This article is excerpted from a longer piece originally published in a
Quetico Foundation newsletter celebrating the 40th anniversary of the
On April 1, 1909, the Ontario government set aside 1,148,000 acres of
northwestern Ontario as the Quetico Forest and Game Reserve. Such a bold
move was partly the result of the work of Arthur Hawkes, journalist and
one-time publicity man for the Canadian Northern Railway. Mr. Hawkes was
concerned with reports of poaching and abusive hunting practices along the
Minnesota-Ontario border west of Lake Superior. The North American Fish
and Game Protection Association authorized Hawkes and W.A. Preston, Member
of the Ontario Legislature for Rainy River, to act as a committee and
approach the interested governments and urge them to take action.
In 1909 that led to the game reserve. The same year, Minnesota set aside
1,400,000 acres of adjacent wilderness in what became the Superior National
Forest, ultimately part of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Quetico
Provincial Park was formally established in 1913 by Order-in-Council which in part
"to be preserved and set apart as a public park and forest reserve,
fish and game preserve, health resort and fishing ground; for the benefit,
advantage and enjoyment of the people of Ontario, and for the protection of
the fish, birds, game and fur-bearing animals therein."
In Minnesota, following the First World War, the Quetico-Superior Committee
was formed. Its mandate was to fight both to preserve and increase the
areas of roadless wilderness in northern Minnesota. In 1920, a Canadian
Advisory Committee was established which was affiliated with the
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s many prominent Canadians were associated
with the Committee. In 1935 that group included Sir John Aird, Sir
Frederick Banting, Stephen Leacock, Vincent Massey and J.B. Tyrrell. American leaders in the group included author and naturalist Sigurd Olson
and Ernest Oberholtzer. In particular, Chicago lawyers, Charles Kelly and
Frank Hubachek were strong movers in the later years of the
With population growth throughout the region and particularly south of the
border came pressure to develop the Quetico-Superior region. In the 1920s,
there were a number of plans for harnessing the water power of the region
with a series of dams. This scheme was finally rejected in 1934 by an
International Joint Commission who stated in their findings: "The boundary
waters referred to in the Reference and the territory tributary thereto are
of matchless scenic value from the recreational and tourist viewpoints.
The Commission fully sympathized with the objects and desires of others who
take the position that nothing should mar the beauty of this last great
Both jurisdictions took steps to maintain the wilderness
characteristics of their boundary parks. In 1945, Ontario's Department of
Lands and Forests refused to grant leases for private development within
the Park. In 1948, President Truman issued an Executive Order that banned
flying over the American side of the Boundary Waters. This Order was
challenged in a case that eventually reached the Supreme Court, where it
was upheld. In 1954, a similar ban was imposed in Canada.
Harold Walker, who was to become The Quetico Foundation's first Chairman,
became active in the Canadian Quetico movement in 1936. In 1949, a
separate Canadian Quetico-Superior Committee was founded under the
Chairmanship of the Rt. Hon. Vincent Massey and the Vice-Chairmanship of
Mr. Walker. Inaugural members included E.P. Taylor, General H.D.G. Crerar,
R. A. Laidlaw and Maj. Clifford Sifton.
In this new post-war era, attitudes were quickly changing about wilderness
preservation. The cause was becoming a popular one as more and more people
began to use their increased leisure time for outdoor recreation. The year
1954 was a significant one in many respects. In that year, the Ontario
government announced that Quetico Park was now preserved for perpetuity.
Included in the announcement were new Park boundaries, increased staff and greater restrictions of logging which was still going on inside the Park.
American conservationists were very active, buying up resorts, cottages and
camps within the boundaries of the Superior National Forest in order to
return the land to wilderness.
It was also in 1954 that Ontario Premier Leslie Frost opened the Atikokan
Highway from the Trans-Canada which was later extended to Fort Frances.
This greatly increased the public's access to Quetico Park.
In that same summer, a prestigious canoe group travelled through Quetico as
part of a trip from Grand Portage to Fort Frances retracing the fur
traders' highway. In fact, this group was to become known as "The
Voyageurs" and consisted of many prominent men, several of whom would serve
on the about-to-be-formed Quetico Foundation. They would go on to travel
historical routes throughout northern Canada.
The Voyageurs were guided by veteran Quetico-Superior member, writer and
outdoorsman Sigurd Olson who was called "The Bourgeois" in honour of a
brigade leader in fur trade times. Included on this and other trips were
scientist Dr. Omond Solandt (later Chancellor of University of Toronto),
journalist Blair Fraser, the Netherlands Ambassador to Canada, Tony Lovink,
and Dennis Coolican, future head of the Canadian Geographic Society. All
of these men would become associated with The Quetico Foundation. Also on
the 1954 trip were noted canoe historian Eric Morse, who founded The
Voyageurs in 1951, and Maj. Gen. Elliott Rodger.
Just a short time after the modern Voyageurs finished their trip, The
Quetico Foundation was formed under provincial charter - on October 5th,
1954. The Foundation was established out of a concern for the welfare of Quetico
and its mandate including raising public awareness about this natural
treasure. In 1956, the province requested the Foundation amend its charter
to extend its activities to all wilderness parks and areas in the province.
This was done and Letters Patent were received in 1958.
The Foundation's original Chairman Toronto lawyer Harold Walker mused about
the early days in an unpublished letter to a fellow Trustee in 1967,
shortly before his death:
"We tried to put together a group that would be sufficiently public
spirited to agree that the wilderness should be saved and that the effort
was worthwhile in spite of the opposition that would come from mining and
lumber interests. We tried to select men of standing so that our group
would be listened to when ready to speak and we had to collect a small
amount of money so that it could not be truly said that our whole effort
was being financed and directed by U.S. interests."
In the late 1960s, the Foundation, under the Chairmanship of John B. Ridley,
found itself in the middle of a fight to stop logging in Quetico. This was
the first wave of the environmental movement and a pitched battle was
fought for the ancient forests of Quetico Park. In the final outcome,
public sentiment and the emergence of powerful environmental groups
convinced the government eventually to impose a logging ban on all of
Throughout the late '70s and early '80s The Quetico Foundation faced few
contentious issues. The 1990s has seen increased activity for The Quetico
Foundation as witnessed by the rebirth of the newsletter, the founding of
the Summer Student Research Program and the John B. Ridley Research Library. The Foundation was an active participant in the Lands for Life
process in which the government decided on the allocation and future uses
of Crown lands. (This process continues with the implementation of the
commitments made in that process - see Crown Lands Planning in Ontario page of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources' website.)