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Ulf T. Runesson

Faculty of Natural
Resources Management,
Lakehead University

955 Oliver Road,
Thunder Bay, Ontario,
Canada P7B 5E1

     (807) 343-8784

     (807) 346-7769


"There was a time when lumbermen, if they had heard of forestry, would turn away in disgust and consider it only a nuisance, but they have begun to find it quite the reverse."

— Sir Henri Joly de Lotbiniere, President,
Canadian Forestry Association, 1900

The forest envelops the economy and culture of Northwestern Ontario as inexorably as it covers the land. In this region, the dependence of humanity on the forces and resources of the boreal wilderness is virtually the same today as it was a hundred, even a thousand, years ago.

Few if any other regions of Canada can match the totality of the forest's influence on the history, industry and lifestyle of the people of Northwestern Ontario. For both First Nations peoples and non-native inhabitants, it has shaped everything from their patterns of settlement to livelihoods and recreation.

The land mass of Northwestern Ontario is immense and, up to the tree line in the far northern lowlands, entirely forested. A southerly band reaching from Thunder Bay to Rainy Lake is primarily Great Lakes forest of mixed hardwoods and conifers. The rest is boreal spruce, balsam fir, jack pine, poplar, birch, tamarack and cedar. The region contains more than 18 million hectares of productive forest, roughly 45 percent of the provincial total. As an official administrative area, Northwestern Ontario stretches 740 kilometres west from White River to the Manitoba boundary and 850 kilometres north from the U.S. border to the coast of Hudson Bay.

While the rugged terrain of the Canadian Shield has been a formidable obstacle to travel, the land has also provided the means to overcome this barrier. Wood, roots, hide and bark are the ubiquitous materials for the canoe and snowshoe, the tools of travel for millennia. Countless millions of ties for the Trans-Continental railways have been harvested from its forest. And the bedrock and aggregates beneath the trees have paved the way across bogs and ravines for national highways.

The harvesting and fashioning of wood into product dominates both industry and employment. More than two-thirds of Northwestern Ontario communities are primarily dependent on the forest and forest industries. The forest industry provides 40 percent, both direct and induced, of the region's employment.

This wilderness, with the thousands of lakes and rivers that striate it, is the playground for Northwestern Ontario's 200,000 people and the dominant product for tourism, the second largest employer.

The forest permeates life in Northwestern Ontario. It endows its human culture and inspires its art. The Woodland School of aboriginal art began here with the paintings of Norval Morrisseau. The spectacular scenery of the North Shore of Lake Superior inspired some of the best works of the Group of Seven. The Incredible Journey, Sheila Burnford's best-seller that triggered three Disney movies, was set and written here. And Robert Flaherty, the world's first documentary filmmaker best-known for his immortal Nanook of the North, learned his photography in the wilds of this northwestern region.

In its submission to the Canadian Forestry Association for the designation of Forest Capital of Canada for the Year 2000, Northwestern Ontario used the theme "Growing Towards Excellence." The title is significant in that many diverse interests in the region positioned Northwestern Ontario as a "Centre of Forest Excellence." The goal was to promote the region from the status of a remote and often overlooked resource hinterland toward recognition as a centre of good forest practice and sustainable development that recognizes the full range of forest values as well as research and valuable technological innovation.

The year 2000 ended the millennium, opening up a new thousand years of human history and forest evolution. This year also marked the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Forestry Association.

For these reasons, Northwestern Ontario welcomed the CFA at its Spring Meeting in Thunder Bay in May of 2000. The Committee offered a special program of festive and educational events tailored to complement the Association's Centenary session. Events included a guided visit to Old Fort William and a banquet in its Great Hall, and such tours as an expedition to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park on Sibley Peninsula with an audio-visual show in the theatre of its unique Interpretive Centre.

We think two other features made the designation of Forest Capital of Canada unique. It was the product of inter-municipal co-operation, fortuitously brought about when Development Thunder Bay and the Dryden Economic Development Committee learned each other was vying for the forest capital designation for the year 2000 and decided to join forces in a regional submission. As well, the preparation of the bid document and plans for the year of designation were assisted by a one-day workshop which brought together 35 representatives of the various partners and others interested in seeing Northwestern Ontario become the Forest Capital of Canada in 2000.
Last Modified: January 20, 2014 20:01:06. 
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