Temagami: Past, Present & Future

March 12, 2009

The Temagami area covers about 12,000 square kilometers from Elk Lake in the north, where the Montreal River broadens on its way south, to River Valley, west of North Bay at the confluence of the Sturgeon and Temagami Rivers, and from Lake Timiskaming and the Ottawa River in the east, westward to the Sturgeon River. In the middle sits Lake Temagami. Lake Temagami was once described as looking like a flower, with Bear Island as its center. The six petals of this lake cover 20,210 hectares, and there are 1,259 islands, the largest being Temagami Island, followed by Bear Island. Estimates of the shoreline length vary from 512 to 616 kilometers. The total island shoreline is perhaps another 340 kilometers. Temagami country is a rocky upland plain with a shallow soil covering. This is a border zone between the great boreal forest system to the north and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence forest system to the south. Trees are a mix of northern evergreens and hardwoods. White and red pines tower on rocky shores and ridges while jack pine flourishes on burned-over areas. White and black spruce and balsam fir are plentiful. Northern hardwoods such as aspen and white birch may be found adjacent to southern hardwoods like yellow birch and maple on more protected sites. There are wetland communities—scrublands, marshes, floating bogs and black spruce bogs.

Moving ice shaped the surface of most of northern Ontario and Quebec. Four great glacial movements ebbed and flowed across this land, the last being about 11,000 years ago. Lake Timiskaming was formed by one deep gorge, in contrast to Lake Temagami where the great moving sheet of ice created one large lake with six long, narrow strands instead of six separate lakes. When the glaciers finally receded, a huge lake close in size to the present day Great Lakes covered much of the north. It eventually filtered away, leaving behind fertile alluvial deposits, the basis of the rich farmlands around Englehart, Earlton and New Liskeard. The lands around Temagami were wave-washed and left with only a thin accumulation of soil.

Native people have lived in this region for about 5,000 years. The first people in the region appeared in the Archaic Period, from 5000 B.C. to 400 B.C. These earliest people’s lives followed the seasons and the land. In the fall, they camped by the waterways to harvest migrating waterfowl. They moved inland in winter to trap and hunt, and in spring they returned to the water to fish. Fish were caught with bait and traps rather than nets and harpoons. As the days lengthened into summer, the families gathered berries and roots and they socialized. Dugout canoes were used for lake travel, the bow was the main hunting weapon, and native copper was a boon to their existence. This easily-worked metal provided axes, spears, and jewelry. Gradually these people spread out and traded with others to the south.

During the Middle Woodland Period, from 400 B.C. to 800 A.D., seine-net fishing ensured food stocks. Pottery provided food bowls and cooking utensils. In the Late Woodland Period, from 800 A.D. to 1600 A.D., permanent campsites were developed and gill-netting was introduced. The people began experimenting with rock painting, and ceremonies became common.

Archeologists have barely scraped the surface of the land in examining the years of aboriginal life in Temagami before the coming of Europeans. Promising excavation sites are found on terraces near sandy beaches as well as on river and lake banks, sheltered bays, points and islands. Thor Conway, an archaeologist with the Ministry of Culture and Communications, finds evidence of early habitation at almost any well-used portage. At Sand Point the diligent searcher can find remains of several temporary Indian camps. Artifacts in this area dating to the 15th century include arrowheads, pot shards and tools.

The names of the lakes and rivers underwent numerous spelling changes. Grey Owl noted in 1936 that the “the word is Ojibway Indian derived from ‘Temea’ meaning ‘deep’ and ‘Gaming’ meaning “the Lake’ in particular, not a lake in the general sense. “Temeagaming ‘meaning ‘deep-at-the-shore’ is probably the original word slurred to ‘Temagamings.’”

Europeans appeared in the area during the 17th century, but for most it was no more than a place to rest en route to somewhere else. Lake Temagami was not on the great fur -trade routes, and native people had to travel to sell their furs and fish. The area was rich in wildlife—bear, moose, timber wolf, snowshoe hare, lynx, marten, fisher, and many birds. In 1620, Champlain, who was at Lake Nipissing, referred in his journals to the people who hunt and fish to the north. Between 1650 and 1661 marauding Iroquois made several forays into Temagami, cutting off Temagami trade ventures to the south. The Hudson’s Bay Company built a fort at Moose Factory in 1673 and the French Compagnie du Nord began trading nearly six years later. Temagami natives thus began trading north from Lake Timiskaming, eventually traveling much farther north and meeting the James Bay Cree. The European trade caused the natives to rely more on imported goods and less on items of their own manufacture, especially after the Hudson’s Bay Company changes its long-standing policy and began to take trade inland. Following the merger in 1821 between the HBC and the North West Company, the new governor decided to increase competition with rivals such as the American Fur Company of Sault Ste. Marie. This company had a small post on Lake Temagami. Independent traders also set up business on the lake. In 1834, one of those independents was hired by the Hudson’s Bay Company to set up a small trading post on the south side of Temagami Island.

The Temagami Island post was only occupied intermittently for several years, as the Hudson’s Bay Company had difficulty keeping staff in such places. Young men were leaving the United Kingdom in a wave of immigration to Australia and elsewhere; for those already in Canada the new railway boom offered high wages and less isolation than life in the fur trade. James Hackland, manager of the post in 1857, wrote in his diary that “of all the places I have been exposed to since I joined the Hudson Bay service, this is the most wretched.” The Temagami Island Post did not have a trade monopoly anyway, so it never figured prominently in Company plans.

Business at this time was coming not only from trappers, but from surveyors, prospectors, and those who were exploring the land. Company buildings thus began to look more like general stores than fur-trade posts. By Confederation the present location of Temagami village was marked by a couple of cabins. The post on Temagami Island had never been conveniently situated, being at the bottom of a steep hill, so in 1876 it was moved to Bear Island. The only signs of the old post are the remains of a root cellar and a small overgrown cemetery.

The pace of development quickened in the last decade of the 19th century due to prospecting, government survey work, and the colonization movement, and in 1894 C.C. Farr, the founder of Hailbury correctly predicted Temagami’s future as a tourist area: “It is not, nor will it be, a settler’s paradise; but summer tourists will rejoice in it and be glad, for a greater land than Muskoka is there.”

By this time, a few buildings were marking the site of the village of Temagami. Until the arrival of the railway, canoe was the only way supplies and mail reached Temagami. Construction of the Temiskaming & Northern Ontario (later to become the Ontario Northland) Railway north from North Bay didn’t begin until 1902.” No private-enterprise builders could be found and so the province built the line itself. The rocky terrain offered construction challenges equal to those of the more publicized route along Lake Superior. The line reached Temagami in 1904, and by 1909 the station had occupied two different locations. With the discovery of silver at Cobalt in 1905, rail service dramatically improved. The railway laid out the town site and built the first log school in 1907. Church services were held only in summer until 1911, when an Anglican minister became the first year-round clergy.

Soon after this, the First World War dried up the tourist traffic to Temagami. It would not return until after 1918, but it returned with a vengeance—it was not uncommon to see up to 300 people on the station platform at train time. The post-war travelers were a different lot from the pre-war ones who had come mainly from the wealthy classes. Now Temagami became host to energetic young loners seeking adventure in the wild, expressing the desire to get back to life in its basic form. These were the first of the canoe trippers who always looked upon Temagami as a special place.

The 1920’s brought a road to Temagami: a crooked, hilly single-lane road from North Bay. A good trip from there took at least two hours. The 1930’s were the Depression years and there was a vast gap between those with jobs and those without. Lucille Ball, Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart were among the wealthy who visited the area. There were tourists in the summer and some work available on the railway, but for many, government road work was the only source of employment. The road from Timmins to North Bay was upgraded and the new Route 11 highway opened with two paved lanes. The new road meant a smoother trip, but not much change for Temagami in any other way.

Although the Second World War slowed post-Depression growth in the area, it does give an indication of how much Temagami had grown since the Great War. In the 1914-18 war, 33 residents had joined up and 4 did not return. In the 1939-45 conflict, 100 men served and 8 were killed in active service.

In the 1930’s the Royal Canadian Legion supported the band in its attempts to gain a land settlement, for many of the Temagamis were veterans. But not until 1943, when Canada purchased Bear Island from Ontario for $3000, did the Temagamis have a home base, and then it was less than 283 hectares. From that time forward the band has attempted to regain its heritage lands via court action.

In 1951 the Ontario Provincial Police received the first radio-equipped launch in the province to patrol Lake Temagami. In 1968 Temagami was incorporated as an Improvement District with a council appointed by the province. Ten years later the municipal representatives were elected and had responsibility for a much larger area.

From the 1960’s to the present, Temagami’s image has changed drastically. It is no longer seen as mainly a quiet tourist-oriented community, but is now a forum for widely differing political viewpoints, and includes numbers of ecology and economy -oriented organizations. The Temagami Lakes Association, formed in 1931 by cottagers on the lake, has always been concerned with the preservation of the Temagami area. In 1970 its main concerns were water quality, the preservation of the area at the expense of logging close to the lake, acid rain, and increased tourist traffic. A locally sponsored initiative, the Temagami Regional Studies Institute was set up in 1978 to determine the environmental concerns of the area. A more aggressive group, the Temagami Wilderness Society was formed in 1986, primarily to protect the Old Growth pine trees from logging. Members of the organization were not only property owners, but conservationists from across the continent with ties to other groups such as Greenpeace. By contrast, Northcare was organized to conserve the land as a viable economic entity. This interest in promoting economic growth came to prominence with the closure of the Sherman iron ore mine and the depletion of wood reserves for the Milne and other logging companies. Yet another interest came from the Native community. In 1973 the band obtained a land caution. This effectively prevented new uses on the land. A major tourist development had been proposed at Maple Mountain, a sacred area for the Temagami Indians and the caution was granted by the government because the native people had never signed treaties with either the federal or the provincial government and they claimed much of the surrounding territory. As a result, 10,360 square km. in the 110 townships were closed to development.

Although money was given to the community to develop tourist potential and new parks were announced, the provincial government found itself unable to placate any of these interest groups. An Advisory Council was formed to determine ecologically sound land use and potential for the area. But in the fall of 1989 an extension to Red Squirrel Road north of Temagami was built to access old-growth pine for further cutting, and the situation came to a head. Construction was blocked by Native people, members of the Wilderness Society, and the Lakes Association. Several NWL staff helped support the blockade on the Red Squirrel road. Different factions have developed within the native community regarding who should be included in the land settlement and what the settlement should include. Over the years much work has been done to bridge these differences and progress has been made. After more than a century of struggle, a final settlement is expected by 2004 which will give the native community approximately 129 acres of land.

In the past twenty years, many more people have become involved in the future of Temagami and new groups, each with its own unique perspective, have been formed. The Temagami Wilderness Society was created in. In 1974 the AYCLT (Association of Youth Camps on Lake Temagami) was formed with the mission of bringing the camps together in a spirit of cooperation and respect. The Temagami Alliance was created in 1998 acting as a bridge between Resource Extraction Groups and Environmental Groups. Within the township numerous interest groups exist as well. Although differing views regarding what is best for the future of Temagami require continued negotiations, progress towards a sustainable vision for the entire region is being realized.

References, Temagami by Michael Barnes.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.