|Written By: Suzanne Dube-Veilleux
Remote Tourism Industry Association
|Originally Published in the May/June 1996
issue of The Outfitter Magazine.
Basically, the remote sector of the tourism industry comprises those lodges, camps, and outposts which are accessible by air only, or by a combination of air/train/boat. The majority of these operations have been in existence for a minimum 20 years, with many going back 50-60 years.
The intent has always been to cater to that ever-growing segment of society which demands a truly remote experience, away from the hustle and bustle of the populated areas in which they work. This segment includes anglers, hunters, canoeists and photographers who enjoy fresh air, clean water and opportunities for communing with nature, and/or those who want a week to relax and regroup their forces while experiencing a unique adventure in the wilderness. It is a necessary respite that guests can start planning for the next year as they reluctantly bid farewell to their hosts on the dock.
This is the stuff of which dreams are made: where an appreciation and respect for the great outdoors is passed on from father to son, and increasingly whole families; where innumerable outdoor sports magazines and television programs help to keep alive, not the myth but the fact, that somewhere out there is a little bit of heaven here on earth; where each individual can shed his/her worries and absorb the renewing and restorative powers of something great.
That little bit of heaven is right here in Northern Ontario! It is what makes us so special in the eyes of the world. It is what destination tourism is all about in our part of the world. It is socially, economically, environmentally and ecologically viable and sustainable. It is an acceptable business opportunity and it is in severe jeopardy!
As world populations grow and our consumptive demands (to sustain such populations) increase, the demand for natural resources (water, minerals, wood) increases accordingly, and often disproportionally, as the human race gobbles up every last bit in its quest to “stay on top”.
The reality is, however, that we are nearing the end of what Nature can produce on its own in Northern Ontario in order to keep up with present demands, and even our ever-changing future demands, as technology and science combine with Nature to provide alternatives to pure wood fibre.
I make a clear distinction between “wood fibre” and “forests” because I believe from my own tourism industry perspective, where we require a whole forest in order to be sustainable; we are now in direct competition with the timber industry which requires wood fibre to supply its mills. We definitely see the forest from different perspectives and we depend on it in different ways.
For so many years the remote tourism industry was safe, secure and flourishing because it could truly be remote! Harvesting operations were concentrated around the communities which sprang up all over Northern Ontario and helped to provide an economic base for society. The remote tourism industry was also contributing to that economic base, but because of its remoteness, was much less visible (though no less viable) than the mills and the mines.
Our political system in Ontario adapted to the visible and urgent needs of a growing, consumptive society and the Department of Lands and Forests focused on regulating the extraction of natural resources from Crown Lands, be they mineral, wood, water, fish or wildlife, or for agricultural or rural development. Recreational needs were addressed through the institution of parks. Nowhere in our history have we developed a clear policy to recognize the remote tourism industry as a legitimate resource user with specific requirements for survival.
The industry has managed to survive based on the issuance of annual Land Use Permits for outpost camps (to which were attached limitations on the type of construction and development, and certainly have not been very helpful when operators went to the bank) or Land Leases with expiry dates and further limitations on construction and development. A fortunate few managed to purchase land either from private sources or the Crown. Nowhere has there been any guarantee that those remote locations would indeed remain remote and viable as a business opportunity. As a consequence, the tourism plant in many remote areas has become eroded for a variety of reasons:
Lack of confidence from financial institutions.
Lack of firm commitment from government to recognize “remoteness” as a specific value in the North.
Lack of government policy to protect the needs of a viable industry in Ontario.
The need to try and accomplish tourism objectives through the Timber Management Planning Process which by nature tends to be diametrically opposed to the maintenance of the “whole forest”, in favour of the production of wood fibre.
I make that last statement with full recognition that there are “Guidelines” out there to deal with everything from stream crossings, to moose habitat, to buffers along sensitive water bodies, to the protection of eagles/ospreys, bats and “tourism values”. In reality, however, these Guidelines tend to be just that…guidelines. And while they have been given token recognition within the TMP process, unfortunately they are not enough to sustain the high quality natural environment that is our heritage, and the cornerstone of the remote tourism industry.
To return to a statement made earlier, the remote sector of the industry in Ontario has survived this long only where it has managed to remain truly remote. Limited access, with its related controlled harvesting of fish and wildlife, and minimum aesthetic and noise disruption, has been our guarantee of sustaining high quality experiences and satisfying the world demand for something special.
Where uncontrolled access has been created through logging roads and other harvest/silvicultural/tending practices, it has a direct influence on the pressures exerted on fish and wildlife and the habitat they require for long-term survival. While we fully recognize the desire and the privilege of all residents of Ontario to share in our joint bounty, we must also accept the joint responsibility for management of those resources and therein lies the crunch!
As the timber industry has, of necessity, encroached upon more and more of our Crown Lands for the purpose of feeding the mills, it has been followed by increased public pressure on fish and wildlife resources (with predictable consequences on the quality and sustainability of those resources). Furthermore, we are facing the brutal fact that there are no more hills to cross and no more lakes to access, except those traditionally occupied by the remote tourism industry.
And the “conflicts” begin.
But are these conflicts over resource use the real issue? Or are we deluding ourselves and evading the real issue of the need for committed strategic planning for long-term sustainable social, economic and environmental benefits for all of us in Ontario, and particularly Northern Ontario?
It would seem that the time has come to re-evaluate what we really have to work with here in the North. We must decide what we want our whole environment to be like fifty or one hundred years from now, and make the necessary decisions to force our governments into a serious commitment. And we have to do that together, with active participation from our communities, our industries, our people and our governments.
In summary, the remote tourism industry is part of the backbone of Northern Ontario. It is the reason why thousands of guests each year bypass the white beaches and crowded resorts south of us; why they choose the call of the loon over traffic noises; why they bring their children to experience the thrill and sweetness of real wilderness; and, why we as Ontarians can be a little bit smug in knowing that on a world-wide scale, we really do have something that nobody else has, and that we too can enjoy!
Are we willing to make the necessary commitments to ensure that we keep it? The buck stops here and now. It is our joint responsibility to work together for a high quality future.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For 1992 the Chair of NOTO Women’s Committee is Janice Bowden, Red Pine Wilderness Lodge, Box 128, Haileybury, ON P0J 1K0, Tel. (519)576-4314.