Serpent River Trading Post

Serpent River Trading Post

By Laura Robinson

Garden River, Serpent River and Mississauga First Nation will be building cycling/walking trails this summer as part of the Lake Huron North Channel Waterfront Trail system, a very cool network of trails that will eventually encircle the Great Lakes as part of the Waterfront Regeneration Trust trails. Wayfaring signs and historical plaques will be in Ojibwe and English, says Chief Elaine Johnston of Serpent River, so visiting cyclists can learn about the land and culture they quietly pedal through.

“With the better understanding that is emerging with Canadians in general on the issues and challenges faced by Canada’s indigenous peoples and the opportunities provided by our natural connection to the Land, our respect for the Creator and long-held willingness to share I believe this will give us a chance to demonstrate again our willingness to let people know more about our community, our traditional beliefs and practices” says Chief Johnston. “This includes welcoming visitors and sharing community events for everyone to enjoy. It further demonstrates our knowledge that with more understanding of all cultures, but especially our Anishnaabe culture, more respect, cooperation and mutual support will be achieved. The bike trail will connect non Indigenous people to our community’s culture and economy.  It will be connected to our Trading post and Gas bar so we anticipate this will create more business.”

But while the trail is sure to help the economy, it’s about way more. “Canada’s indigenous peoples have an honest spirituality that is grounded in history and tradition, The broader Canadian society can, I believe, become a better society by knowing more about our history and culture, and our community today. Indigenous Canadians are taking their proper place especially as it pertains to protecting the Land. Canadians need to hear and understand our message.

The cycling trail, as part of a larger network of cycling trails, brings awareness that cycling is an option that is easier to consider as a healthy way to get around the community and to visit our neighbours or venture further afield. The bike trail will benefit the community in terms of safety for people to bike, run or walk off the main trans Canada highway.  Approximately 100 transport trucks have been counted to travel through our community in one hour.  This is not counting the numerous cars and other vehicles.”

Assistant economic development officer Courtney Solomon of Garden River echoes these positive developments. “We are currently working to connect our trails on a national and provincial level, for walking and cyclists. They will be used by community and non-community members, and act as a hub at Ojibway Park.  Our trail will assist with attracting tourists and will promote First Nation cultures, as we will be installing cultural knowledge on narrative plaques upon the completion.  Our trail will serve as an educational tool for our community members and non-community members, those wishing to learn more about the culture and traditions of Garden River First Nation.  It will also promote a healthy lifestyle for all people who utilize by foot or bicycle.”

Partners include Tourism Northern Ontario, the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities, all three First Nations, the Trillium Foundation, TD Bank and the Waterfront Regeneration Trust Fund. All three communities successfully applied for the Grants for Aboriginal Trail Tourism: the funds of which were matched by other agencies to a total of $700,000.00. With a lot of good work at a number of levels, a dream of beautiful cycling and walking trails will be a reality this summer as crews—sourced as often as possible from the communities–commence work.

The official opening is June 2017 when the entire Lake Huron North Channel route, which includes 370 km of trails from Sault Saint Marie to Sudbury, will also open. Wherever possible the trail, which is also part of the Trans-Canada trail (7,821 km) and the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail (1600 km and growing), is on country roads and trails that allow a certain measure of safety for cyclists off busy highways, and great exploring. Meanwhile, the Americans are building the United States Bicycle Route System which will connect to Sault Saint Marie, bringing even more cyclists through communities. Sometimes it has to switch onto Hwy 17, but the Garden River (4.6 km), Serpent River (1 km) and Mississauga (3.5 km) trails take cyclists off the highway. Luckily, the Ontario government’s CycleON Strategy will also be adding paved shoulders on the approximately 60 km of Hwy 17 cyclists will still have to use.

“One of the exciting parts of the Lake Huron North Channel expansion is our work with First Nations” says Marlaine Koehler, executive director of the Waterfront Regeneration Trust. “They have a compelling story to share, much of it begins on the waterfront. The Great Lakes Waterfront Trail is a wonderful way to connect Ontarians and visiting trail users to this rich heritage.

Michael Wozny, who worked on behalf of TNO, pointed out at a recent Ontario Bike Summit meeting in Toronto, the need to educate non-Native people about First Nation history, but also that cyclists bring $400 million annually to Ontario. Why wouldn’t First Nations want to be part of that market, especially when they have what it is so many cyclists seek: beautiful, quiet trails, interesting people to talk to, quality art and food to purchase and a culture that isn’t based solely on getting from A to B as quickly as possible?

Where could all of this lead? Chief Johnston believes Projects like this that bring visitors and indigenous Canadians closer together can certainly provide opportunities for other projects to take root. Whenever you put people together in a good way it is possible for new and positive things to happen.”

*The Waterfront Regeneration Trust is hosting a mobile workshop while they ride the 380 km route in late May-early June. The workshop combines a series of local presentations and facilitated round-table discussions with cycling the route. A group of 10 will travel the whole route, meeting local municipal partners, cycling champions and tourism leaders along the way. The Waterfront Regeneration Trust and its partners say they value local insight “into how to promote and how to launch the route, and shapes our understanding of priorities for improvements.” Go out and meet them; here’s the schedule: