Wilderness canoeists around the world know that Quetico Provincial Park is one of the most beautiful places to paddle in Canada. Located in northwestern Ontario and situated on a million acres of Canadian Shield, the wilderness park’s abundant waterways, undeveloped landscapes, and relative lack of mechanized travel all contribute to its global reputation. Quetico also has a rich cultural history. It straddles the “voyageurs highway”—an inland water route travelled by fur traders for more than two centuries. And it sits on the traditional territory of Lac La Croix First Nation, whose ancestors have lived in the region for thousands of years. The First Nation’s people have a strong spiritual connection to this land, and their story is deeply rooted in the park’s history.
Hardship and healing
When Quetico was first regulated as a provincial park in 1913, the Indigenous communities living there were not consulted. Two years later they were forced to leave their homeland and relocate to make way for the park’s creation. In the following years, members of the Lac La Croix First Nation endured many hardships when the imposed land limitations contributed to the isolation of their community. It wasn’t until 1991 that the Ontario Minister of Natural Resources made a public apology for this great injustice, and the healing process began. Three years later, the Lac La Croix First Nation and the province had signed an Agreement of Coexistence to promote a cooperative relationship and create initiatives to further the social and economic wellbeing of the Lac La Croix.
Since then, the First Nation has been involved in both day-to-day conservation activities and long-term planning of the park. A revised park policy has helped to create a work centre and a new park entry station in the Lac La Croix community, just southwest of the park. It has also become a focal point for cultural initiatives, park interpretation, and Pow Wows. The First Nation and Ontario Parks now collaborate to foster employment opportunities for Lac La Croix youth, conduct biological and archaeological research, and plan resource management.
In 2018, an updated Park Management Plan included the voice of the Lac La Croix First Nation. Norman Jordan, then-Chief of Lac La Croix First Nation wrote, “Quetico Provincial Park sits on our traditional territory and we are very happy and honored to work and manage this land together.” The partnership between Lac La Croix First Nation and Ontario Parks continues to evolve as they share a stewardship to protect Quetico as a sanctuary of true wilderness. Its unspoiled tranquility and quiet solitude are a paddler’s paradise.
Partnership is often a key element in achieving sustainability. During a visit to Quetico Provincial Park in 2017, the park staff and members of the Lac La Croix First Nation welcomed me to the traditional lands of the Lac La Croix in a memorable ceremony. It was a window into their inspiring collaboration. Together they are taking significant steps on the long journey of reconciliation while building a more sustainable future for the next generation and beyond. They have much to teach us about connecting the dots between environmental stewardship, inclusive economic prosperity, and social cohesion and about the benefits derived from both an understanding of traditional knowledge and evolving science and technology. The people of Quetico and Lac La Croix are patiently nurturing respectful relationships.