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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


A key element in forest stewardship is the creation and maintenance of parks and other areas set aside from the commercial forest. In this regard, Northwestern Ontario is well-endowed with a huge inventory of such spaces. With steadfast effort over eight decades, the region has spread protection to large tracts of all forest types, across a variety of unique landforms and geological formations, as well as historic sites, scenic vistas and both rare and representative plant and animal species.

The first humans to live in Northwestern Ontario, the caribou-hunting Paleo-Indians, pre-dated the forest. But as the massive glaciers of the last Ice Age receded northward, the tundra-like terrain disappeared. As the climate grew warmer and drier, a new group of people established themselves about 5000 B.C. They belonged to the Shield Archaic culture. They adapted their lifestyle to the new plant ecology. They pursued small game, fished, and made copper tools.

Today the provincial park system within Northwestern Ontario consists of 81 parks with a combined area of 3.1 million hectares. The national park system consists of one large park, Pukaskwa, adding a further 188,000 hectares. More than 12 percent of the region's land area has park designation or other protected status. Twelve percent was the figure recommended in the World Commission on Environment and Development's 1986 report, Our Common Future, as the amount of land and water to be protected on a world basis.

The parks tradition of the Northwest began with the designation of Quetico Provincial Park in 1907. This was in the next wave after the creation of Algonquin, Ontario's and Canada's first-ever provincial park. Officially protected from 1912 on, Quetico's huge wilderness area remained the largest single tract of protected parkland in the region until this decade, when Wabakimi Provincial Park was expanded to more than four times its former size.

The new boundaries of Wabakimi enclose nearly 900,000 hectares of remote boreal forest, vastly bigger than the 200,000-hectare reserve established in 1983. The wilderness park 250 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, now makes up an area one and a half times the size of Prince Edward Island.

Wabakimi's expansion came about after two years of intense effort by a committee of stakeholders ranging from environmentalists to logging companies. The exceptional consensus was evident in remarks at the agreement signing in April, 1995:

"It is an area of unsurpassed natural beauty, with its lakes and systems and rivers and streams," said environmentalist Bruce Petersen. "I've also had occasion to canoe some of these rivers and streams and it's the sort of content that pulls at the heart strings and makes you realize what a wonderful country this is." David Steuart, vice-president of Bowater Inc., agreed: "The expansion of Wabakimi will create a world-class park and ensure the continued protection of unique landforms and wildlife habitats indigenous to the region. Avenor is committed to work to insure the success of the expansion to Wabakimi Park."

Besides Wabakimi, many significant parks and conservation areas have been created in Northwestern Ontario over the years.

Among the most notable are:

Pukaskwa National Park
Pukaskwa is Ontario's largest national park, 1,878 square kilometres of wilderness located on the northeast corner of Lake Superior east of Marathon. It is a wilderness park of dense forest, rushing rivers and rugged coastline. The park offers camping, numerous interpretive programs and back-country trip planning. Pukaskwa is also the centre for boreal forest research of wolf, moose and caribou populations.

Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park
Nearly as tall as Niagara, the 39-metre (128-foot) falls pours over layers of rock that reveal the ancient origins of life on the planet. The gorge was carved out of the Precambrian Shield by the turbulent meltwater from the last glaciers that covered the area in ages past. Scars of volcanoes and traces of life forms from warm, ancient seas lie buried within the rock and sediments above the falls. Scientists have discovered 1.6-billion-year-old fossils here, some of the oldest found anywhere.

Neys Provincial Park
Neys occupies 35 square kilometres on Hwy. 17 between Terrace Bay and Marathon on the north shore of Lake Superior. Often painted by artists of the Group of Seven, the park offers two kilometres of driftwood-strewn sand beach. Artifacts remain of the POW camp located there during the Second World War; they are featured in a small museum.

Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park
Ouimet Canyon is a gorge where eons of water flow have chiselled deep into the Canadian Shield to form one of the most striking canyons of Eastern Canada. The 777-hectare park is 70 kilometres east of Thunder Bay on Hwy. 11/17. A one kilometre walking trail leads from the parking lot to viewing platforms that extend over the edge of the precipitous canyon wall. The land falls 100 metres straight down to the rock strewn canyon floor. Across the 150-metre gap, huge columns of diabase rock reach skyward to form a spectacular and gigantic rock wall. To the north, the canyon pinches and twists into the surrounding hills; to the south, it opens to a broad valley and a grand vista of Lake Superior.

Quetico Provincial Park
Situated in the Atikokan area 190 kilometres west of Thunder Bay on Hwy. 11, Quetico is considered by many to be the finest wilderness canoe area in the world. This facility provides visitors with access to over 4,750 square kilometres of interspersed lake and forest, and is home to a great variety of plant and animal species. It has 220 interior and 156 road-access campsites. Other attractions include Indian pictographs and an outstanding information pavilion.

Slate Islands Provincial Park
This Natural Environment park in Lake Superior near Terrace Bay protects 6570 hectares of Superior Highland transitional forest. A woodland caribou population lives here free from predation. The area¡¦s history is intriguing ¡X typical of its past are ancient pictographs painted on rocks found within a ten-minute boat ride of the park. Some of the pictographs are representative of spirits, others of animals.

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
The unusual rock formation that lends its name to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is surrounded by legend. It is said to be the formation of the Ojibwa Indian¡¦s Great Spirit, Nanabijou, who had been turned to stone when the secret of a silver mine was discovered by white men. On Sibley Peninsula bounding Thunder Bay, Sleeping Giant is a natural environment park of 24,435 hectares. It encompasses spectacular scenery, a broad variety of tree species and wildlife and plant types both south and north of their normal geographic range. A new interpretive centre houses exhibits on mining history and wildlife, a theatre, archives and activity room.

Other major parks in Northwestern Ontario include protected waterways along the Albany, Brightsand, Fawn, Kopka, Pipestone, Severn, Steel and Turtle Rivers and the LaVerendrye waterway; Ojibway Provincial Park near Sioux Lookout; Rainbow Falls near Terrace Bay; and the huge wilderness parks of Opasquia and Woodland Caribou in the northwest of the region.

A recent conservation initiative is the designation of a large section of Lake Superior from Thunder Cape to the Slate Islands as a National Marine Conservation Area. The designation protects an area of water both on and below the surface, but allows existing activities and resource use within sustainable limits. In an effort to protect marine ecology, the federal government is selecting representative zones from all sea coasts and the Great Lakes and has chosen the North Shore of Lake Superior for study.

Last Modified: January 20, 2014 20:01:06. 
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