The Web of Our Wilderness

by Chris Melanson|Published 00-00-0000

The Web of Our Wilderness

Evening PortageThere is something mystical and alluring about the Northern Wilderness that has beckoned to mankind for thousands of years. The mere mention of The North conjures up images of a vast land, clad in forests of green that seem to march on to the ends of the Earth. It is an uncompromising land of hard rock and shallow earth, where the summer’s burn is short and the winter freeze rules all with a mute certainty – you must obey and adapt or perish.

Yet this harsh land gives way to the passing of time and the persistent gnaw of countless streams and rivers that drain lakes as numerous as stars above and press their contents relentless to some distant sea. It was upon these waterways than ancient man learned to travel in search of sustenance and survival as he adapted to this environment. For these rivers and lakes tie the northern lands together in a great web that traverses the wilderness. They provide the traveller a means to access the bounty from what seems otherwise such a hostile and unyielding land. Just as these waterways shaped and were shaped by the land, so too were a people and their culture shaped.

It was these roads of water and the original people’s knowledge of them that allowed the Europeans to access and exploit the bounty of the North and to seek a conquest of this land. A quest for exploitation and conquest that continues to this very day.

Things have changed in the Great Northern Wilderness since the foot and paddle of man first traversed this landscape thousand of years ago. We now know that the sea of green does end, and that rivers can be diverted and dammed, lakes can be drained and created and that the industrialization of the planet has the ability to affect water quality and all of those who may be dependent upon it.

The great northern wilderness continues to shrink as myriad issues and interests press from all sides: There is the constant growing need for timber, mineral resources, electrical power and the employment these industries provide for northern areas with limited economic growth prospects. The many issues and histories surrounding 1st Nation Land Claims and the place that these people had, have and will have within the context of a larger Canadian Culture and economy continue to unfold in a complex and often in a rather disturbing circular pattern. Ecological and environmental impacts that our wilderness areas suffer due to the industrialization of the planet, global atmospheric pollution, and increasing rarity in species types, diversity and outright species loss.

There are competing and sometimes conflicting recreational pressures from a variety of interests; be they people pursuing the idyllic cottage life and a change of pace from the hectic pace of life our cities demand. Perhaps they are individuals who prefer some type of motorized excursion or a hunting or fishing expedition that is now a part of more recent wilderness traditions. They might be individuals who wish to experience the exploration of wilderness and nature in a less obtrusive and more traditional manner.

Local, regional and even international community interests and politics and the complicated relationships between all of the above form the backdrop over which events in our wilderness areas evolve.

One wilderness area in particular seems to encapsulate all of the above issues that confront our shrinking Canadian Wilderness areas: This region forms the largest wilderness area in the closest proximity to the largest urban population in Canada.

This region has a history of human habitation and travel for over 6000 years and contains the largest relatively intact traditional travel network, or Nastawgan. This area is holds unique species, habitats, age class areas and unique geological landforms. This region contains the potential for economic exploitation of vast tracts of forests above the ground and mineral resources below. There are all manner of recreational interests vying for their use in this Region that is composed of a unique assortment of Land Use areas and allowable activities. This region has become the platform for the development and implementation of new Provincial Government planning regimes that can and will be implemented elsewhere.

I am speaking of course of Temagami.

Many of us have witnessed changes in Temagami as events and planning schemes that relate to our shrinking wilderness areas unfold. We have observed an increase in pressures within these schemes and plans that jeopardize many of the values that make Temagami unique. We have come together in a spirit of cooperation to try and find a place for this wilderness and those who wish to experience it in their own manner within the framework now set before us. We have found that the most promising way to bring our interests foreword is rooted in the past – it is Nastawgan.

Just as the Nastawgan ties Temagami together with the rest of the continent through a network of ancient paths and routes that traverse the Land, so too do we reach out those with an interest in history, tradition and wilderness travel and appreciation.

The Nastawgan Network has been formed as a community based association of concerned individuals, business and community groups, first nations interests and other Non Government Organizations.

This Network has been established in an effort to unite people who are concerned that competing interests threaten many of the values that make Temagami so unique.

This is an effort to pool our resources to educate, promote and speak with a united voice for the Temagami Nastawgan and the unique heritage, environmental and wilderness recreation values that it collectively represents.

We must ensure that proper foresight and planning efforts preserve the integrity and the potential of the Nastawgan as a contiguous feature and united value with all the associated wilderness and recreational values that it represents. We must find a way to integrate this feature into other land-use decisions and recreational interests and preserve the essence of the Temagami Experience.

This is the mission of the Nastawgan Network.

Link with The Network! Contact: Visit us at to learn more, we hope to network soon.