NORTHERN ONTARIO'S HIDDEN TOURISM TREASURE
Copyright William E. McLeod 2004
Times they are achangin’ for the Chapleau Crown Game Preserve. At approximately two million acres in area, the “Park” as the locals refer to it, is the world’s largest wild life sanctuary. Set aside by the Ontario Government in 1925, the refuge is bordered on three sides by the Algoma Central, the Canadian Pacific and the Canadian National Railways. The Chapleau River forms the southern border. Both hunting and trapping have been prohibited within the Preserve since its inception.
The Game Preserve came about largely because of some intense lobbying by my grandfather, William McLeod, a fur trader, merchant and tourist outfitter who lived in Chapleau from 1899 until he died in 1940.
In 1923 William McLeod wrote a comprehensive paper on the fur trade in Northern Ontario. He was alarmed at the excessive and irresponsible over-trapping that had been taking place since the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885. It was becoming obvious that many of the fur-bearing species were in danger of becoming extinct. Trapping was a big industry in those days. It employed thousands of individuals.
In addition to pressing for a game preserve, William McLeod outlined, in his 3,100 word paper, ten specific problems faced by the fur harvesting industry. He made fifteen recommendations that would eventually save the industry. All but one recommendation found their way into the law books of Ontario.
“Old Bill”, as his customers called him, wanted the Game Preserve to be a sanctuary where animals could breed and multiply without the pressure of trapping. He knew that as the animal populations increased, they would migrate out of the Game Preserve and again provide livelihoods for trappers and their families. That is exactly what happened.
Over the years, the Chapleau Crown Game Preserve has served four basic functions, all of them overlapping to a degree. In addition to providing a place for animals to breed, the Game Preserve became a source for surplus animals to be live-trapped and relocated to areas of the Province where they had become virtually extinct. The Preserve also serves as a giant outdoor laboratory where animal populations can be studied and where their habits and behavior can be compared with similar populations in nearby areas in which hunting and trapping have always been permitted.
The fourth function of the Game Preserve and the one that is now sparking widespread interest is eco-tourism. One of the first eco-tourists to enjoy the Preserve was Professor John Hun of Princeton New Jersey. Professor Hun spent many enjoyable summers at his cottage on Racine Lake in the Chapleau area in the 1920s.
Earl Freeborn, Reeve of Chapleau, his Council and numerous civic minded volunteers are working very hard to make the Chapleau Crown Game Preserve a destination of choice for folks who want to observe the flora and fauna and to shoot birds and animals with cameras instead of guns. A new gateway entrance is planned for the Chapleau entrance to the Preserve. Numerous wildlife viewing stations are also being constructed. The Preserve is home to approximately 2,500 black bears, 2,000 moose and numerous other animals. It is estimated that about 200 different kinds of birds can be seen in the Preserve, some of which come all the way from South America to mate and raise their young.
The Chapleau Crown Game Preserve is ready for eco-tourists from all over the world. When they come it will, in no small measure, be the result of the hard work and determination of Chapleau’s town fathers – and the mothers too.