Most Northerners enjoy all forms of recreation in the outdoors. In fact, we love it. Activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, canoeing and berry picking have been enjoyed for generations by Northerners. It’s part of our heritage.
For the most part, people in Northern Ontario are very laid back. It takes a lot to anger Northerners to the point where they are willing to be involved in an act of civil disobedience.
That stuff is usually reserved for activists down south — like anarchists at the G8 Summit. When the provincial government effectively banned public access to numerous remote lakes — including some where Northerners have traditionally enjoyed their outdoor lifestyle — it crossed the line. Big time.
Last fall, I interviewed Natural Resources Minister Linda Jeffrey on the subject.
She was quick to point out that members of the public can still enjoy these areas. They are just prohibited from using motorized vehicles on the bush roads leading into these areas.
Any Ontario resident is free to walk in and enjoy these resources. This may sound reasonable to a person living in Toronto, whose idea of a visit to Northern Ontario is a drive to Orillia.
But Northerners know that without use of the bush roads, they are realistically cut off from these pristine lakes.
Is it reasonable to expect anyone to hike 20 or 30 kilometres, carrying all their gear, a boat or canoe, bottled water, a first aid kit and more to drop a line?
It’s no easy task in the rugged bush. It’s even more daunting for seniors or anyone with a physical disability.
Talk about mission impossible. That’s why most Northerners thought the minister’s statement was an absolute joke.
But no one found the punch-line particularly funny.
Now, a group of outdoors enthusiasts from the Gogama and Foleyet areas are planning what amounts to an act of civil disobedience.
On Aug. 20, the Gogama chapter of the Ontario Outdoors Recreational Alliance (OntORA) will have a rally at the Foleyet Community Centre.
Following what should be a lively discussion, some members are planning to take their ATVs to Oswald Lake.
It is one of the lakes in the area where access has been cut off, so its use can be exclusively enjoyed by tourists.
When they get to the lake, they plan to go fishing.
Just like they have done many times in the past, as have their parents and grandparents.
OntORA was formed in 2008 to protest the government practice of reserving access to Crown land and public lakes for tourist outfitters.
They are incensed that, for example, an American tourist can have the right to fish at Oswald Lake. But they, Ontario taxpayers, don’t.
Members have devoted countless hours writing letters to government, gathering petitions and spreading the word.
They have been fighting the good fight when, in fact, they would rather be spending their time fishing.
But their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
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