Trail length: 3.2 km (2 mi)
Trail vertical rise: 351 m (1,152 ft)
PHOTOS: Fire on the mountain
Maple Mountain's dramatic rise above rolling jack pine and spruce forests is a bewitching lure from 25 kilometres away. Add to that its easy access from Lady Evelyn Lake and you have one of the most visited backcountry destinations in Temagami.
A hiking trail leads to the abandoned fire tower on the summit where the tundra-like meadow gives it an alpine feel. The breathtaking view can trick you into thinking you are anywhere but in Temagami.
In 1972 the Ontario government, fresh on the heels of opening its slick Ontario Place tourist-attraction in Toronto, proposed an Ontario Place North, a northern Aspen that would accommodate 6,000 visitors. It gripped the public imagination. Local boosters tripped over each other to promote and lobby for its placement on Maple Mountain, the "second highest elevation in Ontario" — which it was erroneously thought to be.
Not everyone was delirious over the idea of paving paradise. Responding to the escalating momentum, the Temagami Lakes Association cast the first opposing stone in July, 1973. The Lake Temagami youth camps seeded the formation of the Save Maple Mountain Committee a month later. The group with Hugh Stewart at the helm took over leadership of Temagami's first major environmental battle.
Elevation has always played a power role in human cultures. A large portion of the castles and churches in feudal Europe sat on hilltops. They exuded a power that diminished all who fell under their shadow. In the aboriginal world one of the highest elevations in northeastern Ontario was its great cathedral.
Long before recreationists, bureaucrats and business interests were turned on by the mountain, the Temagami First People reined over it.
They called the mountain Chee-bay-jing, the place where the spirits go. It was a sacred site, the most powerful in their realm. The great shaman Wendaban lived nearby in the late 1800s and practiced on its slopes, presumably because it was the source of his famed power. Aboriginals came from great distances for his cures and guidance.
The first known non-aboriginal to scale it was Dr. Robert Bell of the Canadian Geological Survey in 1888. Wendaban led him up his shamanic trail — parts became today's hiking trail — to a ceremonial site. There are a number of spotted maple stands along the way and Bell dubbed it Maple Mountain.
Chee-bay-jing could be variously translated as ghost, spirit or corpse mountain. The traditional belief has life ending here as this is where the spirits go after death.
It is not surprising that the construction of the fire tower in the late 1920s upset the Nishnabai. But the proposal for a grand destination resort with hotels, golf courses, condominiums, and ski lifts shook them out of their slumber.
Gary Potts, then a rookie chief of the Temagami First Nation, was already angry. His people had never signed a treaty yet Canada had taken their lands. Now it was going to desecrate their most sacred site.
In February 1973, he hired lawyer Bruce Clark and in August the First Nation filed a land caution on 110 townships* — almost twice the size of Prince Edward Island — covering their ancestral lands. This had the affect of blocking sales of Crown land and registration of mining claims. In effect, it prohibited the private development on Maple Mountain that was essential to its viability.
At first, the government ignored the caution thinking it was an irritation that would be brushed away by its lawyers. But several hearings in the titles court proved otherwise. As well the project's costs kept rising.
In 1974, the government continued to insist that it would be located on Maple Mountain, even after it had turned into a black eye for Premier Davis' government. But it quietly died on the drawing board by 1975, though no official annoucement was made.
Stirred by this close call — yet uncertain it wouldn't rise again in the future** — and alarmed by the progression of clear-cutting into the area, the Committee became the Alliance for the Lady Evelyn Wilderness in 1977 and launched a campaign for a wilderness park.
In 1983, a jewel was added to Ontario's park system with the creation of Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Wilderness Park.
*Cautions lifted in 1996 after Temagami First Nation took their land dispute all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled they had no interest in the land.
** In 1989, local boosters tried unsuccessfully to revive the Maple Mountain project.
Hikers near the trail's summit carrying gear for an overnight. The ladder (probably from an early tower structure) scales the cliffs near the end of the trail. From the top the summit the sun can be seen sinking on the west horizon at dusk and rising on the east at dawn. However, lightning is a real threat and camping should not be considered with anything less than perfect weather.
CLEARCUTS: Though the creation of the park prevents logging on the mountain, it is happening outside the park. Will clear-cuts to the east, creeping closer, soon be visible from the top?
FROM THE KEEWAYDIN WAY
One of the earliest photos from the peak shows a group from Keewaydin Camp in 1911. An older photo predates 1907.
Maps and information herein are not intended for navigational use, and are not represented to be correct in every respect.
All pages intended for reference use only, and all pages are subject to change with new information and without notice.
The author/publisher accepts no responsibility or liability for use of the information on these pages.
Wilderness travel and canoeing possess inherent risk.
It is the sole responsibility of the paddler and outdoor traveler to determine whether he/she is qualified for these activities.
Copyright © 2000-2014 Brian Back. All rights reserved.
We do not endorse and are not responsible for the content of any linked document on an external site.