I’ve spent 23 of the last 33 years, living, working and travelling in the North. I’ve visited about 40 of the 75 or so communities in the three territories – as far north as Grise Fiord, as far east as Broughton Island, as far west as Whitehorse and as far south as Sanikiluaq. I’ve been to a couple of national parks, visited mines and oil rigs in the Beaufort Sea. I’ve come in all seasons of the year and flown in all kinds of planes from single engine floats to jets, travelled by truck, car, snowmobile, boat and dogteam. But I’ve never been to Nahanni Park.
Until yesterday. Well, almost. We tried flying in and did get into the park’s airspace but rainstorms and lightning forced us to return early. But what I did see was stirring. The accompanying photo is Little Doctor Lake right outside the park boundaries. But we also flew over the Ram River and the Ram Plateau. It was magnificent.
The history of Nahanni is an interesting one. Years ago it was proposed that a massive hydroelectric project be built on the Nahanni River which includes the spectacular Virginia Falls. An environmental group persuaded then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to go there and meet with the people and see the place for himself. He sat in a circle around a camp fire and listened to what the elders had to say. Then he got in a canoe and paddled the river. When he came back he declared the area too valuable to be economically exploited. The Nahanni Park Reserve was created. Can one even imagine our current Prime Minister – who prefers to visit the North with military aircraft and pretend to shake his fist at Vladimir Putin – ever doing anything so human?
I am not a particularly avid outdoorsman. I much prefer a city boulevard to a flowing river. But I am a rational environmentalist. The wilderness has values that transcend the oil or minerals we can take out of them. They support the entire eco-system that makes our cities and towns liveable.
I’m not particularly anti-development either. Canada’s wealth – our wealth – mostly comes from the resources that lie under the surface of the land. Development is needed but it needs to be sustainable and, sometimes, it needs to be refused. Some people cannot look at a beautiful landscape without wondering what treasures lie under the surface. It is good to wonder but not to the point where it blunts your ‘sense of wonder.’ While not every bit of land needs to be locked away forever in a national park, we do need to do a better job at preserving wild spaces and large eco-systems. Despite the claims of the government to be doing that, Canada, in fact, ranks abysmally low on protecting our vast resources of water and land. We can and should do better not be stopping development but by being more selective in where and, especially, how it is done.
Sometimes we should stop worrying about the treasure that lies beneath the ground waiting to be plundered and simply treasure what we have.
And that’s ten minutes.