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January 20, 2006

Another Look at the La Vase Portages

The Alexander Mackenzie Voyageur Route is a connected route from Quebec City 8500km to the Alexander Mackenzie Provincial Park in British Columbia.  It passes through four major drainage basins and touches more than 140 communities.  There are five heritage rivers on the route that have a special designation that preserves their natural and human heritage and recreational potential.  For details log on to www.amvr.org 

The Thorncliffe CPR Station at the La Vase Portages c.1900

The Canadian Heritage River System focuses on commemoration and does not include legislative or regulatory oversight.  This means that local agencies and organizations have to provide leadership in their maintenance and development.

The Nipissing section of the Voyageur Route started with approval of the French River followed by a section of the Mattawa River from Samuel de Champlain Park west to Trout Lake.  In June 2002 I wrote about the addition of the section of the Mattawa River east of Samuel de Champlain and the La Vase corridor over the height of land between the two great watersheds that sends the Mattawa and French River waters in different directions.

The designation of the La Vase portages provides recognition of the route with its different portages as a gem in North Bays recreational and historical crown.  Native people for centuries and explorers, voyageurs, and clergy relied on the route.  Alexander Mackenzie came this way in 1802 on his trip to the west.  Champlain went through 390 years ago.  The native people with their birch bark canoes used a more shallow water route through Parks Creek most of the time.  The Voyageurs with their larger canoes needed the deep water of the La Vase and tolerated the portages.  They sometimes used carts to carry their canoes and often widened the trails and dammed the water to make the system work. 

In the settlement era the pioneer Alexander Dreany family with its six sons settled at the edge of the La Vase near the Thorncliffe Station where the CPR crosses the river.  They went on to make a major contribution in North Bays early history and they have a lake named after them.

The North Bay Chamber of Commerce tried without luck on a couple of occasions to get recognition and development of the La Vase.  About 40 years ago an accidental archeological find led to a lot of activity and mapping and to a Project in 1996 which highlighted the corridor.  For a detailed look at the corridor log on to www.interlog.com/~erhard/LVP_upper.htm

In 1997 the North Bay Mattawa Conservation Authority developed a La Vase Watershed Management Plan looking at water use, flooding, history, tourism, etc.  A La Vase Restore the Link Group was formed and was coordinated by the Conservation Authority and was given the task of getting some of the land into public hands.  A 96 acre conservation area was established at highway 17 where people could park and access the river.  In July 2002 the La Vase Route was designated as part of the Canadian Heritage River System and an implementation plan was established. 

Over the years some industrial encroachment including aggregate extraction has caused concern.  A recent bid to rezone 100 acres of Crown Land in the corridor for aggregate extraction seemed to be sailing through council until alert citizens reacted to the potential depletion and scaring of the area.  (see Lot 30 Con 16 on the bottom left of the map).  A meeting was held on November 23, 2005 that was attended by some 80 people including a couple of councilors and planning office staff and some former Restore the Link people. 

The meeting brought out serious concerns about the proposal and research prior to the meeting was presented making the case that the pit is not compatible.  A Friends of the La Vase Portages Committee was formed to reactivate the lagging development, clearing of the route and signage installations.  A committee of council will review the pit issue in March before it is brought to council again.  Many will be watching. 

The establishing of the Friends of the La Vase Portages is an exciting result of the current issue and from a heritage perspective deserves full support.  The committee has already been meeting and making plans for several fundraising events, hikes, clearing and a La Vase Portages Heritage Day in July.  For further information call Chris Mayne at 494-8358 Mayne@onlink.net 

Watch for future development on the pit and the work of the committee developing the Portages.


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