Northern Ontario Tourism Strategy

Originally Published in the August 1987 issue of The Outfitter Magazine.

A White Paper on the Future of Tourism in the North


Industry Overview

Infrastructure: Today, about 1400 lodges, outfitters, resorts and housekeeping facilities have evolved to offer a full range of tourism experiences in Northern Ontario.

Season: Remotely accessed lodges can expect up to a six month effective operating season with three months of peak occupancy. Most road accessible resorts, on the other hand, have a much shorter effective season, focused around the typical peak period of July and August.

Market: Across the north, two thirds of the client base is American. Guests are drawn to Ontario from a broad arc of 12 states that lie within 1000 km of the border. The American traveller is typically upscale and is attracted by hunting and fishing.

Canadian travellers originate principally in Toronto and Southwestern Ontario. They are generally mid-scale, are more likely to be travelling as a family, but are still interested in an outdoor vacation.

High Consumer Satisfaction: Travellers to the north express a high level of satisfaction in their vacation, resulting in a large proportion of repeat customers; up to 80 percent in some cases.

Economic Contribution: The fishing and hunting camp sector is an integral component of Northern Ontario’s economy. In 1986 direct revenues generated were estimated to exceed $300 million, with a total economic impact on the northern economy of $1 billion. Over 15,000 people derive direct employment. Total payroll exceeds $60 million for non family members. Lodges paid close to $50 million in federal, provincial, and municipal taxes in 1985.

Trends: Demand for the product has never been higher. Sport fishing is entering a growth phase in the United States and is thriving in Canada. The supply of the product, however, is being squeezed by many factors. Conflicting resource users, erosion of the resource base and destruction of investor confidence are all adversely affecting the industry. It is feared that a massive downsizing of the industry may result as a direct result of the loss of the resource base. If this occurs, Ontario may not be able to meet consumer demand and expectations, resulting in the abandoning of Ontario as a preferred destination.


Resource Conflict: The battle over conflicting resource uses poses the single greatest threat to tourism in the north. Other user groups erode both the tourism base and tourism values on which the industry is dependent. If the fishery and wildlife base is depleted, many operators will be forced out of business. Examples of the loss of infrastructure abound all across developed Northern Ontario. Moreover, many operations that are not forced out of business face economic hardship as their resource values diminish. The prospect of diversification of the product is not realistic for many operators.

Access: The proliferation of access roads into remote Ontario is the proximate cause of most resource conflicts. A clear provincial policy to restrict and remove access on tourism lakes is needed to protect tourism values.

Fisheries: The fisheries form the backbone of Northern Ontario’s tourism industry. The province must be commended for the progressive steps it is intent on taking to ensure a quality fishery into the next century. Tourist operators, however, have special fisheries needs. In order to attract customers from up to 1500 km away they must have a better fishery than that available at home.

The degradation of the remote fishery caused by the proliferation of access roads must be stopped. Similarly the severe problem regions of the province must be resolved.

Provincial Fisheries Strategy: It is recommended that a comprehensive province-wide fisheries strategy be developed. A centrally driven policy approach to the fishery will enable major issues to be addressed. A provincial strategy would address restocking, research and rehabilitation objectives for the province.

Fisheries Management Plans: District fisheries management plans would form an integral component of any provincial strategy. It is absolutely essential that these plans have clearly defined goals, objectives, priorities, implementation schedules and cost estimates. As well, each MNR district must be held accountable for its individual plan.

New Strategies To Be Tried: If each MNR district in Northern Ontario tried 3 innovative fisheries strategies, over 80 new concepts would be tried. It is recommended that the province work closely with tourist operators, local anglers and scientists to identify candidate management actions.

Lake Specific Plans Needed: Lake specific fisheries plans are required as a vital component of all district fisheries management plans.

Fisheries Research Needed: It is evident that the provincial database on the status of the fisheries is deficient. Data needs are to be identified and research requirements prioritized. A stronger commitment to field research is required to address fisheries needs.

Enforcement: One of the methods to be used to arrest the depletion of Ontario’s resources is through strong and forceful enforcement of fish and game laws.

Commercial Moose Hunt: Vague regulations restricting entry into the moose hunt, coupled with fixed allocation of moose tags to the tourist industry have resulted in a dilution of the moose hunt to uneconomical levels for many operators. The situation of more and more outfitters vying for a fixed number of tags must be stopped.

Value of the Moose Hunt: It is vital to incorporate the economic value of the moose hunt into the tag allocation process.

Redistribute Tags: The tourist industry received a fixed percent of the harvest each year, usually around 10%. Yet, no minimum allocation is made to the tourist industry by WMU. In some units proximate to urban centres, the actual harvest allocated to the tourism industry is as little as two percent. In order to assure the viability of the hunt in all parts of Ontario, a reasonable minimum allocation of between 5 and 7 percent of the harvest per WMU is required.

Moose Census: Up to date moose consensus are required in Ontario. A program needs to be introduced to guarantee that no census is more than five years old.

Bear Management: Like the moose allocation situation, the entry criteria for bear hunting are sufficiently vague to permit mass entry into the system. The inclusion of many guides, who may not have a commitment to bear management, will reduce the economic benefits of a bear hunt to the province. For this reason, any new commercial hunting opportunities must first be offered to tourist outfitters.

Tourist Management Areas: Virtually all major resource uses in the north, except tourism, have a specific land allocation on which they operate. It is recommended that the province create Tourism Management Areas where the primary management directive is for the benefit of tourism. It is becoming increasingly evident that the only way to protect the remote tourism sector from the ravages of conflicting resource use is to grant special areas of the province for the benefit of the tourism industry.

Tourism Lakes: Tourism Management Areas would be focused around those water bodies where remote tourism is the only traditional user. All northern outfitters, including outpost camps, are located on fewer than one percent of Ontario’s lakes. A land and water allocation to the tourist industry is vital to its long term security.

Crown Land Recreation: Ontario is to be complimented for introducing a crown land recreation program for non residents. A long term strategy to address garbage, human waste and excessive pressure on resources caused by all crown land campers needs to be developed.

Attraction Development: In order to stimulate more touring vacations, Ontario needs to embark on an ambitious program to identify candidate areas where primary attractions will stimulate the development of secondary attraction facilities.

Parks: A clear mandate supporting roofed accommodation developments in Northern Ontario’s new provincial parks is required. Commercial tourism provides many beneficial services in parks.

Marketing of Northern Ontario: The province must be complimented for its aggressive efforts in marketing Northern Ontario. It is felt, however, that short haul markets (less than 1000 km) can continue to be developed. Long haul markets in Texas, California, the U.S. southeast, Europe and possibly the Far East can be developed.

The province can also assist northern tourist operators to exploit the travel trade, and MIT markets.

1-800-ONTARIO: In order to stimulate travel to Ontario, the province must immediately develop a 1-800-ONTARIO toll free telephone system.

Research: More northern region specific research is required on travel patterns to and in the north. All too often, the north is lumped together into one group. In reality, much different factors drive the tourism industry in the various travel regions.

Ontario’s Far North: The area north of the 7th and 11th base line holds great potential for tourism development. It is essential that non native as well as native tourist operators are permitted to develop the tourism potential of the region.

Indian Fishing Agreements: To date, the stance taken by native leaders in these negotiations is totally unacceptable to the tourism industry. While it is recognized that native people have special rights accorded under the Constitution, it must also be recognized that tourist operators have historic access to the resource. The NOTO nine point plan outlines issues that must be addressed if tourist operators are to accept negotiated Indian Fishing Agreements.

Road Transportation: The road delivery system to the north required upgrading. Highways 17, 11 and 69 need to be four-laned to northern gateway centres.

Once in the north, more turnout and passing lanes are required on northern highways.

Forest Access Road: The single greatest threat to the northern tourism sector is the expansion and proliferation of forest access roads. It is recommended that only those rural roads designated and maintained by the MTC be classified as public roads. All new roads constructed to access forest or mineral resources must be closed to the public.

Rail Transport: Passenger rail transportation is essential to nearly 50 resorts in the north. The rail network must be maintained until technological innovations make cost recovery goals attainable.

Air Transport: The air network in Northern Ontario is efficient, but the delivery system to the north is lacking. In particular, seasonal international connections to northern gateway centres are required.

Environmental Assessments: The current Environmental Assessment Act does little to protect Northern Ontario because private sector developments are excluded from compliance. Provisions must be made to designate private sector projects in the same manner as public sector developments.

Weed and Pest Control: Wherever practical, biological treatments of weeds and pests must be encouraged.

Garbage: A clear policy on the creation, control and disposition of landfill sites in Northern Ontario is needed to address the potential problem of a shortfall in suitable sites expected in the near future.

Labour: Many tourist operators feel that spiralling labour costs will drive the price of the product beyond the reach of the average traveller. Student internship program, learner wage differentials and subsidized student employment programs must be maintained to help control labour costs.

Hours of Work: It is recommended that regular hours of work be increased to 55 hours for live-in staff and 50 hours for all other staff before overtime is paid.

Minimum Wage: Increases in minimum wages must be limited to cost of living increases and should be introduced in the fall, after the peak tourist season.

Pay Equity: The recently passed Pay Equity legislation may have far reaching implications for the tourism industry, yet the impacts have not been fully addressed. It is critical that the implications of pay equity be thoroughly studied.

Tourism Awareness: A tourism awareness program, beginning at the earliest levels is needed to teach Ontarians the importance of tourism to the economy. Courses on tourism awareness are required at both the primary and secondary levels.

Formal Education: Tourism must be fostered as a desired career path in our school system. Industry would like to work within the school system to develop a relevant tourism curriculum. As well, at the post secondary level, we would like to work with colleges and universities to develop appropriate tourism courses.

Skills Upgrading: An industry specific set of programs designed to improve the skill levels of those already working in tourism is required. These programs would benefit both staff and operators.

Gasoline Tax Rebate: In order to stimulate touring traffic in Northern Ontario, it is proposed that a gasoline tax rebate be offered to all people using licensed tourist facilities. This program would be very similar to the accommodation tax rebate currently offered.

Alternate Energy: As a means of reducing high energy costs, many tourist camps would like to develop alternate energy programs. Small hydro, thermal, solar and wind may have applications to the north.

Role of Ministries: The role each of the three major ministries plays in tourism needs to be clarified. The ministries are Tourism and Recreation, Natural Resources, and Northern Development and Mines.

Role of MNR: The Ministry of Natural Resources, more than any other Ministry, controls the destiny of northern tourism. The ministry must recognize its role by designating a tourism specialist at the district and regional level who sits on the management team.

Consultation: More, regular and meaningful consultation between tourist operators and MNR staff is required to address tourism issues.


Changes to MTR: The province must recognize the importance of tourism to its economy. This can only be accomplished by upgrading the Ministry of Tourism and Recreation to the status of a major ministry. Its budget and manpower requirements need to be expanded.

Tourism License: The current tourism license is a meaningless document. It contains no incentive to meet the highest standards, nor does it have any real enforcement potential. A need exists to create a tourism license with industry specific criteria and minimum standards. If standards are not met, the operator’s right to do business should be revoked.


Tourist Operators as Resource Managers: Tourist operators must become more responsible for managing their resource base. Especially on water bodies where tourism is the only use, operators have an obligation to manage the fisheries at sustainable levels.

Industry Integrity: A small percentage of tourist operators operate their businesses in a manner that is detrimental to the tourism industry. An onus is placed on all tourist operators to strive to meet the highest standards.

Upgrading: For the industry to continue to meet changing consumer demands, it must continually upgrade it facilities. Tourist operators need to be encouraged to reinvest in upgrading the infrastructure and in improving the tourist product.

Professionalism: Most operators in Northern Ontario operate their businesses in a highly professional manner. As in all industry, the skill levels of all operators can, however, be improved. In essence tourist operators must be motivated to strive for excellence.


The tourism industry requires the support of the province on many fronts if it is to reach its maximum potential by the year 2000. This article presents a list of suggested courses of action for a wide variety of issues that need to be addressed. The issues are presented on a Ministry by Ministry basis.

Due to the complexity of the problem, short, medium and long term objectives are stated. Short term objectives require actions over the next 12 months. Medium term issues require actions within the next five years. The long term objectives suggest where each ministry should be by the year 2000.

Some agenda items are administrative, while many more are aimed at specific problem solving. Regardless, if the northern tourism experience is to have a secure future these issues need to be addressed.


Short Term


  • Hire new field staff with resource management backgrounds to act as tourism advocates.

  • Increase budget for MTR.

  • Reduce red tape and large time when applying for loans.

  • License – criteria classes, enforceability, minimum standards.

  • Improve statistics and create a tourism data bank.


  • Develop tourism awareness programs to educate the general public of the benefits of tourism.

  • Create a better image of Northern Ontario.


  • Develop more touring vacations throughout the north.

  • Identify new tourism generator opportunities (ie. Major attractions, new development opportunities, etc.)

  • Maintain current programs (ie. T.R.I.P., NORDEV, etc.)

  • Regulate houseboats and control their expansion.

  • Link major attractions in the north.

  • Create data base of development opportunities.


  • Identify Northern Ontario specific market research needs.

  • Create a monitoring program to obtain data for the north only.

  • Develop new northern specific print and electronic media ads.

  • Place more emphasis on travel to the north, particularly to the urban wilderness.

  • Put in place a federal/provincial marketing sub agreement.

  • Develop a better destination/origin marketing approach (for example: target each region to a specific market ie: Algoma Country to Michigan, Sunset Country to Manitoba.)

  • Create a 1-800-ONTARIO toll free number.

Medium Term


  • Control unlicensed operators (ie. Guides, houseboats, cottages, bed and breakfasts), by forcing them to meet licensing requirements.

  • Develop a centralized administrative organization to deal with all loans, co-op programs, etc.

  • Create a cable TV channel to promote Ontario to Ontarians.


  • Expand travel trade, convention and MIT opportunities in the north.

  • Help to diversify the tourism product.

  • Begin to develop more primary attractions in the north.

  • Begin a program to inform the public about Ontario with a series of road side signs (ie. “for the next 10 miles you are driving through a black spruce forest”)

  • The need for smaller development loans.


  • Expand long haul markets.

  • Conduct market research identified in earlier period.

  • Begin to establish low power transmission radio stations at all Ontario entry points.

Long Term


  • Develop the waterfronts in northern communities to become tourist attractions.

  • Construction of more attractions in the north.

  • Working tourism management areas.


  • Establish mandatory tourism grading programs as a criterion to acquiring a tourism license.


Short Term


  • Bear policy functioning as agreed to by NOTO, MNR, OFAH.

  • Begin campaign for current moose censuses in each WMU.

  • Reassess boundaries of WMU.

  • Control out of season native hunting on unoccupied crown land.


  • Allocation of resident angling license fee for the betterment of the fishery, not for employment programs.

  • Effective fisheries management plans as per the NOTO brief. The plans are to protect and secure a future for tourism.

  • Identify and start to meet stocking and data needs as per the FMPs.

  • Monitor incidental catch from commercial fishermen in all Ontario waters.

  • Introduce game fish that are compatible with existing species.

  • Access control – no new access created on lakes with tourist operations.

  • Initiate coarse fish removal from sport fishing water bodies.

  • Boat cache policy – effective provincial guidelines.

  • More Ontario U.S. co-operations on Great Lakes.


  • Closure and control of existing access roads with a classification of road type by user: eg. Forestry use only, mining use only, open to public.

  • Policy permitting commercial tourism in parks.

  • Begin to grant land tenure to tourist operators.

  • Begin to identify new tourism development opportunities across the entire north.

  • Develop specific lake management plans for fisheries enhancement.

  • Limit new cottage development on tourism lakes.

  • Begin to develop district and regional tourism strategies.

  • Province-wide crown land camping program.

  • Conduct a thorough socio-economic study of the impacts of conflicting land uses on tourism.

  • Educate the public on the needs of remote tourism.

  • Control of ATV’s and snow machines on crown land.

  • Moratorium of timber harvesting along water bodies and roads.

  • Re-affirm Lac Seul Plan.

  • Control houseboat growth on lakes as the sale of crown land lots are controlled.


  • Improve accountability of MNR.

  • Assign a tourism person to each district and region.

  • Regular meaningful consultation with the tourism industry.

  • Awareness program for all MNR staff about the needs of tourist operators.

  • Begin to integrate MNR practices with the objective of having a master plan for each district.

  • Investigate deputizing tourist operators to work with Co’s.

  • Restriction on the creation of new parks, or the extension of parks boundaries until full public meetings can be held.

  • Raise fines for violations of use of closed roads to $500 per occurrence, or per person.

  • Increase fines and penalties for poaching.

  • Re-introduction of Fish and Fame Act Amendments.

Medium Term


  • Restrict or remove all access from all water bodies with tourism establishments accessed after 1980.

  • More and better research into raising walleye.

  • A full, comprehensive data set on the status of the fishery in Ontario. No data more than 5 years old.

  • Actively rehabilitate the remote characteristics of tourism lakes.

  • Action on Stocking and data needs as identified in the FMP’s.

  • Expansion of lake management plans.

  • Effective provincial boat cache policy.

  • Begin to develop a provincial fisheries strategy.

  • Lamprey Control.

  • Expand hatchery programs by developing more small scale hatcheries to address local needs on a district bases.

  • Control Commercial fishery by removing the use of gill nets. Use only entrapment gear.

  • Heavier penalties for commercial fisheries over quotas.

  • Allocate specific water bodies for exclusive use by types of angler – ie. Fly fishing stream, trophy lakes.

  • No commercial fishing on tourism lakes.


  • Have complete moose and bear censuses with no data more than 5 years old.

  • A moose allocation system that awards tags on the basis of the value of the hunt.


  • Protection of remote tourism values or a policy of compensation for tourist operations adversely affected by forestry operations.

  • Protection of wilderness from heavy industry and urban encroachment.

  • Designation of tourism lakes. Begin to move towards tourism management areas.

  • Create new development opportunities north of 50.

  • Release new development opportunities south of 50.

  • A crown land camping program for both residents and non-residents.

  • Privatization of many park functions.

  • Removal of subsidies for provincial parks. The park system as a whole to become self-sufficient.

  • Where appropriate, privatize and control access points.

  • Resolution of native fishing, hunting and land claims.

  • Eliminate amendments to FMA’s.

  • Effective appeal process in forest management agreements.

  • Develop a province wide tourism strategy based on district and regional plans.

  • Accelerated reforestation.

  • 2 full time biologists per district – fish and wildlife.


  • Have restocking paid by user groups only, no government funded programs.

  • Assign district and regional tourism specialists who do not have a parks background.

  • More Conservation Officers.

  • Integrate all plans and policies of the MNR to arrive at a comprehensive direction for the ministry. All plans to have the same effective dates, with a 5 year review.

Long Term


  • A fully implemented provincial fisheries strategy.

  • No commercial fishing on any lake with tourism developments.

  • Lamprey eradication.

  • Eliminate export of fish by tourists.


  • Bear, moose and possibly caribou designated as big game species.


  • Tourism management areas in place with a specific, exclusive land and water allocation to the tourism industry.

  • Eliminate hi-tech gadgetry for attracting fish and wildlife.

  • All non-residents must use the services of an outfitter for all recreational uses.

  • Diversity product – ie. More hiking, skiing trails outside of provincial parks.

  • Continue to re-claim accessed water bodies.


  • Have fully developed 5 year plans for all use of crown land. All policies and actions to be coordinated under 1 master plan.


Short Term:

  • Continuation of accommodation and sales tax rebate.

  • Gasoline tax rebate to stimulate travel and to the north.



Short Term:

  • Signing policy improvements; liberalize resort signage policy.

  • Only MTC designated highways and municipal roads should be considered public roads.

  • Only these roads to be placed on the official provincial map.

  • Control spraying on road.

Medium Term:

  • Construction of more passing and turn out lanes on highways in the north.

  • Develop alternate communication system in the north.

  • Develop comprehensive signing policy for Northern Ontario.

Long Term:

  • 4 laning of Highway 11 North to North Bay from Huntsville, Highway 17 West to Pembroke from Ottawa and Highway 69 North to Sudbury from Victoria Harbour.


Short Term:

  • Work with the tourism industry to design specific training courses for tourism operators to improve their skill level.

  • Work with tourist industry to develop skills training and upgrading programs for women and native groups to make them more employable in the tourism sector.


Short Term /
Medium Term:

  • Indian Fishing Agreements

  • Indian Hunting Agreements

  • Native Land Claims

  • Native Self Government



Short Term:

  • Wholesales of gas to tourist operators.

  • Gasoline tax rebate for all visitors to the north using licensed facilities.

  • Removal of PCB laden transformers.

  • Small Hydro – Develop low flow generators, expand beyond hydraulics.

  • Control water levels on dammed reservoirs to ensure proper fisheries management many occur.


Short Term:

  • Develop a transportation policy to benefit tourism.

  • Develop environmental guidelines for mineral exploration and access roads.

  • Limit environmental degradation by mining exploration companies.

  • Ensure environmental clean up and rehabilitation to remote character of all regions where mineral exploration has occurred.

Medium Term:
  • Expand NORON-TAIR network to include international flights.

  • Privatize northern transportation functions.

  • Institute a system-wide policy of cost recovery for transportation services.

  • Market support – confer with other agencies when providing marketing funds to avoid duplication of effort.

Long Term:
  • Maintain the ferry from South Baymouth to Tobermory at cost recovery levels.


Short Term:

  • Implement NEER Program.

  • Review of minimum wage to limit increase to increased cost of living levels only.

  • Maintain current student/learner differentials.

  • Permit live-in help to work 55 hours prior to payment of overtime. Other staff 50 hours.

  • Do not include accommodation/lodging as a taxable benefit.

  • Review of Pay Equity legislation – its impact on northern tourism.


Short Term:

  • Designation of private sector developments under Environment Assessment Act. (ie. hydro, mining).

  • Control spraying of right of ways, roads, hydro lines, forests.

  • Removal of PCB laden transformers.

  • Creation of new landfill sites.

  • Control of houseboats.

  • Funding for non-profit associations to make presentations on Class Environmental Assessments.


Short Term:

  • Work with the northern tourism industry to design college courses specifically for the northern tourism experience.

Medium Term:
  • NOTO to work with MCU to design a college diploma in tourist lodge/resort management.

  • NOTO to work with MCU to design a curriculum for a university degree and post graduate degree in tourism.



Short Term:

  • Tourism hospitality programs beginning in kindergarten.

  • Develop programs to foster involvement in tourism in primary and secondary schools.

  • Create extension courses in travel and tourism for Northern Ontario residents.

  • Develop co-op programs for students in tourism.



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