One of Muskoka’s well-known environmentalists has joined the Save the Bala Falls cause. Environmental Activist/Conservationist Hap Wilson is urging area councillors to say no to Swift River’s proposal for a new hydroelectric plant at the falls. Wilson has been a consultant for cultural, adventure and eco-tourism for the past 25 years. The co-founder of Earthroots says wild spaces in Muskoka are now a premium commodity and as any commodity becomes scarce – they also become more valuable….
Wilson says historic sites like Bala Falls should be protected. To read the Rosseau resident’s letter to councillors, see below. (Photo: www.hapwilson.com)
To Mayor & Councillors, re: Bala Falls
Please allow me to comment on Bala Falls.
I was a witness for the township during the court case and the appeal, subject to cross-examination concerning the location of the portage. I authored the book, “Wild Muskoka” in which the portage was marked along the north side of the Falls through Burgess Park. It was clarified that the portage was indicated here for those starting canoe trips down the Moon or Musquash Rivers; the original portage (said lands under dispute) remained intact on the island, still used by local canoe camps and enthusiasts. By my expertise having traveled and mapped much of Canada, knowing that portage locations of similar stature are located at the juncture of two sets of moving water, as well, presentations by historians clearly established the existence of an historic portage trail.
But this is more than just a portage issue. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources is a self-regulating licensing bureau with a history of gifting tracts of public land to industry. The province is rife with disputes between this ministry and the interests of environmental groups and First Nations. Muskoka had a reputation for attracting a world-class tourist market because of its charm, its colourful history and culture and its natural setting. Wild spaces in Muskoka now are a premium commodity; and as any commodity becomes scarce – it also becomes more valuable. Without question, any cultural or historic site should be fully protected. True, there once was a power structure built at Bala Falls until the mid 1970’s; this does not make it right then or now. Today, hopefully, politicians and bureaucrats, including corporate interests, must be accountable and transparent. Protection for cultural sites should be a decision by the people – not by corporate interests.
I have been a consultant for cultural, adventure and eco-tourism for the past twenty-five years, working with various tourism ministries, Parks Canada and private interests, First Nations and advocacy groups. In order to maintain a healthy tourism stature, it is paramount that natural, historic or cultural features be protected and not developed. This is true for Bala Falls. I have attended council meetings and listened to Swift River arguments and it is evident that company interests severely undermine both the will of the people, and the sensitivity of the natural environment. Like many such exploitive and environmentally invasive “projects” it is also evident that Swift River continually modifies its plan, is often vague and projects unrealistic tourism expectations of the final product. Nor does the province need another power facility and it has been proven that few, if any jobs will be created.
So, this being said, I would appeal to your better judgement and sense of propriety and understanding of the ramifications such a development will have on the will of the people, the adverse effect on the community regarding tourism loss, and the assured despoliation of the Falls.
There are key locations in the Canadian Shield called “places of harmonic conversion” – powerful energy sites where First Nations often gathered. Bala Falls is such a place with the power of the entire Muskoka watershed flowing through here to Georgian Bay. To allow the construction of a power house over culturally significant land will be a travesty this council will have to live with, not to mention the distrust of its tax payers for years to come.
The answer is simple. Say no to Swift River.