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‘We’re all connected’: Lake Superior Watershed Conservation celebrates outdoor lifestyle, conservation

Feb 09, 2020 07:27AM ● By Editor
A partnership with the not-for-profit American Friends of Canadian Conservation enabled the U.S. owners to donate the Gargantua Islands to Lake Superior Watershed Conservancy.  Photo: Gary McGuffin 

By Nadine Robinson from the Sault Star - February 7, 2020

Most know that Lake Superior is the biggest of the Great Lakes.
They might know that Superior is the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area. What they probably don’t know is that there is one small organization, with a big name, focused on promoting a healthy Lake Superior Watershed.

The Lake Superior Watershed Conservancy (LSWC), whose tagline is: Gifted by Nature, Protected by People, was founded in 2004 as an international charitable organization with the mission of linking communities around the watershed through conservation, education, and active participation.  

Originally a volunteer-based organization, LSWC has been quietly undertaking major projects in each of the above three pillars for over 15 years. Most notably under conservation, LSWC became the owners and stewards of 20 islands off the coast of Lake Superior Provincial Park at Gargantua in 2017. A partnership with the not-for-profit American Friends of Canadian Conservation enabled the U.S. owners to donate the islands to LSWC.

The special partnership with American Friends is a “win-win for everyone,” said LSWC’s executive director Joanie McGuffin. “When the land became part of the conservancy, a promise was made to protect the land for perpetuity,” she added.

When local adventure photojournalists Gary and Joanie McGuffin first paddled through the Gargantua archipelago in 1983, they were on their way to the Arctic Ocean by canoe. Over the years, they returned again and again, highlighting this special place in their photographic books. In Superior Journeys on an Inland Sea, Joanie writes, “We were in awe of the hidden grottos, sculpted pockmarked shoals, and cliffs overhung with ancient cedars.”

Gargantua, or Nanoboozung, has long been revered as a spiritually significant place important to the local Indigenous people, McGuffin said.“From its island-studded waters to its rich forest habitat, it is important to the fish, bird and animal life including peregrine falcons and bald eagles that both nest in the area,” she added.

Active participation is another pillar of the LSWC mission.

Back in 1989 when the McGuffins paddled around Superior, they had their first conversations with fellow paddlers about the creation of a Lake Superior water trail that could encourage others to follow in their footsteps. However, it wasn’t until 2013 when Trans Canada Trail was seeking a way to connect the trail from SSM to Thunder Bay in time for Canada’s 2017 sesquicentennial, that the water trail would again be top of mind. The LSWC oversaw and implemented 1000 kilometres of water trail providing an important connection in The Great Trail’s ocean to ocean to ocean dream.

“Nature built the water trail, but you have to develop access points with the proper infrastructure for people to enjoy it,” said McGuffin, adding LSWC worked with 11 communities, two lighthouses, two Ontario Parks, one First Nation community and one National Park, to evenly distribute 16 access points along the North Shore.

LSWC cites Prince Township’s Gros Cap Marina Park as a model access point with washrooms, accessible pathways, safety and informational signage, universal access docks, as well as the kayak/canoe lockers that LSWC innovated with China Steel.  The trail infrastructure, funded in part by Tourism Northern Ontario, the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Trans Canada Trail, opened the door to another community by following Ontario’s accessibility guidelines. LSWC is particularly proud about offering universal access to recreation where everyone can navigate the site from the parking lot to the water.

Another way the LSWC brought the water trail to life was through the 2019 launch of their Canoes for Conservation program. Using 26-foot and 36-foot long voyageur-style canoes, LSWC was able to offer all ages and experience levels a fun and uniquely educational activity. Canoes for Conservation, by LSWC, ran short leisurely-paced trips on the St. Mary’s River, at Gros Cap, Pancake Bay Provincial Park, Batchewana Bay and in Lake Superior Provincial Park.

“It was really special to take groups out to see the pictographs by the big canoe,” McGuffin said. “Not everyone can navigate the terrain on land to see them, but it can be done safely in the big canoe, offering great photography opportunities, as well as the historical, cultural and ecological interpretation of the site and area.”

Without the support of FedNor, NOHFC, the City of Sault Ste Marie and corporate sponsors such as Grey Owl Paddles, McGuffin said year one might not have happened.

With the success of their inaugural year, LSWC will again run an interpretative guide course in May, training guides to deliver content in an “exciting and relevant way for an ecotourism economy built around guided experiences,” McGuffin said. “Education is part of our third pillar of our mission, and it is incorporated into everything we do, from signage on the water trail, to the interpretive guides program, to running events like the upcoming Paddling Film Festival.”

LSWC is hosting the 2020 World Tour Paddling Film Festival on March 12 at the LSSU Arts Center and on March 13 at the Sault Community Theatre Centre, both from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., showcasing world-class paddling films. Last year the festival reached 140 countries.

“We want to raise awareness of the conservancy and other like-minded groups in the region, while having fun,” said McGuffin. “We’re curating the films for the two nights so that paddling, outdoor, nature enthusiasts and film fans will be seeing different content (and also get half-price at the second showing).”
Tickets are $15 for each night, and tickets are available from the website, and through the Station Mall box office. Tickets will also be available at the door. LSWC is looking for event sponsors and those willing to donate door prizes.

“It promises to be a wonderful couple of evenings where people will enjoy great films, learn about our conservancy work, as well as find out about the many exciting outdoor things there are to do in our region” McGuffin said. “We’re so busy doing the work that sometimes we forget to tell people about our success stories, and to let them know how they can help or be part of this purposeful work. Come see us at the film festival or contact us if our vision statement sounds as inspiring to you as it is to us: ‘Creating a future that supports healthy wild spaces, thriving people and vibrant communities around Lake Superior. We’re all connected.’”

To read the original article and related reporting, follow this link to the website.

For more information on how you can join a canoe tour hosted by LSWC, go to

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