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Farming the Canadian Shield?
In the late nineteenth century, most Canadians were farmers and there was an expectation that practically all land would ultimately become farmland. This conversion happened quickly in much of southern Ontario, but stalled on the fringe of the Canadian Shield. Ontario was not dissuaded, and created Colonization Roads to open up the region for agriculture. It laid out townships well into northern Ontario, far beyond what had any hope of becoming family farms.
James Dickson of Fenelon Falls was one of the surveyors hired to lay out the Nipissing District. He also served as the village’s reeve and was an articulate gentleman, who also happened to be really interested in outdoor recreation. While he was slogging his way through the bush, trying to lay out straight lines through the forests of Algonquin Park, it was immediately evident to him that the region could never support farm families, but was a place he would love to go hunting and fishing.
Camping in the Muskoka Region
Dickson wrote a book, Camping in the Muskoka Region, that explained how wonderful the region was for outdoor recreation. Other advocates pushed the Ontario government to set aside land for conservation. When the Royal Commission on Game and Fish found that Ontario’s fish and wildlife were in imminent peril, Ontario scrambled to create a provincial game park. Perceiving that the fact that a lot of people would enjoy a park would not fly in provincial politics, the cause was buttressed by the claim that was necessary to set aside the forests at the headwaters of Ontario’s major rivers so that they could be maintained for commercial navigation.
A Provincial Park?
The idea of creating a public nature park was not entirely new, Yellowstone had opened in 1872 and Banff (being Canada’s National Park) fifteen years later. The Commissioner of Crown Lands then wrote to Dickson for his opinion, who was of course enthusiastic. Dickson was given a seat on the committee that oversaw the park’s founding.
Imagining a Park
Given the chance to help create the park, James Dickson had many ideas of how to make it succeed. He proposed a guide book, maps and marked trails. He suggested banning hunting in the park, reducing the wolf population to increase the number of deer, and stocking animals such as beavers. His ideas laid out what Algonquin Park would be when it opened in 1893.
Improving Paddling Routes
To improve the river courses for canoe navigation, the system of dams built for logging was maintained and expanded.
Algonquin National Park
When Algonquin National Park opened (being the province’s original park, it was renamed Algonquin Provincial Park in 1913, the name ‘National’ simply reflected that it was a park of national interest) it was much like what James Dickson had imagined in Camping in the Muskoka Region. Before long, Algonquin Park was well known as a destination for canoe camping.
A place to gather around the campfire with friends…
To fly fishing for trout…
To camp at Crown Lake…
White Trout Lake
To journey to White Trout Lake deep in the interior…
Or try the whitewater of the Petawawa River.
Cache Lake soon became a focal point of the park…
Site of the Superintendent’s headquarters….
Grand Trunk Railway
A destination on the Grand Trunk Railway…
Cottage on Cache Lake
Ringed by many private cottages….
And the Highland Inn. Constructed by the Grand Trunk Railway in 1908, it had a picturesque view of Cache Lake, a billiard room, dance pavilion, tennis courts and a bowling green.
Winter at Highland Inn
Winter and summer, the Highland Inn made Algonquin Park into a summer resort for visitors from across North America, serving until 1957.
Canoe Camping Adventures
With the Grand Trunk Railway marketing Algonquin Park to tourists from across North America, it soon became a far more popular tourist destination than James Dickson could have ever imagined when he was surveying the Nipissing District into farm lots a few decades earlier. Even as it has grown into an internationally-loved institution, a trip to Algonquin Park remains the canoe-camping adventure drawn from his experiences as a land surveyor. Dickson Lake and Dickson Township are both named in his honour.