Park celebrates ‘Recognition Day’

It was a grand occasion for the staff of Assabaska-Ojibway Heritage Park last Wednesday as they celebrated “Recognition Day” to commemorate its first year of operation.
Formerly known as Lake of the Woods Provincial Park, the past year has been a transitional one, with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Big Grassy and Onegaming First Nations working hand-in-hand to change the face of it.
The two First Nations plan to run the park completely by next season.
Many showed up for the occasion last week, including reps from Ontario Parks, steering committees from Big Grassy and Onegaming, Onegaming Chief Bob Kelly, local MP Robert Nault, and the park’s staff.
Overwhelmingly, the opinion of everyone on hand seemed to be that there had been improvements in the park since the transition.
“From talking with the employees from last year, numbers are up here 29 percent over last year] and the park looks great,” said Jack Cameron, who helped train the new staff to run the park along with his son, Michael.
“It’s been real fun doing the workshops here, too,” he added.
“It’s a typical Northwestern Ontario park–clean, big, and beautiful,” agreed Nault, who toured it and also presented a plaque as a sign of support.
“The key to [the park’s] success is that the government, even if they won’t want to admit it, don’t know how to market the park,” added Nault. “A privately-run operation knows how to promote itself to the people.”
The future of the park also was something many there seemed excited about. Ron Jack, a member of Onegaming’s half of the steering committee involved in determining the direction of the park, sees big things ahead.
“Next year, we’re looking at a cultural interpretive centre,” he said. “We plan to have drumming and dancing–a show for people staying in the park.
“Also, both [First Nations] communities will have crafts on consignment at the store,” he added.
Festivities during “Recognition Day” included several speeches, a drum ceremony, including a “Trick Dance” dedicated to the new park staff, and a fish fry.
One of the park’s objectives this year was to ensure everyone who stayed there would leave with a promise to return next year, a policy that could pay off.
“Over 90 percent of the comments we received from campers this year were positive, and those kind of comments are really encouraging,” said park manager trainee David “Charlie” Kelly.
“Some people have said the park is ‘one of the best kept secrets around,’” he noted.
The biggest question hanging over this transition year was whether the park could be managed without provincial control. The answer was summed up by Big Grassy Coun. Glenn Archie.
“The MNR gave us the opportunity to run the park this year, and in the beginning, they were quite scared,” he admitted. “But now, they are happy with the results, and they know we have a 10-year plan mapped out.
“The only thing left is that, hopefully, the land claim will clear itself up soon,” he added, referring to the Assabaska Shoreline Reserve issue.