From his office window, Chief Paul Burke can see the vast, clear sky and the ice breaking up across the Severn River. On a May afternoon, it is -3 degrees Celsius outside and the ground is clear of snow. Many of Mr. Burke’s community members are out on the land, hunting caribou and harvesting geese that are migrating north.
Mr. Burke has ambitious plans for his remote northern Ontario community of Fort Severn, located near the edge of Hudson Bay. He is anticipating the completion this fall of a 300-kW solar farm to reduce residents’ dependence on diesel and firewood, he wants to encourage mineral and gas exploration in the area, and he hopes to develop a tourism industry that draws visitors to see the plentiful polar bears that spend their time on land between mid-July and December.
His vision for this fly-in community has been independent of input from Queen’s Park. In fact, he says, in the two years he has been chief, he has never had any interaction with his MPP, nor any elected provincial official. “There’s never any presence here from anyone,” Mr. Burke says. “You never hear from them. You never hear of them either.”
With its population of around 780 (463 of whom live on-reserve), Fort Severn is the northernmost community in the province. It is also part of the predominantly Indigenous Kiitwetinoong electoral district, one of two new ridings in the coming June 7 Ontario election that have been carved out of the far north.
The other is Mushkegowuk-James Bay, directly east of Kiitwetinoong. Together, these two ridings – which sit side by side such as a pair of drawn curtains – make up slightly more than half of the geographical area of Ontario and about 0.4 per cent of the province’s population.
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