Province unveils controversial wilderness camp

April 7, 2009

After one year of behind-the-scenes discussion, the Manitoba government and the Tim Horton Children’s Foundation outlined plans Friday to build a controversial $10-million year-round camp complex near Meditation Lake in the Whiteshell.

The year-round camp will be open by 2011 and be used primarily to give underprivileged kids a chance at summer camp and give others a chance at exploring a piece of the province that has for the most part only been open to canoeists and backcountry hikers.

Conservation Minister Stan Struthers and foundation vice-president David Newnham said before work begins on building the camp—a road and hydro service have to first be extended—officials will meet with the public at two open houses. They will be held the evening of April 30 at the Victoria Inn in Winnipeg and the afternoon of May 2 at the Pinewood Lodge at Dorothy Lake. First Nations people will also be consulted.

Struthers said the province has been working with The Tim Horton Children’s Foundation for the past year to choose an appropriate site.

“We have 110,000 lakes in this province and some of them would clearly not be environmentally suitable,” Struthers said. “We took our time to make sure that we found a lake that really worked from the perspective of the foundation but also one that allowed us to move forward in a balanced way to protect the environment.”

The proposal has come under fire from cottagers and an environmental group because of the province’s refusal to develop a management plan for its protected areas and because of the secret nature of the talks to date.

“We don’t have to be putting roads into areas that don’t have roads,” said Eric Reder, Manitoba campaign director of the national wilderness protection group, the Wilderness Committee.

Reder also said the proposed camp is near the Bannock Point petroforms, rock figures laid out on bedrock in the forms of turtles, snakes and humans. It’s believed First Nations people left the designs generations ago and that the area is still a ceremonial site for aboriginal people.

Struthers said the camp development fits with the province’s management plan of its parks as it will open up an area for wilderness recreation in a controlled way. There are no plans for cottage development.

He also used Friday’s event to mention the province has banned commercial logging in all but one provincial park—Duck Mountain.

Newnham said the site near Meditation Lake—it will accommodate 260 youth during the summer—was chosen because it’s close enough to the city but still in a wilderness area. Programming during summer months will be aimed at teaching outdoor skills to underprivileged kids 9 to 12 and wilderness and leadership skills to older youth. School or other groups will have access to the camp during the off-season. Would-be campers will apply through Tim Hortons franchises.

He also said the foundation will use the camp as a base to run wilderness “leave-no-trace” canoe trips.

The foundation operates six other camps for disadvantaged youth; five in Canada and one in the U.S. Information of the foundation is at

The Whiteshell camp would include several year-round buildings, Newnham said, consisting of two sleeping quarters that would accommodate 65 of the youth, a dining hall, a health and wellness unit, a creative arts centre and a maintenance building.

Struthers and Newnham said the camp will have to meet provincial guidelines for waste-water treatment.

“We won’t let anyone off lightly when it comes to treatment of sewage,” Struthers said.

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