Seeking PM's support for heritage designation
ANTHONY DIXON Renfrew County council has endorsed a letter from Warden Peter Emon imploring Prime Minister Stephen Harper to move forward with designating the Ottawa River a national heritage site. Approved by Canadian Heritage Rivers board and the province of Ontario, the designation document has sat stalled, awaiting final sign off by a federal environment minister for years.
The County of Renfrew is once more imploring Prime Minister Stephen Harper to move forward with designating the Ottawa River a national heritage site.
County council has endorsed a letter from Warden Peter Emon which was sent on May 6 to Ottawa seeking Harper’s support for the river’s heritage status.
The quest for designation received a substantial boost in recent weeks with Governor General David Johnston’s visit to Pembroke. During his speech at Miramichi Lodge, the vice regal reminded residents that with this year being the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain first voyage down the Ottawa it was an opportunity to celebrate the history and heritage of the river.
Emon said this week that it was those remarks, accompanied by an eloquent speech from Kirby Whiteduck, Chief of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation, that gave council the impetus to renew its call for designation.
“The Ottawa River in essence allowed a lot of the exploration and future settlement of Canada,“ said Emon. “With Champlain’s 400th anniversary this year, it seems like a very opportune time to recognize that and it would be great if the prime minister saw his way clear to acknowledge that.”
The effort to have the Ottawa named a heritage river began back in 2003. The formal nomination was submitted in 2006 and approved by the Canadian Heritage Rivers board in 2008. The province of Ontario signed off on the designation in April 2009.
Under the auspices of Parks Canada, the Canadian Heritage Rivers System is the national river conservation program. It promotes, protects and enhances Canada’s river heritage and ensures they are managed in a sustainable manner. Designating the Ottawa River would go far to promoting national unity, added Emon.
“It would also tie the two cultures together,” he said. “With the Ottawa River having boundaries along both Ontario and Quebec, it serve as a natural extension to recognize designation at this time.”
The designation documentation now sits awaiting the signature of federal environment minister Peter Kent. Frustrating the county and the proponents of the project has been the unwillingness of Renfrew- Nipissing-Pembroke MP Cheryl Gallant to endorse designation. Admaston- Bromley mayor Raye-Ann Briscoe has been one of the more vocal proponents for designation. She said the 400th anniversary of Champlain’s journey is the time to make designation a reality.
“It makes no sense to me when our neighbouring rivers have all been declared,” said Briscoe. “It’s an unfortunate thing. The government of Canada is missing a wonderful opportunity for the people of Canada to know about them. It’s a wonderful PR opportunity.”
The rivers which feed into the Ottawa, namely the French, Rideau and Mattawa Rivers, already enjoy heritage status. However, such a title eludes the 1,271 kilometre body of water made famous by Champlain and that is the second largest river in Eastern Canada.
What could move the file is a positive word from Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who endorsed the Ottawa River as a historic site when he was environment minister. Larry Graham, chairman of the Ottawa River Heritage Designation Committee, is hoping to raise the issue with Baird when he visits the riding on June 1. The foreign affairs minister is slated to speak at the Whitetail Golf Club in Eganville.
“We’re pleased once again that the County of Renfrew has taken up the cause,” said Graham. “We’re most excited that the champion that we have had for all these years on Parliament Hill is actually coming to Renfrew County.”
He hopes the nomination will be cleared for final approval by the Canadian Heritage Rivers board of governors which meets in June. Meanwhile, Graham can’t understand why the federal government is not behind this effort given their penchant to celebrate Canadian history.
“We spent $100 million celebrating the War of 1812 which was 200 years ago,” he remarked. “Here we’ve got the 400th anniversary of an event that happened on the Ottawa River and the designation is not in place yet. You would think that will be the catalyst to make it happen.”
Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist