Hap Wilson on the Bala Falls Portage Ban Controversy:
Ontarians should be outraged – at least those who value Canadian historic and prehistoric public lands. The Bala Falls Portage issue, recently covered by the Globe and Mail, is a much broader problem that needs serious investigation. Last winter I was called on by Swift River Power Corp. lawyers to stand as an expert witness for their team. I refused. I then became an expert witness for the Township of Muskoka Lakes who are fighting to stop the power development.
In my Wild Muskoka guidebook I had put an alternate portage on the north side of the falls predominantly for those beginning trips down the Musquash and Moon Rivers. This is the portage Swift River (and OMNR) prefer, of course, because they want to develop the historic portage site still used by local camps and paddlers. I was then grilled by Swift River lawyers about my choice of portage locations but I maintained that the historic portage was still in active use. Local historians (Shnier et al) proved the historic use of the portage by Thompson in the early 1800’s; I also maintained that from my own extensive travels on rivers, that the portage is located in the most likely place south of the falls.
OMNR & Swift River won the first round in the courts and we all know that the appeal won’t look any better. I told the Globe and Mail in a short note that they need to look deeper into this issue. This has been happening across Ontario in a multitude of ways, i.e. OMNR placating to the whims of big business at the expense of self-propelled recreation interests.
Recently I talked with a spokesperson at the Culture & Heritage Ministry in Toronto who informed me that each OMNR District in the province is basically self-regulating; ha, no surprises there! That means they can stretch, or ignore certain aspects of the Public Lands Act or Heritage Acts based on current industrial or impact-tourism needs. OMNR closed off the Bala Falls Portage because of safety reasons…how absurd is this when you can easily name a hundred other similar locations exist on other rivers in the province. Does this mean that OMNR will shut-out paddlers from other locations based on liability fears (or big business interests)???
The township will lose the Bala Falls court appeal because, hey, the Crown-based Canadian legal system won’t want to compromise the peoples’ faith and trust in the present system – that the ministry overseeing our natural resources and Crown Land make the best collective decisions for the People…and we all know how well our fisheries and forests have been managed in this country!
OMNR can’t afford to lose this fight and the Crown judges know this. This is actually a huge precedent setting case in Canada but most people haven’t picked up on it yet. The Crown can’t lose because there would certainly be investigations and court cases pop up across the province – if not the country….and if you think Ontario Crown Lands are run by a bunch of bandits, you should see the internal machinations within the Crown ministries in Manitoba!
Written by Hap Wilson :: July 13, 2014, submitted via email.
For more information, visit savethebalafalls.com.