Ice Chips & Canoe Quips

Heavens Gate adjacent property in La Cloche Ridge Cons Reserve. Photo by Warren Schlote.

For Heaven’s Gate!

I apologize for this week’s column as it is a departure from a traditional sports column. I can argue at length, however with anyone that the following does belong here!

As a kid who grew up on Manitoulin Island I was absolutely obsessed with the outdoors. Any chance we had to be outside was taken and the fact that we got less chores was just a bonus. My friends and brothers were known to portage our huge canoe a kilometre into downtown Mindemoya during melt-up to ride the spring torrent down to the lake by way of Hare Creek. We would ski over to Treasure Island, just to make soup and hunt rabbits with our sling-shots. We biked the 32km round trip to fish for six-inch speckled trout in Grimesthorpe Creek in Spring Bay. We would camp overnight beside the Mindemoya River so we didn’t have to bug our parents to get us there at first light on the opening of trout season. Heck, we were even known to wear Mom’s clothes to go waterskiing, just one example of an “Embarrass a Parent” session. Of course, normal fishing and hunting adventures were a given.

With my mind constantly preoccupied with dreaming, researching and planning my next adventure in the outdoors, I cannot believe I never knew about the LaCloche wilderness. I had, of course, heard of Killarney Provincial Park, but it never seemed to be accessible to me as a kid. Not knowing what I was missing of course I just immersed myself in any reasonable facsimile of the wilds wherever I could find it.

When I returned to teach here on Manitoulin I was initially introduced to the “mountains” by fellow teachers Mark Gibeault, John Wakegijig and Chris Mara by way of winter camping. Away at university, I had the chance and freedom to throw myself into the outdoors in the North Bay area and was no stranger to winter camping. Just strap on your snowshoes throw on your pack and go, right? However, I had no idea of the ruggedness, beauty and remoteness of the area. I was so amazed there was not a soul in sight, not even ATV or snowmobile tracks. The trees were like nothing I had ever seen here on Manitoulin. Towering hemlocks, white pines and beech trees (I have seen examples of all these since but not to the scale that winter, some 25 years ago).

Mark, or Mr. G as he was known lovingly by his students, taught me that you can take a bunch of adolescents into the real wilderness and not only will they survive, they will thrive and even have fun, all the while learning so, so very much. They not only learn the specific skills on how to camp with only the things you can carry on your back but they discovered what their bodies can do when called upon, they learn critical interpersonal skills and co-operation. (For example, on my trips with kids if you don’t do your share around camp, you carry the garbage: rarely repeat offenders!). Many students cook for their first times on these trips, etc. I will stop now as there are way too many examples of ‘education’ to even gloss over, here!

Many of these kids, over the 23 years of school trips, were just like I was—they loved the outdoors but rarely had an opportunity for many reasons to experience it. Other students were motivated to go for different reasons. They didn’t seek to or spend a lot of time in the bush apart from a few days at deer season perhaps. The trip was for them too, however. Even just to let them know that something like this exists and so close to home. Students on these trips and even me (all this time later) are awestruck constantly throughout the trek.

From that inaugural trip sliding down sheer snow faces, cramp-on spikes doing little to slow us down, I have gladly invested much time, effort and mental energy into this place. On top of the school trips I have also done family and personal trips on other occasions. I was even involved in a monumental project (with Al Haner and Jerry Holliday and money donated by the Mindemoya Classic triathlon) to repair and re-roof the Adirondack shelter along the trail. Suffice to say I have a deep love of this area and a strong desire to have it remain available to future students and the public.

This invaluable property that I am specifically talking about is a private parcel of land west of Highway 6 near the Willisville turnoff and extends westward covering nearly 2,000 acres (8 sq. km), with three lakes, two full mountains and part of a third (2.5 billion-year-old quartz/silica), and four kilometres of the Heaven’s Gate Trail across the ridge. It is coming up for sale and the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy (EBC) is negotiating with the family who owns the land for a greatly reduced price. Understandably it is still not cheap and the EBC still needs help and they only have until May 5 to come up with the balance.

Dr. Roy and Cathy Jeffery have made a very generous offer to match all of our offers (up to $250,000) to help save the property. In his letter written for the EBC he aptly points out that this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to save this area and can never come back if it is sold to developers. To me, the motivation to donate to this project is a matter of accessibility. A mining company would have the money to come in and take what they want out. Sure, if you have enough money to buy an island in the Bay of Islands, or put up a luxury cottage under the shadow of Mount Ararat and Arabella you can enjoy the area. For the vast majority of us, however it is imperative that we can access it with just a decent pair of running shoes.

For more information and a full description go to the EBC website. For donations visit for an instant tax receipt. Incidentally the aforementioned Mindemoya Classic triathlon will once again be donating to the cause with a $500 donation on top of our personal offerings. Please, help if you can!

A good sport is good for sports.