Katherine Jacob is a Kitchener based freelance writer
Stradling the height of land between Hudson Bay and Lake Superior, nearly two million acres of boreal forest is shielded from the clang of traps and the blast of guns. Touted as the world's largest wildlife sanctuary, the Chapleau Game Preserve protects hunted species, such as moose, mink and merganzers. Since 1925, no gun shot has been heard.
Wildlife viewing is one of the main reasons for visiting the Chapleau Game Preserve. Black bears emerge from dense forest cover and browse near roadsides, red-winged blackbirds perch on cattail stalks and moose bend young aspens to chew leaves on the top twigs.
For an intimate wildlife experience, Errington's Wilderness Islands is the place to go. Accessible only by float plane or train, it's located on the second largest lake inside the Chapleau Game Preserve. This family-run resort offers couples, families and small groups the opportunity to make personal nature discoveries. Guests can join a guided wildlife observation trip or hop into an 18-foot cedar strip boat to explore Lake Wabatongushi on their own.
Hikers can hear the song of the yellow warbler or spot the distinctive silhouette of an eastern kingbird along the five-kilometre Timberwolf Island nature trail. Birders will appreciate the spotting scope on the porch of the main lodge and the platform overlooking the nearby marsh.
OUT OF DANGER
At Errington's it seems that animals sense they're out of danger and are quite approachable. Loons, an elusive waterbird, actually surface within ten feet of the boat and remain long enough for one to notice the red in their eyes. Moose casually look up from a feeding spot, then dip their heads back into the water to uproot water lilies. It's in the sheltered coves such as Dibbon or Long-Time-No-See-Um Bay that guests can watch moose feed the length of the inlet, provided they keep a reasonable distance.
Although Errington's was started by Al's father as a fishing resort, more and more of their clientele come for wildlife viewing. Some still fish for pike and walleye, but spend a good part of their time peering through binoculars. It's at the end of the day, at the boat docks, along walkways to individual cabins or near the stone fireplace in the main log cabin, that guests swap locations for moose, bear and eagle sightings.
As a result, Wilderness Islands is concerned with protecting the natural habitat. When staff leave an area where a moose is feeding, they slowly start up the boat motor to minimize disturbance. Guests are informed of how a wake can eradicate a loon nest. In fact, Al Errington has presented the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) with a proposal to protect wetland and loon nesting areas by limiting motor sizes.
The main concern for those sensitive to the environment is the logging that goes on within the preserve. It's concealed well around the resort, other than a few areas where the light shines through a set of poplars that rise above a black spruce stand. But if you happen to fly into the resort, you'll see how close timbering borders Lake Wabatongushi.
Perhaps the Aboriginal people sensed this interaction between man and wildlife and wanted to document their lifestyle and the free roaming animals. Of the numerous pictograph and encampment sites in the Chapleau Game Preserve, the most spectacular is in Missinaibi Provincial Park .
Images of canoes, fish and moose painted with red ochre are spread out along a 115-foot rock face at Fairy Point. Here, where strong crosscurrents and crosswinds kick up four to five-foot waves that bounce off the rock wall, are clusters of images that reflect an ancient lifestyle. It's where Missinaibi, "pictures in the water" in Ojibway, gets its name.
World renowned as a remote wilderness canoe route, Missinaibi Provincial Park is the Chapleau Game Preserve's attraction for avid paddlers. From the park, canoeists can paddle the Missinaibi River, the longest undeveloped waterway in northeastern Ontario.This former Voyageur route extends beyond the boundaries of the Game Preserve to flow through extensive wetland areas and plunge over numerous falls and rapids before descending into the Hudson Bay Lowlands.
Sadly, the effect of logging is noticeable on parts of the Missinaibi River. When the preserve was formed in the 1920's, the environmental impact of logging wasn't an issue. Owing to The Crown Forest Sustainability Act, the MNR has introduced new regulations for the logging industry, such as reducing cut blocks to 80 or 120 hectares and including woodland patches and wildlife travel corridors.
I say this for the sake of the wildlife -- the loon that nests near the marsh grasses; the bear that ambles the rocky shorelines and the moose that pulls leaves from the branch of a young mountain maple.
-Forest Plants of Northeastern Ontario (Lone Pine, softcover, $24.95) A handy reference tool because it lists trees, shrubs, herbs, graminoids, ferns and allies; mosses and liverworts, lichens all in one guide.
-Islands of Hope (Firefly, hardcover, $35.00)
Where to stay and how to get there:
CHAPLEAU GAME PRESERVE
The southern tip of the preserve begins at the town of Chapleau (junction of Hwy. 129 and 101).
MISSINAIBI PROVINCIAL PARK
c/o Ministry of Natural Resources
Park access is via an 88-kilometre gravel road from Chapleau. Logging trucks still use the road.
PRECAUTIONS FOR WATCHING WILDLIFE:
Most of the time wild animals are more scared of you and will run away. Never corner a wild animal or get between a mother and its young. Moose are unpredictable animals. If they charge, get behind a sturdy tree because a moose can't charge in a straight line with an obstacle in its way.
If you have a sudden encounter with a bear, never turn your back and run. It might trigger a predatorial response. Rather shout, yell, whistle and clap your hands, to leave no doubt in his mind that you are a human. Then back away slowly.
ERRINGTON'S WILDERNESS ISLANDS LTD.
Errington's is accessible by train from Sault Ste. Marie via the Algoma Central Railway (705) 946-7300 or float plane via Hawk Air (705) 889-2250.
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