A small town in Northern Ontario
, about an hour's drive north of North Bay
Maybe a thousand people, on a busy day with lots of traffic on Highway 11
lived here for about five years when I was a teenager.
There's not a lot to distinguish it from most other towns in Northern
Ontario if you don't live there. There's Finlayson Point Provincial
Park, just outside town, where you can go swimming if you're from
the town, or camping if you're not. There's Highway 11, the main drag
through town. There's an IGA, the Ministry of Natural Resources
(aka MNR, aka Mike 'n' Norm's Rent-All) office, the Ontario Provincial
Police detachment, and a lot of hunting and fishing camps.
There's the guy who makes canoes, the open-pit iron mine, and the
townsite that the mine set up about three clicks north.
There's a public school (shaken almost every day about noon by blasts
from the iron mine; felt just like an earthquake) but no high school;
you go to Temiskaming District Secondary School in New Liskeard,
about a forty-minute bus ride north.
There's a ski hill not too far from where I used to live, with blueberry
bushes and a fire tower at the top. The tower has been made into a
tourist attraction now, and turned into an easy climb, but when I lived
where you had to shinny up the frame before you got to the
could climb the rest of the way. I was never brave enough to do that,
but my uncle was.
Like most towns in this region, it lives and dies by its resources -- in this case,
iron and timber -- but is trying to make the jump to tourism. There are a ton of
lakes and islands around here, and lots of people from all over North America come
here to hunt and fish. Lake Temagami, the big lake here whose arm touches the town,
has around three hundred islands in it, most with varying numbers of cabins and
cottages on them. Grey Owl used to live around here, if I remember correctly.
The town had some bad publicity when I lived there. About twenty
minutes north of town was a stand of old-growth pine that had been
the main resource for a local sawmill. An environmental group (can't
remember the name; this was about twelve or fifteen years ago) based in
southern Ontario castigated the MNR and the company logging the stand for allowing/doing the cutting. Added to the
mix was the local Native Indian band, who put a claim in for the land
(and a lot more besides) based on treaties with the Canadian government
going back a hundred years or so. A land caution was put on the whole
area because of the claim; it basically meant that it was very hard to
buy or sell any land under dispute, because of the possibility that the
band would win their claim (and therefore the land).
There was a lot of bitterness in the town about all of this. At the time, I shared
this. At my high school (TDSS, as mentioned above), we had a day devoted to the
issue: the head of the environmental group was there, as was the head of
the Ontario Trappers Association (my bus driver, as it turned out), and
(I think) the head of the Temagami Indian band. Most of our anger was
directed against the environmentalist; we all felt he was just another
southern pansy, coming up from The Big City to tell us what
to do, not understanding what was really going on, or that he would be
condemning the town to unemployment and ghost-town status.
I don't know who was right, now, or even if it's possible to make a decision like
that. The town certainly would have died pretty quick if you took the mine and the
sawmill away; the mine was perpetually in trouble as it was.
My father was a Conservation Officer for the MNR, and as such believed
very much in the idea of responsible harvesting of natural resources;
I've taken in that belief myself, and I'd have a hard time questioning it. On the
other hand, what's happening with the world's natural resources frightens me, and if
I can frown at Brazilians for cutting down the Amazon, then what makes me want to
except this small town from that? I also can't pretend that I knew enough about the
facts to make any kind of informed decision about any of this.