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When thinking of the many rivers flowing into the Ottawa, many would say the Pontiac region of West Quebec’s three main rivers are their favourites. The Three Sisters – the Dumoine, Noire and Coulonge – deeply inspire those who paddle their waters.
And then, the love affairs tumble forth. Some, like Trailhead’s owner Wally Schaber who was interviewed on CBC Radio last week, favour the Dumoine for its free-flowing dancing waters and Class III whitewater. Others prefer the Coulonge, with its rugged stretches of churning whitewater, ancient trees and dramatic Chutes Coulonge.
Then there are those like me, who are drawn year after year to the sinuous Noire, with its lower section of lazy bends and swathes of sandy beaches – not to mention the upper sections of surging rapids bursting through narrow, split-rock chasms.
Whichever is your preference, the Three Sisters linger on the mind, sustaining one throughout winter with the promise of spring’s surging meltwaters… and summer’s lazy paddling.
In fact, for those of us who love playing on rivers, what could be more quintessentially Canadian than paddling these ancient highways? For that’s what they are: they were the first highways for ancient peoples, explorers and then settlers, being both trade and access routes into the hinterland.
It’s all too easy for recreational paddling, camping and outdoors enthusiasts to take the Three Sisters for granted. Surely their stands of 300-, 400- and even some 700-year-old trees will always be there – won’t they? Won’t the Dumoine always retain its un-dammed, untamed and free-flowing spirit? And won’t the Coulonge Chutes always exist as a tourist destination for the 12,000 plus annual visitors?
Pontiac residents have an inkling of how tenuous “forever” can be. With forestry jobs on the wane, lumber mills closed, employment evaporated. The last foresters hope to cut remaining trees – so the forests of the Three Sisters watersheds are now perhaps even more at risk.
However, a movement is afoot to protect the Three Sisters. Many of you know the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society has sought protection of the Dumoine.
Fewer people are aware that Pontiac resident Dennis Blaedow is a tireless champion of the Dumoine’s protection – who continues to work with CPAWS’ Quebec Chapter coordinator of the Dumoine campaign, Marie-Eve Marchand. He is also working hard to have the Three Sisters recognized as an invaluable natural region requiring protection.
In the Pontiac, Blaedow is well-regarded as someone who seeks little publicity but who works energetically behind the scenes to encourage protection of wild spaces – and rivers. Currently, he is president of Pontiac Tourism Association, president of the Chutes Coulonge, and Vice president of the Ottawa Valley Tourism Association (OVTA).
Says Blaedow, “The name Three Sisters conveys an important way of thinking about the Dumoine, Noire and Coulonge because it emphasizes the concept of entire watershed protection.”
He is enthusiastic about protection of the Dumoine, encouragingly reporting, “I believe we’ve been waiting for the past 6 months for Quebec City to announce this status as being approved.”
But Blaedow envisions a greater project after this protection is secured: “I’m a dreamer. I’d like to see the Three Sisters protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Biosphere.”
Blaedow can describe himself as a dreamer – but that doesn’t mean he’s sitting back idly. Instead, he’s spent the past nine years nudging local municipal politicians, MRC Pontiac and forestry representatives to extend protected buffers of forested land alongside the Three Sisters. “It (lobbying for protection) used to be a David and Goliath relationship, when forestry was so strong. It’s only in the last 5 years there’s been a chance of making headway.”
He’s cautiously optimistic these days. “In Quebec, the standard no-cut zone is only a 20 metre buffer of forest that’s left on either side of a river. Then there’s another 40 metres where only 20% can be cut. That’s not very wide, if you think about it.
“After working with several players over the years, I’m now seen what I think is a promising change. The MRC Pontiac has proposed a 500 metre buffer zone extension on either side of the Three Sisters.”
However, while flying over the Coulonge, he realized this wasn’t nearly adequate, particularly because in some stretches roads closely parallel the river. Agitatedly he thought surely the road couldn’t be considered as being included in that forest buffer – so he started to lobby for an increased protection from logging.
“What pleases me is that there is now agreement that this 500-metre protection should start from the far edge of such roads. Some portage trails create a similar issue, so the same ruling applies to them.”
Although this isn’t yet a legal protection, Blaedow explained, “I’ve received agreement in writing to this until protected area status comes into effect.”
Although protection is never enough for some of us, and although the protection has not yet achieved final approval from Quebec City, as we can see, between CPAWS and lobbyists such as Blaedow, the Dumoine and the Three Sisters have engaged, thoughtful and persistent champions.
Blaedow emphasizes the importance of protection. “The main reason I’m involved is to preserve wilderness for future generations. As populations move into cities, we increasingly need these areas of natural beauty that we so take for granted. The Three Sisters should be a UNESCO Biosphere, in my opinion, because we all need to share these natural spaces for perpetuity.”
Each and every single one of us can make a difference – and if we need still another example of this, look to people such as Blaedow for your inspiration. Then, speak up.
Just do it.
Katharine Fletcher telecommutes from Spiritwood Farm, north of Quyon. Her latest book, Capital Rambles: Exploring the National Capital Region, describes many nature tours including some in the Pontiac (find her books at L’Artizan and Lighthouse Books in Shawville or in bookshops at outfitters in Ottawa/Gatineau. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org