WILLISVILLE—Eons of ice, wind, rain and snow may have worn down the majestic Willisville Mountain on Highway 6 (south of Espanola and just north of the Village of Whitefish Falls) from the lofty grandeur it attained through volcanic action, but the views that inspired a number of Canada’s famed Group of Seven artists remain as breathtaking as ever. Now, the charity Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy Inc. (EBC) is working diligently to secure the property containing the mountain to preserve it and the species it harbours along its shoulders for future generations to enjoy.
“This is a 3.5 billion-year-old mountain range,” noted EBC Executive Director Bob Barnett. “These mountains were once as high as the Rocky Mountains but they have been worn down by ice, snow and water, but they still stretch from Killarney to past Blind River. What really surprised me is that the mountains are volcanic in origin. If you look at them from above you see a bunch of circles in a line stretching along the range.”
The stone that makes up those mountains is silica, a white mineral used in the nickel refining process as a flux and the nearby Lawson Quarry has supplied INCO (and now Vale) with the material used in the refining process. The company has generously agreed to sell Willisville Mountain to the EBC for a very reasonable price, but it will take a concerted effort to put together the needed $180,000 to complete the deal. As of this writing, some $54,521 has been raised.
“We are hoping people will send in cheques or make a contribution at the CanadaHelps.org Willisville Mountain La Cloche Project site,” said Mr. Barnett. “We are well on our way, but there is still a bit of a mountain to climb yet.”
In fact, Mr. Barnett is hoping that people will make the effort to travel out to the trailhead in Willisville and follow the trail up the mountain to see for themselves why the site is so important. “It’s a spectacular view that everyone should see so they understand why we want to preserve the mountain,” he said.
The EBC hopes to improve the parking and trail at Willisville to rival that of the iconic Cup and Saucer (Michigiwadinong) trail on Manitoulin.
“Right now there is only parking for about five cars,” said Mr. Barnett.
It isn’t just all about the view, spectacular as the vista from the mountainside may be, however. “The mountain is habitat for about 12 important species, including several raptors like the bald eagle, for instance,” said Mr. Barnett. “There are also several different snakes, but no rattlers,” he laughed.
Nestled below the mountain are Frood and Charlton Lakes (although they are really just one lake, notes Mr. Barnett).
As for the view, “(Group of Seven member) Franklin Carmichael decided to build a cottage up there and a number of the members of the Group of Seven would come to visit,” said Mr. Barnett. “There are several examples (of Willisville Mountain) in their work.”
Recent documentation of the mountain can be found gracing the Sudbury Museum in the form of the work of Willisville photographer Jon Butler.
Mr. Barnett noted that Manitoulin champions of the project, Roy Jeffrey and Linda Willson, have been doing a lot of work on the project.
In 2009 another Willisville Mountain project was initiated by Jon and Kerry Butler, Sophie Edwards and Christi Belcourt after it came to light when hikers and Willisville residents noticed indications that surveying was taking place that mining giant Vale owned the mining rights to the Willisville Mountain and they intended to eventually quarry the mountain. In an effort to save the mountain, the four put a public call out for art submissions to bring attention to the issue. In the end 45 artists were selected for the exhibit which toured to five locations (Whitefish Falls, Sheguiandah, Sudbury, Temiskaming and Kirkland Lake) between 2009 and 2010.
The artists exhibiting were Lise Aubin-Arseneau, Brian Atyeo, Christi Belcourt, Beth Bouffard, Kathy Browning, Jon Butler, Jill Campbell, Merle Canjar, Rose Marie Condon, Mark Connors, Vera Constantineau, Tony Cooper, Carol Currie, Micheal Cywink, Emily J. De Angelis, Laura Starbuck Dildine, Karen Dominick, Nick Dubecki, Richard Edwards, Sophie Anne Edwards, Martin Foley, Cesar Forero, David French, Paul Gauthier, Lucie Idlout, Linda Kauppi, John Knox, Laura Landers, Margo Little,Mary-Lou MacDonald, Alfredo Marin-Carle, Irvin Elwood Marshall, Lance Migwans, Wayne Peltier, Taimi Poldmaa, David Read, Pierre A. Sabourin, Marlies Schoenefeld, Sylvia Simpson, Ian Tamblyn, Glenna Treasure, Christopher Varady-Szabo, Gaspé (PQ), Sarah Warburton, Ivan Wheale and Linda Williamson.
In addition, a concert series was held eliciting the assistance of JUNO Award winning folk roots musician Ian Tamblyn, a longtime personal friend of Mr. Butler.
As a result of these efforts, Vale responded favourably to a petition presented by the Village of Willisville and the La Cloche Mountains Preservation Society. Vale and went on to remove Willisville Mountain and the areas north named B, C and D, from their aggregate licence #20568.
But the job is not yet complete. Donations to the Willisville Mountain La Cloche Project can be sent to 503 Davenport Road, Toronto, M4V 1B8 or online at canadahelps.org and searching Willisville Mountain La Cloche Project.