Council backs ‘heritage river’ tag
The Voyageurs Boundary Waterways Route has taken another step closer to becoming official after town council supported its designation, in principle, at its regular meeting Monday night.
Stephen Challis, president of the Rainy Lake Conservancy and member of an ad hoc citizens’ committee, told council the committee has been working for seven years to have the historical route from Thunder Bay to Rainy River officially designated as a “Canadian Heritage River.”
“This committee has been working for many years now to document the historical significance of the transcontinental link that passes through Fort Frances and down the Rainy River,” explained Challis.
He noted the route is thousands of years old—first used by the Paleo-Indians, who travelled it to harvest sturgeon, and later used for the fur trade.
Between 1730 and 1880, the water route through Fort Frances was as important as the transcontinental railway would become in its heyday, proving to be important not just for the region but the nation as a whole.
Challis said the purpose of the designation is to “celebrate the history of the region,” adding everyone on the committee is very passionate about this part of the country.
He added the designation will have several benefits.
“It focuses the attention on the cultural celebration and historical celebration of the route itself,” Challis explained.
“It actually is saying, ‘In the community’s opinion, this route, it’s time for it to be officially recognized. What’s the delay?
“‘It is a very important route, why isn’t it nationally recognized?’” he wondered.
Secondly, once the designation is received, it can be used as a “platform” for other things.
For example, it could be used as part of the town’s branding efforts or can be used to support other local area designations, such as Pither’s Point/Agency One land.
Thirdly, the designation would be “adding to the cultural infrastructure that you, as the town, has at your disposal,” said Challis.
“So, when you are looking to focus efforts on historical endeavours, the town can say, ‘Look, we do have this designation, recognized nationally. . . .
“I am not saying this proposal is the be all and end all of economic development,” Challis conceded.
“But it can be a small piece in the branding effort, in the cultural and historical efforts of the town and of the region, and it is a significant national designation,” he stressed.
“That’s why I think it’s worthwhile for the town to support the endeavour.
“And that’s what is really motivating the committee itself—to try to contribute something to the region that is of this level of importance and, of course, of a historical and cultural importance,” he added.
In response to questions from members of council, Challis replied the RLC is non-profit group which aims to preserve Rainy Lake and act as an Ontario Land Trust.
But he stressed the intent of the designation is not to restrict development along the Voyageurs Boundary Waterways Route, adding he can think of several CHRS rivers, including the Saint Lawrence and the Red River, which pass right through cities.
Challis also clarified that since the Voyageurs Boundary Waterways Route runs along the Canada/U.S. border, the designation is akin to “designating one lane of a highway.”