for a large pavilion and dance hall in its centre. A spoiler for these plans was the order to remove all boats from the lake for security reasons, with a guard being posted at the Mount Road Power Station pump station.

After the flood of September 1, 1968, during which the lake overflowed and marine fish were found in buildings in the surrounding area, a weir linked to the Indian Ocean was built on the southern bank to control the water level and prevent future flooding. The power station operated until the 1970s, and when it was shut down, sea water was no longer pumped in. Gradually the fresh water displaced the salt water until the lake reverted back to its natural fresh water condition. The inflow has increased over the years owing to the larger areas of impervious paving in the city.

Recent rehabilitation

Recently, the North End Lake in Port Elizabeth was in desperate need for rehabilitation due to extreme levels of water pollution. The high bacterial levels made the water unsafe for any of the usual recreational activities such as power boating, canoeing and angling. In order to rectify this situation, the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality assigned Kayalihle Trading as the main contractor for the rehabilitation of the lake.

Map of the location of the North End Lake

Stormwater gabion filter ponds were installed at all stormwater inlets and outlets joining the lake. The submerged gabions were fitted with geotextile Bidim bags which were filled with a mixture of sand and activated charcoal for water purification and the removal of impurities and contaminants. Small gabions of size 1 x 0.5 x 0.5 were used along the sides of the filter ponds as flower boxes. These were filled with soil and water reeds planted in them to conceal the gabion structures and to serve as a natural filtration system.

Recent tests of the lake’s water indicate that the installation of gabion filter ponds is yielding positive results, with the water body set to be “swimmer-ready” during the course of this year, results show. Results from the North End Lake reveal a marked improvement in various critical parameters, suggesting that the tide is finally turning on pollution levels which in the past have seen the lake unsuitable for swimming events where participants come into direct contact with contaminants.

Gabion Filters in North End Lake

This organic clean-up – or bio-remediation – of the lake, the toxic blue-green algae, faecal coliforms and E. coli levels dropped substantially between January and March. The downward trend has been significant and is a clear indication that the North End Lake’s bio-remediation was taking effect in spite of a continued influx of toxins and other pollutants into the lake. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence indicates that there has been a marked increase in the number of young fish, or fingerlings, also suggested an improvement.

The most recent test results from the North End Lake – taken since the bio-remediation of the water body began last November – reveal that inorganic materials such as dissolved metals and minerals now meet the national SANS 241 specifications for drinking water. Algae and bacterial levels have also dropped significantly, although still remain above the acceptable standards for recreational use set by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF).

Gabion Filters in North End Lake

Further good news is that pollutant sludge levels on the floor of the North End Lake have decreased by up to 20cm, from depths of around 80cm, since the first phase of the project commenced.

The second phase of the project, which started on January 6, will continue until the end of June when another update will be provided.

The bio-remediation process has involved dosing the lake with an imported proprietary product containing natural bacteria and co-enzymes to effectively lift and digest sludge from the bottom of the lake and remediate the water. The dosing regimen currently involves spraying 3 400 litres of product into the lake on a weekly basis. Gabions built by consulting engineers Africoast at various water entry points have also helped to contain the inflow of solid waste such as plastic bags. This two-part process was envisaged to work together to enable the holistic remediation of the water body.


,http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/SOUTH-AFRICA-EASTERN-CAPE/2009-01/1233097354 .https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/Local/PE-Express/lake-soon-swim-ready-20160425 ‘https://www.sa-venues.com/things-to-do/easterncape/north-end-lake/ How sea dwelling fish found there way into the North End Lake, by Ivor Markham in the Eastern Province Herald, date unknown.

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