A Crusader's Tale

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Hap, John Kilbridge and Steve Kilbridge painted a two-storey-high copy of this decal on the side of John's house, facing MNR offices. Hap created the canoe decal for the Alliance for the Lady Evelyn Wilderness.




The book did have its downside. A lot of Temagami guides and trippers were pretty upset with Hap for opening up their private backcountry to outsiders. The area had managed to stay relatively quiet. Publication changed all this. It instantly became the area's canoeing bible and opened up trails that had been known by word of mouth. The reaction of the local guides angered Hap. It wasn't their selfishness, but their blinkered vision to the assault on the area that left him bitter for years. 

After publication, Hap got hired to head up the Ministry's canoe-routes-maintenance program, after all someone had to clear the trails for all the new people coming in. Under Hap it became the largest program outside of a park in Ontario. 

Working at the Ministry turned out to be a valuable education. "There was a lot of internal fighting for your own program," Reg recounted. "Hap was really devoted to the area and fought for it." Hap would learn a great deal about Ministry operations and make contacts he used in the 1980s during the logging battles.

It was at this time that Ontario government plans for the Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Wilderness Park were scaled back and then, began to stall. He became active in the pro-park Alliance for the Lady Evelyn Wilderness and became an important source of MNR information.

One Sunday night in 1981 he, John and Steve Kilbridge (John's brother) went on a drunken binge. Talk turned to their frustration with the government.  "Hap came up with another of his clever little ideas," John recalled. Out came the white and green paint and ladders. By morning Hap had finished a freehand, two-storey-high copy of the 'Park It' canoe decal on the side of the Kilbridges' house. They lived next door to the MNR offices.

On Monday morning when the MNR staff came to work they had to drive past the sign to enter the parking lot. "We sat and watched the rubbernecking," John remembered, "their jaws were bouncing off the dashboards." Until 1984, when the house was demolished, the protest sign greeted everyone entering the Ministry. 

Hap was not fazed by the fact that he was an MNR employee and was placing himself in the spotlight. It raised his reputation for being outspoken while attracting scorn from the mostly pro-logging staff. Born in 1951, he is core baby boomer. But baby boomers normally only take on fights they think they can win. Hap has no such a rule for himself. "He just won't hesitate to get in someone's face for the environment," John said, "not at all."

Hap's cabin at Cabin Falls, Lady Evelyn River where the family would spend the winter of 2001. The original 1933 cabin is in the right background.

MAP:  Cabin Falls

Photo: Hap Wilson

"In a previous lifetime he was a native man."

Alex Mathias, the only Teme-Augama Anishnabai living on the land.









    Trail builder

In 1983 the park was created, though it was roughly a quarter of the government's first plan. It was a bittersweet victory. The heyday of the Ontario government serving canoeists was over and Hap left in 1983. "He saw the cutbacks coming and he realized he could do better for the area outside of the Ministry," Reg said.

In 1984, Hap and his first wife Trudy opened Smoothwater Outfitters in Temagami village on a rise behind the float-plane base. This was a trailblazing business for the area as there were no canoe outfitters of any significance. Hap succeeded in giving the local canoe industry its first economic visibility. This carried a lot of weight in a local resource-based economy that breathed the mantra "It's the economy, stupid." He was practicing what he had always been saying: there was a local job benefit to protecting the area for canoeing.  It gave him local stature.  

In the spring of 1985, the Ministry announced public meetings into construction of the Red Squirrel Road extension that would open up the heart of Temagami to logging. The announcement shocked everyone. This soon gave way to anger when it was revealed that the right of way had already been cut in November 1984 and was done without public notice or public comment. The district manager had secretly contracted for the clearing without even informing his own staff. Hap was front and center expressing the alarm of the tourist industry and becoming its point man. 

He tried to enlist the support of the canoeing community. He had bumped straight into the ostrich syndrome - heads stuck in the sand. Their reaction stunned him. Canoeists were the last to take an stand against wilderness destruction. It took over a decade before he perceived an attitude change.

Not surprisingly, Hap became a target of the timber industry. There were whispered threats of arson, hunting accidents and assaults with  baseball bats. And there was a scuffle in the town hall when Hap appeared for a public meeting. Hap not only did not waver in the face of all this, but he increased his public profile by becoming a board member of the Temagami Wilderness Society (TWS), which was leading the defense of Temagami. "He lived in Temagami and there was no way for him to avoid the hostility," recalls Terry Graves, then chair of the TWS. "His grit and courage were inspiring."

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