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Should Manitoulin (Spirit Island) Be Canada’s Next Nature Reserve?

By Editor | September 28, 2008

Manitoulin Island, Spirit Island, Ontario, Canada

According to the legends of the Ojibway aboriginals of Canada, when the Great Spirit created the world, he put aside the most beautiful elements of creation for his home. The Great Spirit used sparkling waters, lush woodlands, blue skies and brilliant stars. Then the Great Spirit raised up an immense island in an inland sea.

Manitoulin (or “Spirit Island”) remains today a natural paradise. Resting near the northern edge of Ontario’s Lake Huron, the world’s largest freshwater island is home to 12,000 descendants of First Nations and European settlers, who generally live a harmonious existence. But a recent debate over Manitoulin’s future has pitted longtime inhabitants and business interests against newcomers and environmentalists.

Manitoulin Island, water front at dusk with tee pee tentIt started with a seemingly innocuous campaign to see the island join 12 other Canadian sites in the UNESCO world biosphere program. “We want to preserve the natural wonders of the island and create international awareness of its treasures:’ says the secretary of the Manitoulin Trail Blazers, the organization spearheading the nomination.

But farmers and quarry operators fear the regulatory arm of the Niagara Escarpment Commission, which watches over the existing biosphere reserve on the nearby Bruce Peninsula. “I can see real damage to the island’s economy:’ says Doreen Bailey, a farmer and retired teacher. “Restrictions will be a constant condition in all aspects of our life.” By 2004, five island municipalities had passed resolutions condemning the proposal.

Such grassroots resistance threatens to scupper the proposal before it gathers steam, as happened on the Upper Bay of Fundy. But boosters remain optimistic that long-term education will prevail over short-term skepticism. “We’ll be doing a lot of research to see if the concept can work,” says secretary of the Manitoulin Trail Blazers. “Even if nothing happens right away, we all gain a greater awareness of the beauty of Manitoulin.”

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