A paper by Phil Cotton
ONTARIO CROWN LAND CANOE ROUTES
The Crown lands of northern Ontario are crisscrossed with a mosaic of interconnected canoe
routes first used by aboriginal hunters and gatherers and later mapped by explorers, fur traders,
geologists, government surveyors and even pioneer settlers. These traditional and historical
waterway routes have existed for millennia and continue to be used by today’s recreational
canoeists. They are an integral part of the province’s landscape and represent the very essence of
our Canadian identity.
Currently, no regulatory system exists in Ontario for the uniform protection of Crown land canoe
routes. A growing demand for the province’s natural resources and hydroelectric power and the
associated development of new roads and railways coupled with recent legislative changes such
as the federal government’s recent decision to drastically alter the Navigable Waters Protection
Act have combined to threaten the integrity of this valuable recreational resource.
In this age of government cutbacks of human and financial resources, it falls to those who
treasure our shrinking wilderness to become pro-active in the stewardship of the province’s
Crown land canoe routes and their associated land-based components. The time has come to
develop a strategy to protect and preserve this important aspect of our historical and cultural
Definition of a Canoe Route
A canoe route is a travel corridor defined by a series of interconnected lakes, rivers, creeks and
streams linked together by portage trails, interspersed with campsites along the watercourses and
accessible by float plane or from nearby road or railway access points. Canoe routes are used
primarily by self-propelled (viz., non-mechanized) watercraft and are often classified as either
‘frontcountry’ or ‘backcountry’ according to their degree of remoteness.
Portages are necessary to avoid impassable stretches of a waterway, to travel upstream safely and
to cross overland from one watercourse to another. Campsites and access points are integral
components of the infrastructure of a canoe route as are viewscapes, viewpoints, scenic vistas,
swimming beaches, wildlife viewing, cultural and historical heritage sites. Less tangible, but
equally important, is the perception of pristine wilderness experienced when travelling a canoe
route in a remote area unblemished by roads, structures or other signs of civilization.
Our Shrinking Wilderness
The term ‘wilderness’ holds different meanings for different people. In Western industrialized
societies, the most common concept of wilderness areas is that of physical places on the planet
where the forces of nature have evolved, and continue to evolve, relatively uninfluenced or
adversely affected by humans. In Canada, the popular misconception that the country’s
wilderness is limitless and will last forever still persists in many quarters. The Sierra Club of
Canada warns this is not the case:
Wild areas, and the wildlife that lives in them, are increasingly under threat across Canada, from
industrial resource extraction, climate change and development pressures. While early settlers in
Canada wrote of eking out existences in our vast wilderness areas, today almost half of these natural areas have been degraded, fragmented and impaired by industrial use or out rightly converted to cities, towns and farms.
In an effort to raise awareness on sustainable management, conservation and manageable
development of all types of forests, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2011 as the
International Year of Forests (IYF). To celebrate this special year, the Royal Canadian Mint
released a special $2.00 (‘toonie’) coin collection to highlight Canada’s boreal forest with the
following explanation: Canada’s own boreal forest is the world’s largest ecosystem, one of its last untouched swaths of forest, and a habitat that covers roughly 58% of our country’s massive landmass. Some 15% of our total population—including 80% of members of Canada’s First Nations—live within the boreal forest, along with countless species of flora and fauna. Three billion birds flock to the boreal forest every year to breed and fledge their young. It is also home to dozens of mammal, hundreds of fish, thousandsof plant, and tens of thousands of insect species.
Our boreal forest’s size and qualities as a habitat make it an indispensable resource for the
conservation of Canadian wildlife: its soil absorbs and holds more carbon per hectare than any other ecosystem in the world. By keeping carbon, a harmful greenhouse gas, from escaping into the atmosphere, our boreal forest is helping to manage negative environmental impacts on a global scale, and preserving habitats for living beings everywhere.
Much of Northern Ontario’s boreal forest is already fragmented by a network of roads most of
which are associated with resource extraction activities past and present. Even the Far North is
no longer immune to the relentless quest for new sources of the province’s natural resources.
Recently, there has been a surge in mining claims staked throughout Ontario. Escalated mining
activity in the area known as the Ring of Fire and development of new forest management units
(FMUs) such as the Whitefeather Forest have shattered what was once a natural, pristine habitat
of many sensitive species found in few other places in the world. As new roads, railways and
hydroelectric transmission lines creep further north and penetrate what were previously
inaccessible wilderness areas, backcountry Crown land canoe routes lose their backcountry
remoteness and are downgraded to frontcountry status.
This paper does not propose an increase in the number or size of existing protected places nor
does it propose any restriction on existing or future resource extraction activities including road
and rail development. Rather, it suggests the need to create a set of uniform, province-wide
regulatory measures to ensure the protection and preservation of all existing Crown land canoe
routes while economic development continues to evolve. To achieve this goal, the first step must
be their formal identification and recognition.
Identification & Recognition of Existing Canoe Routes
The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry (MNRF) acknowledges the cultural,
historical, tourism and recreational value of traditional and historical canoe routes that lie on the
province’s Crown lands. Interpretations of what is meant by an ‘existing’ canoe route vary from
one MNRF administrative district to another and even amongst personnel who work in the same
district or regional office. For example, one MNRF land use planner opined that an existing
canoe route is “one for which portages, campsites, access points and other associated structures
or features are already physically established on the landscape”. Interestingly, this definition
completely ignores the main physical component of a canoe route, viz., the watercourse itself.
Another MNRF source claims “canoe routes, including camping areas and portages, are normally
those identified by traditional use” without any explanation of what constitutes the extent of use,
how it should be measured and exactly who are the users.
The responsibility for recognizing and recording information regarding existing canoe routes and
their associated land-based components rests with individual MNRF administrative districts each
of which determines how to manage its own values data. Unfortunately, there is no uniform,
province-wide standard for identifying, evaluating, recognizing, classifying and tracking canoe
routes nor, for that matter, is there any agreement as to what exactly constitutes a canoe route.
The ambiguous distinctions between a ‘designated’ and an ‘undesignated’ canoe route and
between one that is ‘verified’ versus ‘unverified’ vary between MNRF administrative districts are
further confused by issues such as degree of remoteness, frequency of use and regularity of
Information about an existing canoe route recognized by an MNRF administrative district is
entered into the Natural Resources Values Information System (NRVIS), a geospatial database
used by the MNRF to collect, maintain and analyze land and natural resource data. To enter
information about a value such a canoe route into NRVIS requires that it be identified and
documented as prescribed in the Forest Information Manual (FIM), ideally using data collection
methods and standards prescribed by the MNRF.
Section 3.0 of FIM defines ‘values’ as: features, benefits, or conditions of the forest that are linked to a geographic area, that are of interestfrom various points of view and that FMUst be considered in forest management planning. Examples of values include cross-country ski trails, spawning areas, moose calving sites, raptor nests, seed orchards, tourism outpost camps, registered trapline areas, canoe routes, archaeological sites, and evaluated wetlands.
According to the same Section 3.0 of FIM, Values information can be provided by any person or party at any time. Information about values normally comes from the MNRF or other government staff; licensees and their operators; nongovernment organizations (NGOs); third parties; other resource users; and the public. Section 3.1.1 of FIM directs that, MNRF must enter and update values information received from licensees and other sources into the MNRF’s values information database (housed in a corporate data repository or information management system such as the Natural Resources and Values Information System - NRVIS).
Currently, no mechanism exists for the publication and distribution of canoe route data entered into NRVIS nor is there any informal process by which this information can be readily reviewed. Individual stakeholders or interested members of the public must initiate a formal request to meet with the appropriate personnel of each different MNRF administrative district to discuss their concerns about the accuracy and completeness of canoe route values data entered into NRVIS.
The most common outcome of such an encounter is the revelation that a canoe route that has
been identified, recognized and entered into NRVIS for one FMU or MNRF administrative
district is not included in NRVIS for an adjacent FMU, MNRF administrative district or adjacent
protected place such as a provincial park or a conservation reserve. This interruption in
connectivity spoils an appreciation of the extent and importance of such a route and tends to
diminish the perception of its overall value.
Where information regarding an existing canoe route is found to be entered incorrectly or
missing from NRVIS, a request to correct its location or for its inclusion is often met with
resistance even when there is overwhelming documentary evidence to authenticate its existence,
location and current level of use. Some MNRF personnel argue that a canoe route cannot be
recognized if it is overgrown and not usable while others insist that any canoe route not already
entered into NRVIS or one that existed in the past but which has fallen into disuse and
abandonment must be treated as a new value and must first be subjected to an environmental
impact assessment (EA) before it can be recognized, developed, maintained or improved. Others
claim that a waterway that is only seasonally navigable due to fluctuating water levels cannot
qualify as a canoe route.
Despite the emphatic direction provided by FIM, some MNRF personnel still resist recognizing a
canoe route value identified by a third party by insisting their Ministry reserves the exclusive
prerogative to first confirm and verify its existence before it can be entered into NRVIS. In his
2010-2011 Annual Report, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) condemned this
delay in the process of recognizing a value by stating:
Canoe routes and portages in Ontario are important, not only as recreational values, but also as
cultural and historical values. It is reasonable to believe that Aboriginal peoples used the same routes and portages that recreational canoe enthusiasts use today. From a geographic perspective, there may only be one logical route between two lakes, regardless of maintenance over past years.
MNRF tolerates many disturbances on Crown land, including forestry and mining, and these
activities are often at conflict with recreational canoeing activities. While the NRVIS database
contains many landscape values and features, it is unreasonable for MNRF to deny the existence
of traditional canoe routes strictly because they are simply not in the ministry’s database. In this
reporting year, the ECO received two applications for review in which members of the public
expressed concern and frustration with MNRF’s process for confirming identified values (i.e.,
canoe routes and cougar habitat) in forest management planning (for additional information,
refer to Part 3.4 of this Annual Report). The ECO expressed the belief that MNRF should ensure
traditional canoe routes and portages are protected because they are an important part of our
A Class Environmental Assessment for MNRF Resource Stewardship and Facility Development
Projects (Resource Class EA) is already in place to provide coverage for the planning, design,
construction, operation, maintenance, rehabilitation and retirement or decommissioning of
stewardship and facility development projects conducted solely by the MNRF or in cooperation
with its partners. This includes both existing (viz., “those identified by traditional use”) and new
canoe routes as specified in Section 2.2.8: Canoe route development projects include the provision of access points and portages, and supporting facilities such as campsites, and garbage and sewage disposal (e.g. privies along canoe routes), on Crown land outside of provincial parks and conservation reserves. Canoe routes, including camping areas and portages, are normally those identified by traditional use, but could also involve the development of new routes. Projects may also consist of changes in campsite locations and portage alignments, and general upgrading of routes according to the design and operational standards of MNRF.
The degree of usage of existing Crown land canoe routes is inextricably tied to two factors: the
availability of accurate, detailed canoe route maps and the regular maintenance and improvement
of land-based features such as portages, campsites and access points. The MNRF no longer provides these services and should be encouraged to permit other willing stakeholders to assume
stewardship of Crown land canoe routes without tying them up in a lengthy bureaucratic process.
The Issue of Navigability
Some forest planners hold that a waterway not previously identified in NRVIS as a traditional or
historical canoe route cannot be recognized as such unless it is navigable--a term whose
definition varies from one government ministry to another. Others claim that an intermittent
waterway that is only seasonally navigable cannot be considered a viable canoe route.
Transport Canada defines ‘navigable water’ as: any body of water capable of being navigated by floating vessels of any description for the purpose of transportation, commerce or recreation. This includes both inland and coastal waters. The final authority to determine the navigability of a waterway rests with the Minister of Transport or his/her designated representative.
The question of navigability and whether a canoe route is considered navigable was addressed in
a 1989 Ontario High Court decision in which a 1983 precedent was cited as the litmus test to
determine the navigability of a waterway. In rendering his scholarly judgment in the 1983 case,
Justice Henry itemized the following criteria to establish the navigability of a waterway:
• Navigability in law requires that the waterway be navigable in fact. It must be capable in its
natural state of being traversed by large or small craft of some sort.
• Navigable also means floatable in the sense that the river or stream is used or is capable of
use for floating logs or log rafts or booms.
• A river may be navigable over part of its course and not navigable over other parts.
• To be navigable, a river need not in fact be used for navigation so long as it is realistically
capable of being so used.
• A river is not navigable if it is used only for private purposes or if it is used for purposes
which do not require transportation along the river (e.g., fishing).
• Navigation need not be continuous but may fluctuate with the seasons.
Protection of Existing Canoe Routes
Canoe routes that lie on Crown land within a provincial park or a conservation reserve are
protected and managed by Ontario Parks according to either a management direction or a more
detailed management plan developed under authority of the Provincial Parks and Conservation
Reserves Act (PPCRA) and dictated by the Protected Areas Planning Manual (PAPM).
Canoe routes that lie on Crown land outside protected places in the Far North and in the Living
Legacy (OLL) planning area of central and mid-northern Ontario do not enjoy the same degree
of protection as those that lie within protected places. They are subject to competing values and
land uses and are prone to the impacts of resource extraction activities and the associated
development of permanent roads and railways as well as other structures or facilities such as
hydroelectric generating stations, transmission lines and the shoreline development of cottages
and resource-based tourism facilities.
Directions for the management of each Forest Reserve (FR), Enhanced Management Area
(EMA) and General Use Area (GUA) in the OLL planning area are defined in the Crown Land
Use Policy Atlas (CLUPA) which presents ‘policy reports’ specific to each land use area. These
reports can be accessed on the internet using the interactive map browser; amendments are listed
separately. Each policy report defines the uses and activities that may or may not occur on the
respective land use area including recreational activities such as canoeing. Some policy reports
define the degree of protection that must be afforded canoe routes; most do not address this issue.
The Guide for Crown Land Use Planning published in April 2011 provides mandatory direction
for future land use planning exercises. It replaces the 1997 paper, A Land Use Planning System
for Ontario’s Natural Resources, and earlier guidelines for Crown land use planning.
Values data stored in NRVIS are used in forest management planning and published in a series of
large-scale values maps that are part of every forest management plan (FMP) as prescribed by
the Forest Management Planning Manual (FMPM). Identified canoe routes and associated land
based values that are recognized by the MNRF and entered into NRVIS are included on the
values maps of each FMP and, where applicable, transferred to the relevant operational maps.
Section 3.1.1 of FIM states, The MNRF will also ensure that the best available values information is provided to planning teams for forest management planning purposes and made available throughout the planning process. The maps and information must include the values within the forest management unit for which the plan is being written, as well as values that are adjacent to the forest management unit that may be affected by forest operations.
Values maps can only reflect the completeness and accuracy of data stored in NRVIS. In the past,
their publication during the development of each successive FMP provided the only opportunity
for stakeholders and the general public to examine and question the validity, completeness and
accuracy of canoe route values data in NRVIS.
Since 2008, draft and final versions of each new FMP have been posted on the MNRF web site
where values maps and operational maps can be examined and each successive Annual Work
Schedule (AWS) can be monitored. Final (viz., approved) versions of earlier FMPs are also
available for public scrutiny on the Scholar’s Portal web site. Wider distribution and the ready
availability of this information has made forest management planning more transparent and
augmented the constituency of stakeholders who are able to participate in the public consultation
processes involved with the development and management of each FMP.
To protect ecological integrity and biodiversity, each FMP provides prescriptions for the
protection of a variety of identified values such as water quality, fisheries, large mammal and fur
bearing animal habitats, birds of prey stick nests and heron rookeries to name but a few. Each
prescription is published in the Supplementary Documentation section of a FMP as an Area of
Concern (AOC). Direction for the protection of these values is set forth as standards, guidelines
and best management practices or a combination of these protective measures in a suite of
‘guides’ including the Forest Management Guide for Conserving Biodiversity at the Stand and
Site Scales (commonly known as the Stand and Site Guide) which replaced thirty-six previous
guides in 2009.
A ‘standard’ provides mandatory direction that must be followed as written; there is no room for
interpretation on the part of forest managers. A ‘guideline’ also provides mandatory direction, but
requires professional judgment for it to be applied appropriately at the local level. It may be
expressed as a range of values or it may need to be implemented in different ways based on site
conditions or circumstances. A list of ‘best management practices’ is not a set of mandatory
directions, but rather a list of examples of practices that a forest manager may choose to use. A
‘toolbox’ of best management practices is not intended to be exhaustive; forest managers may
develop and implement other ideas or strategies. There is no requirement to use any of the best
management practice examples provided as some may not be applicable to local circumstances.
Unfortunately, no guide exists for the protection of Crown land canoe route values and the extent
of protection currently provided them varies widely from one FMP to another and even between
successive FMPs for the same FMU. Most FMPs define a canoe route solely as the shoreline
component of the travelled watercourse. Associated land-based values such as access points,
portage trails, campsites, scenic vistas and their viewpoints and sites of cultural, historical and
natural interest are treated separately and severally, if at all.
By far, the greatest threat to the integrity of an existing Crown land canoe route and its
associated land-based values occurs if the pertinent information is not entered into NRVIS and,
by extension, does not appear on the appropriate values and operational maps of a FMP. Such an
omission is compounded by the proposal in the Stand and Site Guide which, under certain
circumstances, permits cut-to-shore harvesting practices that were not permitted in past FMPs.
It is interesting to note that the only specific mention of canoe routes in the Stand and Site Guide
is for the limited protection of portage trails. Sole reliance on information in NRVIS fails to
consider the distinct possibility that data about a particular value may be incomplete. It is entirely
possible that the value may exist in locations not previously identified and consequently will not
be awarded the protection it deserves. The only way to avoid this situation is to design an AOC
for all occurrences of the value on a FMU regardless of whether they are recorded in NRVIS.
This is particularly true for canoe routes and their related land-based features such as portages
and interior (backcountry) campsites.
Even when information regarding a value is entered into NRVIS and is successfully transferred
to the appropriate values and operational maps, many forest planners are reluctant to create a
prescription for its protection on the argument that an AOC is not necessary unless the value in
question will be impacted by planned or contingency operations during the lifetime of the FMP.
Such a stance dictates repeated returns to the bargaining table by concerned stakeholders with the establishment of every new, updated version or amendment of a FMP and deserves closer
Forest planners apply the term, ‘Area of Concern’ variously to describe the prescription that is
developed for the protection of a particular value and to describe the physical boundaries of the
area to which the prescription applies on both values and operational maps as well as in the field.
Which definition they are using when they are unwilling to include an AOC for the protection of
a value that is currently not threatened by planned operations or road development is not always
clear. Are they reluctant to devise an AOC for a value whose existence and location has not been
entered into NRVIS? Or, are they reluctant to create an AOC that means spending time marking
values and operational maps with a value they don’t feel is being threatened?
The FMPM stipulates what is to be done if a recognized value cannot be located on the ground
during layout operations. If a value such as a portage cannot be found, it is deemed to no longer
exist and the relevant AOC developed for its protection is no longer applicable. Most operators
exercise due diligence in attempting to locate a value prior to the commencement of harvesting
operations; some even invoke the ‘precautionary principle’ by flagging or ribboning the
approximate location of the value in question when its exact location cannot be determined. Less
conscientious operators find this proviso a convenient excuse to avoid wasting time and effort to
locate a value they consider to be of little or no importance and which would curtail maximum
harvesting benefits. Such arbitrary decisions only serve to further threaten the preservation of
canoe routes that exist on Crown land.
Protection of Shorelines & Viewscapes
In most FMPs, the shoreline along a watercourse that constitutes a recognized canoe route is
designated as a no-harvest riparian reserve of fixed or variable width measured from a definable
starting point. To maintain the perception of wilderness and the sense of remoteness, a few FMPs
extend the reserve inland to protect the visual aesthetics of viewscapes or viewsheds while others
add time-sensitive operational restrictions to mitigate aural (viz., noise) disturbances created by
road construction, harvesting and silviculture activities and associated vehicular traffic.
Many FMPs subdivide the shoreline of a canoe route into a no-cut reserve immediately adjacent
to the shoreline backed by a modified harvest zone within which limited harvesting and tending
operations, temporary operational roads, landings and aggregate extraction may occur. In some
FMPs, a multi-tier system of canoe route classification, with different degrees of shoreline
protection, has been developed based on the perceived degree of value, current level of use,
remoteness, accessibility or seasonal navigability. In a few cases, canoe routes are afforded
different levels of protection due to conflicting directions provided in CLUPA for adjacent
planning areas that lie, in whole or in part, on a single FMU. The level of shoreline protection of
a particular canoe route often changes as it passes from one FMU to an adjacent FMU.
Some canoe route AOCs simply mirror riparian reserves developed for the protection of other
values such as water quality or fisheries. Measuring the starting point of a riparian reserve from
the high water mark or from the first occurrence of woody vegetation (i.e., Labrador Tea or
leatherleaf) does little to protect wetland complexes that exist along shorelines and often extend a
considerable distance inland. Recently, there has been a growing trend towards measuring
shoreline reserves from the first occurrence of standing timber, and stipulating the minimum
diameter, height, or density of standing, windfirm trees from which measurement should begin.
Regardless of the starting point from which a canoe route riparian reserve is measured, the most
common variable-width reserves are graduated slopes in successive increments of 15 degrees; a
few FMPs employ increments of 0-30, 31-45 and 45+ degrees. The most frequently-used
horizontal or linear measurements of reserves are 30-, 50-, 70- and 90-metres for slopes of 0-15,
16-30, 31-45 and 45+ degrees, respectively. The most generous variable-width, slope-based
shoreline reserves contained in current FMPs offer linear measurements of 70, 90 and 120m.
Forest management planners argue that the lack of harvest and renewal operations in a shoreline
reserve results in the long term degradation of the shoreline as a result of forest succession
which, in turn, eventually leads to a decadent forest condition that will be susceptible to
blowdown. Be that as it may, an adequate shoreline reserve that, left in its natural state,
minimizes the risk of immediate blowdown and increases the distance from planned forest
operations lessens the potential for unauthorized or unplanned access to the value the AOC is
designed to protect—a benefit that is often overlooked.
Every AOC imposes conditions on existing and planned primary, secondary (branch) and tertiary
(operational) roads and, in some cases, on mechanized operational practices such as skidding.
Most shoreline reserves are absolute in banning forestry operations, aggregate removal and the
development of landings, however, the rules are bent in favour of expediency when it comes to
road crossings of the AOC with the associated crossing of an adjacent waterway that an AOC is
supposed to protect. Some AOCs limit the width of the road right-of-way (ROW) of an approved
water crossing on each side of the waterway for the entire width of the AOC; others limit the
number of crossings within the AOC to all but a single road.
Protection of Portages
Portage trails are critical links to the connectivity of the navigable sections of a canoe route and
can be categorized by their location. The majority lie along the shoreline of a waterway; a few lie
across midstream islands; the remainder cross overland from one watercourse to another.
Harvesting of trees on islands is rarely undertaken and most portages that parallel a waterway lie
within the shoreline reserve provided. Thus, the majority of portages already enjoy some degree
of protection. Only the few that lie beyond the bounds of established shoreline reserves require a
separate measure of protection. These include all overland portages as well as portions of those
that parallel the shoreline of a waterway but which lie in part too close to the inland extent of the
shoreline reserve or stray outside of it altogether.
If the width of a shoreline reserve is adequate, portages that parallel a waterway will be protected
and only those that cross overland from one water body to another will require special attention.
However, a single prescription for all portage trails that dictates a fixed, no-cut reserve on each
side of a trail could also be applied to extend a shoreline reserve inland where a portion of the
trail lies too close to the extent of the shoreline reserve or lies, in part, outside of it altogether.
Most portages that lie outside a shoreline reserve are afforded little more protection than
insistence that the trail not be widened or improved, that skidding across the trail be minimized
and that debris be removed from the trail after harvesting operations are completed. A growing
number of AOCs provide for a treed buffer on each side of a portage trail and limit the number,
location and design of road crossings, the width of the ROW and what activities may, or may not,
occur within the prescribed area of protection. Some AOCs specify that road grade levels and the
trail approaches to the road must be designed and constructed so as not to inhibit safe use of a
portage; others specify that signage must be erected to alert trail users to the dangers of vehicular
traffic and to warn motorists of the existence of the trail crossing where pedestrian traffic may be
In the case of portage trails, the use of the term ‘crossing’ in forest management planning creates
some confusion. More often than not, no apparent difference is made between road crossings
over an AOC designed to protect the integrity of the trail and skidding practices within clear cuts
that may extend across the entire length of the trail. Construction of a road across a portage often
results in blockage and even destruction of the original trail necessitating lengthy and dangerous
detours along the road ROW. The aftermath of clear-cutting operations often leaves the original
trail obscured and uncontrolled new growth hinders passage. Skidding across a trail leaves ruts
which makes portaging difficult and unsafe especially when they fill with accumulated rainwater.
The Stand and Site Guide Background and Rationale for Direction provides the following
limited guideline for the protection of portages and trapline trails that lie both outside and within
AOCs: Reasonable efforts (e.g., clearing of logging debris, avoid steep ditching) will be made to ensure that recreational portage routes and trails used for accessing and working traplines are passable following forest management operations. Direction is provided to ensure that recreational portage routes and trails used for accessing and working traplines are passable following forest management operations.
This replaces direction that was previously in the Code of Practice for Timber Management
Operations in Riparian Areas, which was included in that appended to that document to address Termand Condition 76 in the Decision of the Environmental Assessment Board for the Class Environmental Assessment by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources on Timber Management on Crown Lands in Ontario (1994). This direction is included in the roads section of this guide but will also apply to any harvest areas that may affect the passability of recreational portage routes and trails used for accessing and working traplines. Reasonable efforts are intentionally not defined in the direction and are intended to be tailored to individual circumstances. The two examples provided (clearing of logging debris and avoidance of steep ditching) are not an exhaustive list of what may be reasonable.
Section 3.5.5 of the Management Guidelines for Forestry and Resource-Based Tourism (known
commonly as the Tourism Guide) states that efforts should be made to minimize disturbance
when crossing a trail or a portage with heavy equipment or when conducting forestry operations
close to a trail. The Guideline offers suggestions as to how to achieve this objective:
• Buffers along trails may be desired to maintain views from the trail.
• Landings should be placed away from view of the trail.
• Skidding on trails should be avoided unless it is to avoid crossing the trail with a road.
• Trails may be relocated temporarily during forestry operations.
• Roads crossing trails or portages can incorporate an ‘S’ bend in their design to minimize
the view down the road into the cutovers.
• Care must be taken to ensure safety concerns are addressed (i.e. signs warning pedestrian
and vehicle travellers of the crossing).
• Trails must be kept free of debris and barriers to travel (i.e. ditches).
Application of these techniques is limited to trails and portages identified by a member of the
resource-based tourism industry as being integral to the operation of a tourism business and do
not apply universally to all trails and portages that exist on the province’s Crown forests.
The Forest Management Guide for Cultural Heritage Values (commonly known as the Cultural
Heritage Guide) provides guidance for the protection of cultural heritage landscape values
including recreational trails, portages and other traditional travel corridors. One of its guidelines
stipulates the AOC designed to protect such cultural features should be “the value plus an
appropriate buffer to protect the context of the cultural feature”. Further, it suggests that for some
features a narrower reserve but an additional area of modified operations (e.g., partial harvest)
may be an appropriate prescription. For example, a portage [or] trail. . . might have a reserve and
a partial harvest zone around the reserve. The question of how wide a reserve should be in order
to survive was considered by the team that prepared the current Guide. They recognized the
uncertainties related to the windfirmness, survival and non-disturbance of reserves but chose not
to resolve the issue.
In order for a reserve to be effective in protecting the value, it is important that the integrity of
the reserve remain until the surrounding forest has regenerated. A live and intact reserve meets
this objective. There will be unusual events (e.g. windstorms, forest firests) that may cause
changes to some reserves, but it should not be the normal situation. Information on windfirmness
of standing reserves would be helpful in future considerations of the next version of this Guide.
Under Section 65(4) of the Public Lands Act, where public lands over which a portage has
existed or exists has been sold or otherwise disposed of, any person travelling on waters
connected by the portage has the legal right to pass over and along the portage with the person's
effects without permission or payment to the owner of the lands.
Protection of Campsites
Backcountry campsites favoured by recreational canoeists are traditionally located in clearings
on dry, level, breezy terrain along the shoreline of a canoe route or adjacent to a portage landing
and, as such, enjoy whatever protection is provided by the shoreline reserve. However, campsites
that are protected by shoreline reserves as little as 30m in width and measured from the high
water mark or from the first occurrence of woody vegetation lack the depth needed to provide
shade shelter and privacy for primitive human waste disposal sites (i.e., latrines or biffies). In
order to ensure existing campsites can provide these basic necessities, they all need to be
afforded separate consideration for their protection whether their existence and location has been
established or not. Only a few FMPs currently contain an AOC specifically designed for the
protection of all existing interior or backcountry campsites.
In the lexicon of digital cartography, a campsite is a semicircular ‘polygon’ that radiates a
measured dimension from a definable ‘point’ such as the primary fire ring or a privy. Forest
management planners often refuse to invoke the precautionary principle outlined in FIM in order
to provide protection to campsites whose existence and precise location has not been identified,
confirmed and recognized, viz., entered into NRVIS.
Whether the existence of a campsite has been identified and recognized by the MNRF as a value
worthy of protection as prescribed in FIM is not the issue nor is it a question of whether a
particular campsite is currently in a usable state. Campsites, like portages, exist in a constantly
fluctuating state of usability, alteration and even temporary abandonment due to natural
occurrences such as blowdowns and forest fires.
Protection of Tourism Values
Many canoe routes involve water bodies on which are located resource-based tourism
establishments licensed by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture & Sport (i.e., lodges, outpost cabins,
hunting camps). Many of these facilities are remote or semi-remote (viz., not accessible by road)
and can only be accessed by rail, canoe, all-terrain vehicle (ATV) or float plane. The MNRF
recognizes the importance of these operations as part of the province’s tourism infrastructure and
has developed a mechanism to provide protection of the visual and aural aesthetics associated
with the ‘tourism lakes’ on which they are located.
The provisions of a Resource Stewardship Agreement (RSA) negotiated between a licensed
resource-based tourism operator and a sustainable forest licence (SFL) holder are designed to
mitigate the impact of forestry operations in the immediate vicinity of a tourism facility and
often involve restricting road access to the water body on which it is located. The degree of
protection afforded tourism aesthetics--both visual and aural--depends on the terms of each
individual RSA and varies from one FMP to another but invariably exceeds that provided for a
canoe route. Viewscape protection on tourism lakes often extends as far back from the shoreline
as the visible horizon or skyline.
FMPs often depict all recreational trails including canoe routes on the Resource Uses Values Map
using a single, solid line. This practice makes it difficult to discern which of the trails are actually
canoe routes. There is a growing trend to portray canoe routes separately on the Resource-Based
Tourism Values Map using a dashed line for the water-based portion and a dotted line for portage
trails. Their inclusion on this map permits verification of the accuracy and completeness of canoe
route data stored in NRVIS and recognizes their potential as a provincial tourism attraction.
Under authority of Section 52(1) of the Public Lands Act, the manager of a MNRF administrative district may impose travel restrictions on public roads to protect remote resourcebased tourism facilities as well as identified or suspected sites of sensitive natural, cultural or archeological value. Imposition of travel bans often ignores the fact that these roads can also provide access to and egress from waterways that are integral parts of recognized canoe routes.
The Changing Face of Forest Management
In 2010-11, management of the province’s Crown forests radically changed. What had originally
been the exclusive purview of the then MNR was now to be shared with the Ministry of Northern
Development and Mines (MNDM) which was changed to the Ministry of Northern
Development, Mines and Forestry (MNDMF). While the MNR was to remain the lead Ministry
in managing the province’s Crown forests, the Ontario Forest Tenure Modernization Act
(OFTMA) empowered the MNDMF to establish a local forest management corporation
(LFMC)--a Crown agency governed by a locally-based board of directors that will be responsible
for sustainably managing Crown forests and overseeing the marketing and sale of Crown forest
In May, 2011, the MNDMF announced it was working with First Nations, local communities and
forest industry partners to design and establish the first LFMC. The Nawiinginokiima Forest
Management Corporation was created to sustainably manage the Crown forests in the Big Pic,
Nagagami and White River forests in the Marathon area, provide economic opportunities for
aboriginal peoples, market and sell and timber and negotiate the price of wood fibre.
Implementation of the OFTMA and involvement of the MNDMF added more players to forest
management and created an inherent policy conflict between the MNR which was supposed to
protect Crown land values and the MNDMF which actively promoted development of the mining
and forestry industries. It further complicated negotiations for the development of a guide or the
conservation of Crown land canoe routes and their related land-based values.
On October 20, 2011, the MNDM (no longer stylized as the MNDMF) announced that the MNR
(now identified as the MNRF) had once again become “the lead ministry for promoting a strong,
prosperous and healthy forest industry” and that it (the MNDM) was in the process of
transitioning its web site content to the MNRF web site to reflect these changes. The MNDM
announcement stated that its Forestry Division provides leadership on forest products industry
sector revitalization and transformation initiatives and acts as an advocate for business and
economic functions within the forest industry. This included responsibilities for industrial
strategies, competitiveness measures and international trade to support a strong, prosperous and
The first step towards development of a set of measures for the uniform protection and
preservation of all existing Crown land canoe routes and their land-based components must be to
examine the level of protection currently provided in each FMP for these values. Currently, 43
FMUs exist on Ontario’s Crown Forests. Established under authority of the Crown Forest
Sustainability Act (CFSA), each FMU has an approved FMP in effect or under development.
A Survey of Areas of Concern for Canoe Routes & Related Land-Based Values on Ontario Forest
Management Units developed by The Wabakimi Project contains details of each pertinent AOC
including its identifier, a description of the value, the dimensions of the AOC, applicable
operational prescriptions and conditions on primary, secondary (branch) and tertiary
(operational) roads. Information is presented in table format and updated as new FMPs and their
amendments are developed and approved.
The Survey provides a bird’s-eye view of the level of protection currently afforded Crown land
canoe routes and their land-based attributes in each FMP. It clearly demonstrates the disparity,
and in some cases, the total absence of protective measures for these values across Ontario’s
forests and presents a baseline from which to negotiate their improved protection during each
successive forest management planning exercise.
Under the province’s forest management planning process, the struggle to gain recognition and
improved protective measures for existing Crown land canoe routes and their land-based values
is an endless cycle of negotiations as new FMPs are created every ten years for each FMU.
Unless a particular value is protected by an existing guide, there is no guarantee that any
prescriptive measure for its protection will be carried forward from an existing FMP into the next
successive ten-year plan or, for that matter, from the first five years (Phase I) into the second five
years (Phase II) of a FMP. Implementation of new directions such as those included in the Stand
and Site Guide necessitates review of every successive FMP phase further exacerbating the need
for more monitoring and negotiations.
Delay in the preparation and approval of a new FMP necessitates the creation of a contingency
plan or extension of an existing plan to bridge the gap between the expiration of a FMP and the
implementation of a new, replacement FMP. Currently, contingency plans and plan extensions
are in place for several FMUs which increases the need for additional surveillance.
Monitoring and participating in each stage of the development and review of every draft, final
and contingency plan is laborious and time-consuming. Values maps and operational maps must
be meticulously scrutinized to ensure information related to canoe routes and their land-based
components stored in NRVIS is accurately and completely portrayed. AOCs must be reviewed to
ensure that the prescriptions provided are what was agreed upon during negotiations and that this
information is also correctly and completely depicted on values and operational maps. AWSs and
amendments for each approved FMP as well as the Ontario Ministry of the Environment’s
Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) Environmental Registry must be closely monitored for any
change of direction that impacts Crown land canoe routes. With each change in direction, the
Survey must be updated. Keeping up with these changes is more than one individual or group of
individuals can manage.
While no single organization speaks for the protection and preservation of the province’s Crown
land canoe routes, there are volunteer groups and non-government organizations (NGOs) that do
participate in forest management planning processes to negotiate for improved protective
measures and actively engage in the identification, documentation, maintenance and improvement of these routes. A few of these volunteer groups are worth mentioning.
Since 2004, volunteers of The Wabakimi Project have explored, inventoried, rehabilitated and
mapped the traditional and historical canoe routes that lie on the Crown lands adjacent to
Wabakimi Provincial Park. These routes lie on four FMUs that abut the park boundary—the
Caribou, English River, Ogoki and Lake Nipigon Forests--and organizers continue to participate
in forest management planning exercises for each.
In 2014, Friends of Wabakimi, was created as a non-profit corporation to assume responsibility
for development and maintenance of the canoe route maps inaugurated by The Wabakimi Project
and to advocate for the preservation and improved protection of canoe routes within the
Wabakimi Area for future generations of visitors.
The Geraldton Composite High School Outers Wilderness Canoe Club (GCHS) focusses on the
Crown land canoe routes east of Wabakimi Provincial Park that lie on the Ogoki, Kenogami and
Lake Nipigon Forests. One of the few remaining school-based clubs of its kind in Ontario, the
GCHS Outers Club maintains and maps area canoe routes and works closely with the MNRF and
forest managers for their recognition and improved protection.
The Friends of Temagami (FOT) is a volunteer advocacy organization that monitors the canoe
routes in the Greater Temagami Area that encompasses over 700,000ha and includes five
backcountry provincial parks and eight conservation reserves. These protected areas cover only
one-sixth of the region; over 500,000ha is Crown land stretching from the Wanapitei River and
Wanapitei Lake in the west to the Ottawa River in the east, Lake Nipissing to the south and Lake
Timiskaming to the north. Its members actively participate in forest management planning
exercises for the Temagami, Timiskaming, Sudbury and Nipissing Forests and mount volunteer
expeditions to develop, maintain and improve identified canoes routes.
Volunteer groups such as these continue to work diligently in selected areas of the province for
improved protection of Crown land canoe routes and to be actively engaged in their
rehabilitation, maintenance and improvement but their efforts exist in isolation from each other.
There is an urgent need for a single, unified voice to represent recreationalists who value and
enjoy the province’s wilderness canoeing opportunities and to speak for the protection and
preservation of all existing Crown land canoe routes. There are two choices: either an existing
organization must accept this responsibility or an altogether new organization must be formed.
The Next Steps
Once an organization representing paddlers assumes the lead, development of a set of measures
for the protection of Crown land canoe routes and their related land-based values can move
forward. The organization will collaborate in the development of strategies and a timetable that
will lead to creation of these measures.
From the outset, First Nation communities and representatives of the forestry, mining and
tourism industries, and government agencies such as the Ministry of Northern Development and
Mines (MNDM), the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture
& Sports (MTCS) must be involved. NGOs such as the Wilderness Canoe Association and the
Wildlands League, the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS),
need to be consulted and their support gained. They have the requisite expertise and resources to
help with development of these measures.
In order to prepare a set of protective measures, information must be gathered and support
solicited from the general public and from the paddling community including non-residents who
visit the province to use Crown land canoe routes. Use of social media and creation of an
interactive web site that regularly publishes a newsletter will help reach the widest possible
constituency of stakeholders to keep them informed of on-going developments and collect
comments. Signatures collected on a petition will prove support for the development and
implementation of these measures.
n Search of an Acceptable Solution
Introduction of the Stand and Site Guide in 2010 marked a major step in the MNRF’s effort to reorganize and reduce more than thirty forest management guides into a suite of five
comprehensive guides. Any proposal to create an altogether new, separate guide for the
protection of Crown land canoe routes and their land-based components flies in the face of this
trend. It would be more practical and prudent to first consider modification of the existing guides
to address protection of one or more of these values. The ideal time to accomplish this would be
during the scheduled review and possible revision of each of these existing guides. Condition
38(c) of Declaration Order MNRF-71 regarding MNRF’s Class Environmental Assessment
Approval for Forest Management on Crown Lands in Ontario, requires each forest management
guide including the Cultural Heritage Guide and the Tourism Guide be reviewed within five
years of approval and at least every five years thereafter.
The Cultural Heritage Guide is designed to protect four cultural heritage values that exist on the
landscape from potentially adverse impacts by forest management activities. These values
include recreational and portage trails but do not include shorelines, viewscapes or existing,
backcountry campsites along recognized canoe routes.
The Tourism Guide provides the means to protect viewscapes and portage trails but measures are
limited to the shorelines of the water body on which a resource-based tourism establishment
exists as well as related portages and trails identified by a licensed resource-based tourism
operator during negotiation of a RSA.
As they exist, neither the Cultural Heritage Guide nor the Tourism Guide can wholly protect and
preserve all of the canoe routes and their land-based components that exist on Ontario’s forests.
Unless the scope of either or both of these guides is expanded to include shorelines beyond the
limits of those involved with resource-based tourism establishments, there will still be a
significant gap in protective measures that needs to be filled.
The Issue of Financing
Development of a set of protective measures will entail considerable time, effort and expense.
The MNRF has neither the human nor financial resources to bear the burden alone. While some
expenses can be avoided through the efforts of volunteers, sources of funding will have to be
secured to offset other costs.
Grants for projects such as development of these protective measures are available from
government agencies, foundations, trusts, corporations and NGOs. Many of these sources will
only fund charitable organizations that have been approved by, and registered with, the Canada
Revenue Agency. Appeals for financial support from these sources or from individuals will be
more successful if tax-deductible receipts can be issued to acknowledge monetary donations or
gifts in kind.
An organization or association representing paddlers can be a source of revenue in itself. Annual
membership fees are a reliable and renewable source of income. Other revenues can be generated through licensed lotteries, raffles and draws, the sale of donated goods as well as social events for which tickets are sold or pledges collected. Development of the protective measures will move forward more quickly if the organization created to represent paddlers in this effort is a
registered, not-for-profit, charitable organization.
This paper was prepared to raise awareness of the current state of Ontario’s Crown land canoe
routes and to propose the creation of a set of standards, guidelines and best management
practices for their future protection. Such measures would eliminate the endless cycle of
negotiations related to development of each final and contingency FMP and provide uniform
treatment of this important historical and cultural heritage and recreational value from one FMP
to another across the province.
What sets a canoeing expedition apart is that it purifies you more rapidly and inescapably than any
other. Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute; pedal five hundred on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature.
Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1919 - 2000)
from “Exhaustion and Fulfillment: The Ascetic in a Canoe” (1964)