Northeastern Ontario's Temagami region is called the "world's third-busiest wilderness canoe area," but except on the most popular routes at the peak of summer, you'd never know it to paddle there. That's because Temagami canoe country is vast: Over 2,000 miles of ancient travelways form a freshwater circulatory system across 6,100 square miles of pine forests. The multitude of lake, river and creek canoe route options makes it easy to find solitude here, inside and outside the boundaries of a patchwork of Ontario provincial parks and conservation areas.
Temagami was also the site of the largest act of civil disobedience in Ontario history. In 1989, over 300 people were arrested in a blockade to stop logging in the region's ancient forests, galvanizing the environmental community and raising awareness of Ontario's few remaining old-growth stands. Since then, threats from the forest industry have come and gone. But now, a new road set to penetrate an unprotected parcel of canoe country has ignited another debate. As of mid-April, a local logging company had begun work on a 15-mile primary haul road into the remote Solace Wildlands.
"We want to raise awareness and support for leaving large, intact wilderness areas alone," says Tierney Angus, the vice-president of the non-profit Friends of Temagami, who was notified of imminent road construction in July 2017 and spent three weeks paddling in the region last August with her partner, Andrew Bell.
DAY 6: The weather was chilly and damp for a very important day of travel. Portages down the Pinetorch Creek were shortened by an industrious beaver's construction projects and by lunchtime we'd left the Pinetorch Conservation Reserve and entered the Solace Wildlands – Temagami's last roadless, virgin wilderness and a major connecting link between the protected areas of Sturgeon River Provincal Park to the south and west, Obabika River Provincial Park to the east, and Solace Provincial Park and Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park to the north. We learned earlier this summer that a primary logging road is slated for construction right through the Wildlands to harvest over-prime timber destined for the pulp mill in Sudbury. The Turner Road proposal includes numerous water crossings which would erase portages and campsites, some in use for thousands of years, culminating in a crossing at Talking Falls on the Yorston River. As @friendsoftemagami members (I'm a Director), we felt it was important to do what we could to protect these important link routes. We signed and blazed portages and campsites from Akick Lake west to Talking Falls, a beautiful, remote campsite worth every bit of effort to get to. A primary logging road would destroy this rugged and wild landscape. Please consider joining the Friends of Temagami and Earthroots in our effort to Save Solace and preserve these important link routes through the heart of Temagami 🛶🌲⛺️ . . . #friendsoftemagami #paddleON #discoverON . . . #temagami #solacewildlands #canoe #canoeing #canoetripping #portage #portaging #environmentalactivism #earthroots #ontario #ontarioparks #ontarioparksne #wilderness #backcountry #wanderlust #keepitwild #savethetrees #conservation #paddlecanada #ourcamplife #neverstopexploring #savesolace
"It was exactly what I was expecting, maybe even more beautiful than I thought it would be," adds Angus. "By the time we reached Talking Falls, on the Yorston River, we'd had an extremely challenging day due to weather, the portages, the distance travelled and because we were signing and blazing trails along the way. I had fallen in the muskeg up to my armpits, it was raining and only eight degrees Celsius (46 degrees F) and we had been paddling and portaging for nearly 12 hours. When we got to Talking Falls, I cried. It was so peaceful and so beautiful that the thought of a primary logging road and bridge crossing at this campsite just did me in."
DAY 7: Talking Falls was too pretty to leave, especially with decent weather and a lot of dirty socks that needed washing. We took an unscheduled rest day to do laundry, bake bannock and dry every last piece of soggy equipment in the sun and the breeze. We also wanted to spend as much time as possible here in case the primary logging road does get built across the falls and the quiet magic of this place that is so difficult to get to is eventually lost forever. "Talking Falls looks like just a trickle on our maps," the forestry company said. It's so much more than that. 🌲🛶⛺️ . . . #friendsoftemagami #paddleON #discoverON . . . #temagami #canoe #canoeing #canoetripping #portage #portaging #keepitwild #backcountry #wilderness #solacewildlands #ontario #northernontario #camping #ourcamplife #campvibes #waterfall #wanderlust #neverstopexploring #savesolace
The Friends of Temagami launched a Save Solace campaign on Earth Day. Within 24 hours, the organization had collected over 1,000 signatures on a petition to call on government to halt road construction. "We haven't had a campaign like this for a long time. People are interested!" says Angus, 30, who documented her 2017 canoe trip on Instagram. "My generation is often criticized for being nothing more than armchair activists, but I don't think that's necessarily true. If you look at the protests at Standing Rock and the Kinder Morgan pipeline protests in British Columbia, there are a lot of young, environmentally conscious people who are willing to stand up and speak out for the things they believe in. Our membership is beginning to skew younger and we haven't reached the level of activist burnout that some organizations face. We've got momentum and maybe also the element of surprise on our side."
DAY 8: BEST DAY! Reluctantly packed up at Talking Falls and shared coffee and a chat about the overnight thunderstorm with our camp neighbour @jmedelaney . We signed the last portage on our way north to Bluesucker Lake. On Bluesucker we heard some chainsaw noises and paddled over to investigate, finding the most lovely little cabin on a beach. As we neared the dock, a small, wiry woman ran down from the cabin waving her arms and inviting us over, so we beached the canoe and introduced ourselves. I asked if she happened to have any Shoe Goo to fix my boot with because I'd been walking around with a flapping heel for days. With a slam of the screen door, her husband came bounding down the steps with surprising speed for having an artificial leg. The cabin owners, John and Debbie, greeted us warmly and showed us around their property which they share with campers often. They told us they're a "safe camp" for @taylorstattencamps and that the Wapomeo girls on 50-day trips make a point of stopping by to enjoy a fish fry with them and use the sauna. Debbie ran over to their underground cellar, produced two ice-cold beers for us and invited us in while John got to work on repairing my boot. They fed us fish cakes and we had a wonderful chat about the area. They told us they'd been coming to this cabin for the 50 years they've been married but because the area was now part of Solace Provincial Park, once they die the cabin does too. Rather than being upset about it, they were happy that they were still able to use the cabin by flying in during the summer and snowmobiling in during the winter. The boot repair was a spectacular feat of northern ingenuity. With a cordless drill and three screws, John reattached my sole. They didn't have Shoe Goo but they did have a can of spray foam insulation which gave my boot a fun marshmallow look. Debbie ripped out the insoles from a pair of her boots for me and took our photo. Thanking them profusely, we went on our way to camp on Pilgrim Lake for the night, where I invented a delicious new bush cocktail and we watched the stars come out one by one 🌌⛺️🌲 . . . #friendsoftemagami #paddleON #discoverON #ourcamplife #savesolace
The provincial government sanctioned the new Vermillion Forest Management road in its allocation of timber harvesting on public land. However, Angus argues the planning process is too complicated and beyond the grasp of ordinary citizens. "People who live, work, own cottages and spend their vacations in places like Temagami deserve to know what's going on without having to search through websites and read 400-page documents where every second word is an obscure acronym," she says. "No one knows about this stuff unless they're actively seeking the information, but lots of people care."
As much as the road represents a threat, it also represents an opportunity. Canada recently made a "historic investment" of $1.3 billion for conservation—largely earmarked to expand the country's network of protected areas. The Solace Wildlands represents a logical addition to existing Temagami area parks, with proven economic benefits. The region's youth summer camps, which have a rich canoe-tripping tradition and rediscovered many of the Indigenous routes on public lands like Solace, contribute $3.5 million to the local economy annually.
"The broad goal of the Save Solace campaign is to have this virgin, roadless wilderness protected by either a provincial park or a conservation reserve," says Angus. "It's socked in by four other protected areas. It wouldn't be difficult to increase existing park borders to cover this area and the network of canoe routes it contains."
Along with the public awareness campaign, the Friends of Temagami is organizing a canoe route maintenance trip in the Solace Wildlands in May. Under provincial law, logging operations must respect "values" such as established canoe routes, so clearly documenting portages and campsites is one of Angus' priorities. "I'd like to get more people using this route and experiencing the Wildlands so they recognize how important intact forests like this are," she says. "We'll clear the trails and we'll invite our supporters to follow along with us through Garmin InReach posts to our Facebook page.
"The old argument used to be that we should keep these remote, pristine wilderness areas a secret, but with logging and road construction imminent, we need to be doing as much as we can to popularize the area," she adds. "It's a 'use it or lose it' situation. We don't have the luxury of keeping these places all to ourselves if we want to preserve them."
— Add your name to the Save Solace petition
More at CanoeKayak.com:
— Read editor-at-large Conor Mihell's quest to reach his namesake lake in the Temagami wilds
— Go behind the scenes with activist paddlers at Standing Rock
— Read about adventurers/activists Dave and Amy Freeman's latest project to save Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from a proposed mine
— A paddler weighs in on the public lands debate in the U.S.