The Country Connection The Pinecone Forest Country Roads Maps Country Cabin Books
The Country Connection Magazine Story

AddThis Feed Button
AddThis Share Button

We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Magazine Fund for the creation of this website.

Berry pickers in Alqonquin Provincial Park.Algonquin Park: Ontario’s wilderness legacy

by Wayne Bridge

Photo: Berry pickers near the Highland Inn. Photo by Johanna Martin. Algonquin Park Archives 2395

Prior to the 1830s, the area that was to become Algonquin Park was primarily the hunting, fishing, and trapping grounds of various bands of Algonquin native people. Because of its harsh climate, jagged topography, and accessibility only by birch bark canoe, they didn’t actually live in the area. For them it was a larder and source of income from the commercial sale of furs trapped in the district.

After the War of 1812, however, the governing bodies of Lower and Upper Canada felt it wise to establish a water route—strategically located further removed from the American border—from the upper Great Lakes to Lower Canada. During the 1820s and ‘30s several Royal Engineer survey expeditions traversed parts of what is now Algonquin Park. Lieutenant Henry Briscoe, in 1826, is thought to be the first white person to enter the future border of the Park when he completely explored a west-east river route from the Oxtongue River to the Petawawa and on to the Ottawa River. As any modern-day canoe tripper will affirm, his route was not a possible communication or commercial alternative to the lower Great lakes—too many portages!

Aside from political strategy, there were two other groups, in addition to the ever-present fur trappers, interested in the Algonquin highlands: settlers and loggers. The timbermen got there first. Mostly due to the Napoleonic Wars, Britain’s demand for North American square timber was insatiable. Logging reached the Algonquin area by the 1830s and has continued to this day. When the pine were gone and the square timber trade died (by mid-century), the sawlog business took over. A construction boom was underway in the United States and later in the new province of Ontario. Algonquin wood was in great demand.

The 1880s brought a man with vision—Alexander Kirkwood, Chief Clerk of the Land Sales Division of the Ontario Department of Crown Lands. He saw the ominous portent of conflicting demands for the Algonquin Highlands area. There was a possibility of the Opeongo Colonization Road cutting a swath from Renfrew to Georgian Bay, thus clearing the way for settlement; the railroad had reached Huntsville by 1885, and plans were in place for a line stretching from Whitney to Parry Sound; trappers and hunters were decimating the wildlife; and loggers continued to drop trees at a rapid rate.

Kirkwood feared the Algonquin district would suffer the same fate as the landscape of southern Ontario—forests fragmented, rivers dammed and polluted, and wildlife extirpated. In 1886 he wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Crown Lands outlining his fears and offering his remedial suggestions. With the support of Crown Surveyor, James Dickson, a Royal Commission was struck with the happy ending being the passing of the Algonquin Park Act (May 27,1893), creating Ontario’s beloved park as a wildlife and forest preserve (although logging was allowed to continue); a health refuge; and field laboratory for scientific study.

The appointed Park Superintendent, Peter Thomson, set up the new park’s headquarters close to the west boundary at Canoe Lake. The Gilmour Lumber Company had that same year established a centre—Mowat, named after then- Premier of Ontario, Oliver Mowat—for its logging operations.

But logging was not the first item of concern for the fledgling park’s administrators—poaching was. Trappers had been setting lines in these areas for decades before the establishment of a reserve. Although park rangers were hired from the beginning, poaching for game and furs continued to be a major problem until the introduction of airplane surveillance in the winter of 1932.

The year 1897 was a pivotal time for Algonquin National Park (so named until 1913, although it has always been under provincial jurisdiction). It marked the official opening of Ottawa lumber tycoon J.R. Booth’s Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound Railroad that crossed the southern portion of the Park from Whitney to Kearney, establishing Algonquin’s umbilical cord to civilization.

With the trains came tourists, and following soon after were hotels, lodges, cottages and camps. The progression of advancements continues today, but also wise curtailments—the removal of hotels, some lodges and camps, and the terminating of leases by 2017. The following is a chronological list of some of these developments:

  • 1897 Park Headquarters moved down the rail line to Cache Lake
  • 1911 First telephone lines strung along railway telegraph poles
  • 1915 Canadian Northern Railway completed through the north of the park
  • 1933 Construction of Highway 60 through the Park begun
  • 1935 First automobiles entering the Park on Highway 60 (still only dirt and gravel)
  • 1938 Lake of Two Rivers Campground opened
  • 1939 Airplane hanger built at Smoke Lake
  • 1940 Highway 60 opened in winter for first time and used by the first lumbering trucks
  • 1948 Highway 60 paved
  • 1953 Bell Telephone line through the Park along Highway 60
  • 1954 The Park’s interpretive program started
  • 1959 Headquarters moved to the east gate and trains came to Cache Lake for the last time
  • 1963 First Public Wolf Howl
  • 1974 Algonquin Park Master Plan published and Algonquin Forestry Authority established
  • 1983 The Friends of Algonquin Park formed
  • 1993 Centennial and opening of the Visitor Centre
  • 1996 The last train entered the Park on the northern CNR Line
  • 1997 The Friends of Algonquin Park launch

This is a mere outline, but the important point is while Algonquin Park has progressed with the times and technology, it has remained—and in some ways reverted to—a semi-wilderness experience for explorers of its interior. In fact, it has more than doubled in size since the original 3,755 square kilometres in 1893. Campgrounds and easily-accessed lakes lack some of the wildness that Alexander Kirkwood sought to save but the experience is not greatly diminished. Algonquin retains a charm—a mystique—that has drawn people throughout the ages.

This is an original story, first published in The Country Connection Magazine, Issue 47, Autumn 2004. Copyright Wayne Bridge.



Reach us at Pinecone or write Pinecone Publishing, 691 Pinecrest Road, Boulter ON K0L 1G0, Canada • Phone: 613-332-3651
Copyright 201
5 Pinecone Publishing, all rights reserved. Web construction by Zylstra Design