This page will be continually updated as we move through our history from 1965 to present day
Wildlands League is celebrating its 50th birthday. To commemorate this important milestone, the Wildlands team is travelling back in time to present our wilderness history to you! We travelled to Peterborough and London for books, historical records and media clippings on our organization. We interviewed historians, the families of the original founders and past leaders. Join us for the next 50 days as we trace our roots from the 1960s and work our way right up to the present. #50WildYears #GoWildON. Photo Courtesy of Bruce Litteljohn.
Internationally recognized University of Toronto Zoology Professor Douglas Pimlott, who spearheaded wolf research for the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests, became increasingly concerned about the lack of planning and protection of parks in Ontario, and in particular Algonquin Provincial Park. In 1965, he issued a clarion call to preserve wilderness as natural areas in Ontario. He called it “Preservation of Natural Areas in Ontario” and it was published in The Ontario Naturalist. This triggered a “preservationist upsurge” which led to multiple discussions in the next three years on the creation of an environmental group that would reignite the conversation on preserving parks in Ontario. That environmental group would be Algonquin Wildlands League. Thanks to Ontario Nature for digging up this 1965 article from their then Ontario Naturalist magazine. (Sources: Killan G. and Warecki G. 1989. The Algonquin Wildlands League and the Emergence of Environmental Politics in Ontario, 1965 – 1974. Vol. 16. No. 4. p. 1-27).
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On March 13th, 1968, Abbot Conway, a businessman from Huntsville one of the future founders of the League, presents to the Standing Committee of the Ontario Legislature on Natural Resources and Tourism on his submission concerning the zoning of Algonquin Park. He argues that primitive zones in parks serve “to set aside representative areas of natural landscapes of scientific quality for posterity and to provide an opportunity to enrich and expand the outdoor knowledge and recreational experience of park visitors in natural wild conditions, and to provide an outdoor laboratory for non-destructive scientific study”. (Sources: Warecki,G 1989, Protecting Ontario’s Wilderness: A history of changing ideas and preservation politics, 1927 – 1973. The Canadian Historical Review,University of Toronto Press. Vol. 8. p. 159; Conway, 1968, p. 4)
On June 1st, 1968, Algonquin Wildlands League holds its inaugural meeting as an official non-profit environmental group, consisting of 11 members. Environmental historian George Warecki, wrote in 1989, “Naturalists, scientists, recreationists, and environmentalists joined forces to publicize the need for preservation. The awakening spawns a new pressure group – the Algonquin Wildlands League”. The League champions a “wilderness free of interference with ecological processes especially resource extraction and recreational overuse”. With the emergence of the Wildlands League, there is a shift from ‘quiet diplomacy” to ‘mass media techniques’ with the latter being the foundation of “Ontario’s modern wilderness preservation movement”. (Sources: Wildlands News, 1980 Vol 22, No. 1; Warecki,G 1989, Protecting Ontario’s Wilderness: A history of changing ideas and preservation politics, 1927 – 1973. The Canadian Historical Review,University of Toronto Press. Vol. 8. p. 6).
One of the League’s first order of business is to launch a campaign to remove commercial logging from Algonquin Park. Abbott Conway, president of the League, also issues “the Algonquin Alert” and invites the public to report any activity which violates the public’s wilderness values. Wildlands League keeps Algonquin Park in the news spotlight for two months. Historians writes about this time period, “Never before in Canada had wilderness issues received such media coverage”. This marks the end of the era characterized by some as “quiet diplomacy” on park protection, and the beginning of “mass media techniques” and a “broad-based preservation movement”. (Killan G. and Warecki G. 1989. “The Algonquin Wildlands League and the Emergence of Environmental Politics in Ontario, 1965 – 1974”. Vol. 16. No. 4. p. 1-27; Warecki, G. 2017. Environmental Coalitions and The Limits of Science: Wilderness Advocacy in Ontario during the 1970s. Vol. 109. No. 1, p. 60 – 88).
TOO LATE – In October of 1968, just 4 months after Algonquin Wildlands League’s inaugural meeting, Wildlands reports to its members that it is too late to stop the construction of a hydro-electric transmission line through what was then the Pukaskwa Wilderness Area. Reflecting the sentiment of the time, Lands and Forest Minister René Bruelle releases a statement to ‘assure’ the league that “this line does not materially affect this wilderness area”. This transmission line lives on to fragment Pukaskwa National Park (and be an outstanding problem for the League in 2018). (Sources: Wildlands News, 1968, Vol. 1, No. 2).
By 1969, news media on Algonquin Park reaches an overwhelming magnitude. In an attempt to “put a lid” on the controversy around the industrial activities in Algonquin Park, the provincial government appoints a committee – the Algonquin Advisory Committee – to manage the situation. Algonquin Wildlands League is invited to be a member of this committee.
Meanwhile, the League launches new campaigns to eliminate logging from Killarney Provincial Park and Quetico Provincial Park, the latter spearheaded by one of the league’s founders Bruce Litteljohn. These campaigns begin in 1969 and span into the 70s. The league circulates more than 1,000 copies of information packages on Quetico Park to the public, which encouraged the formation of several “Save Quetico” groups. (Sources: Warecki, G. 1993. The People Behind the Parks: Ontario’s Wilderness Conservationists. In: Islands of Hope. Firefly Books Ltd. p. 82).
In 1970, Algonquin Wildlands League starts a new battle: the campaign to end logging in Lake Superior Provincial Park. After an investigation, the League uncovers that two logging companies had timber licenses that covered 500 of the park’s 526 square miles. This would have meant that 95% of the crown timber licenses in the park are held by just two U.S. based logging companies. (Sources: Litteljohn B. and Pimlott, D. 1974. Why Wilderness? A report on mismanagement in Lake Superior Provincial Park. Chicago, Illinois).
1971 brought success and disappointment to the League. Killarney Provincial park became classified as a “primitive park”, meaning that it would be free of logging and mechanized recreation. In the same year, logging was prohibited in Quetico Provincial Park. Ontario also signs an agreement to finally make Pukaskwa National Park. The league was disappointed that the Frost Advisory Committee released a report on Algonquin Park, which prohibited motorboats and snowmobiles in the park but allowed logging to continue. (Sources: Killan G. and Warecki G. 1989. The Algonquin Wildlands League and the Emergence of Environmental Politics in Ontario, 1965 – 1974. Vol. 16. No. 4. p. 18).
By 1972, the league publishes “Wilderness Now”, a seminal booklet which articulated the group’s wilderness philosophy and recommendations to achieve wilderness preservation. Historians Killan and Warecki describe this as “a noteworthy first attempt to define a wilderness preservation policy for Ontario, and stimulated park planners to follow suit” (Source: Killan G. and Warecki G. 1989. The Algonquin Wildlands League and the Emergence of Environmental Politics in Ontario, 1965 – 1974. Vol. 16. No. 4.).
In 1973, Quetico Provincial Park is declared a primitive Park, meaning that it would be free of logging and mechanized recreation. As historians describe it, “The battle of Quetico wilderness had been won”. This success is achieved through 263 written briefs, 4,500 letters, and 144 oral presentations received from the public by the Citizen’s Advisory Committee on the park (Warecki, 1989). Of note, Pollution Probe works with the league and runs full-page ads at the time in the Toronto Telegram. Meanwhile, the battle to end commercial logging in Algonquin Park continues as 77% of the park remains open to logging. (Source: Warecki,G 1989, Protecting Ontario’s Wilderness: A history of changing ideas and preservation politics, 1927 – 1973. The Canadian Historical Review,University of Toronto Press. Vol. 8. p. 18).
In 1974, Ontario NDP Leader Stephen Lewis speaks out about Algonquin Park: “The truth is that we don’t need to log the park; we shouldn’t be logging the park, and now is the time to begin the phasing out process”. In the same year, the first ever Algonquin Park Master Plan is completed. This plan is met with disappointment by the Algonquin Wildlands League as it allowed logging to continue in the park, while approximately 9% of the park is zoned “primitive” (meaning that it would be free of logging and mechanized recreation) and ignored the park’s unique ecological features. Photo from National Post. (Source: Statement by Stephen Lewis, Ontario NDP Leader, on Algonquin Park. Statement dated September 27, 1974).
Aside from campaigns, the Algonquin Wildlands League often led hikes and trips to nature. In 1976, Jeff Miller, one of the League’s founding members, leads a group on a 21-day trip to Algonquin Park. The group document their experience at the park. (Wildlands News Nov 1977, Vol. 9 No. 2).
Over the next five years the number of visitors to Algonquin Park doubles. To deal with the influx, new regulations are put in place by Ontario in 1977. Meanwhile, Algonquin Wildlands League is still fighting to end commercial logging in the park. (Source: original statement: New Regulations affecting users of the Algonquin Park Interior 1977).
Algonquin Wildlands League’s efforts lead to the Davis government approving the Ontario Provincial Parks Planning and Management Policies manual, or the “Blue Book”, adopted in 1978. Under this policy the government would be committed to establishing a slew of wilderness parks in Ontario. In the same year, Pukaskwa land is transferred from Ontario to Canada in the process of becoming a national park. (Killan G. 1993. Protected Places: A History of Ontario’s Provincial Parks System, Dundurn, Quebec, Canada. p. 353).
1979 saw a shift in the league’s strategy. With a less-than-satisfactory final plan for Lake Superior Provincial Park that prohibited logging to only 50% of the park, the league decides to focus its efforts instead to creating a system of primitive parks (later known as wilderness parks). The League forms the “Coalition of Wilderness” with the Canadian Nature Federation (now Nature Canada) and the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (now Ontario Nature), who send the first 5-year review brief of the Algonquin Parks Master Plan to the Ontario Provincial Parks Council. (Source: Warecki,G 1989, Protecting Ontario’s Wilderness: A history of changing ideas and preservation politics, 1927 – 1973. The Canadian Historical Review,University of Toronto Press. Vol. 8. p. 20).
1980 Algonquin Wildlands League joins The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society or CPAWS (then known as the National and Provincial Parks Association of Canada). The league and organizers of “Action Seminar on Acid Precipitation” release recommendations to the Canadian government focusing on sulfur dioxide emissions. Image from Wildlands News March 1983 Vol 15 No 2. (Source: Wildlands League and NPPAC contract).
In 1981, Ontario regional park officials produce documents which identify 245 candidate provincial parks that meet the “Blue Book” standards for each class of park. This rationale for expanding parks encourages politicians to double the provincial parks system and manage it according to the guidelines of the “Blue Book”. (Sources: Killan, G. 1993. Ontario’s Provincial Parks, 1893 – 1993: “We make progress in jumps” in Islands of Hope.)
Algonquin Wildlands League and 7 other environmental NGOs organize local action committees about the Strategic Land Use Planning constructed by the Ministry of Natural Resources. These take form in 141 open houses, and is attended by 10,000 people. (Killan G. 1993. Protected Places: A History of Ontario’s Provincial Parks System, Dundurn, Quebec, Canada. p. 353
In 1983, Algonquin Wildlands League celebrates the creation of 5 new wilderness parks: Woodland Caribou Park, Wabakimi Park, Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Park, Opasquia Park and Kasagmi Park. That same year, the league meets with Premier Bill Davis to discuss the creation of Bruce Peninsula National Park. (Image and source from Wildlands News Fall 1986 Vol 18 No 4.)