Notes From The Fort

The Heart of the Continent includes the lakes, forests and communities on the Minnesota/Ontario border and consists of over five million acres of public land.

Our Gatherings have been beneficial to help celebrate our bi-national collaboration, learn from each other, and plan future projects. The meetings are for anyone that strives for vibrant and resilient communities that value and protect public lands in Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Ontario.

Please consider joining us in future Gatherings.

A good mix of agencies at the event including:

  • Tourism Thunder Bay
  • Nature Conservancy Canada
  • Neebing EDC
  • Ontario Parks
  • Lakehead Region Conservation Authority
  • Lakehead University
  • Freelance Land Use Planner
  • Fort William Historical Park
  • Quetico Canoe Outfitter
  • Visit Cook County
  • Quetico Foundation
  • Path of the Paddle Association
  • Thunder Bay Nordic
  • Destination Northern Ontario
  • Arrowhead Regional Development Commission
  • Saint Louis County
  • Thunder Bay Field Naturalists
  • Thunder Bay Art Gallery
  • Astro-photographer
  • Outdoor gear manufacturer
  • Mississippi Geotourism
  • Heart of the Continent

Meet and Greet

Under the light of the tin-can chandeliers

Fort William Historical Park was an ideal venue and the staff were wonderful hosts for the Heart of the Continent Partnership Gathering November 9th 2022

HOCP Chair, Tonia Kittelson asked guests to introduce themselves. Each attendee spoke of their history, connection, or interest in the Heart of the Continent Partnership. Seasoned members talked about working together with the Partnership and the agencies involved. Quetico Park Superintendent, Trevor Gibb, talked of the connections we build with local communities, stakeholders and with the neighbouring public land managers and staff. New people at the gathering talked of their interest in the organization and looked forward to continued involvement. Suzanne Plesh from Thunder Bay Art Gallery spoke of how this land inspires artists and has for years. Another new face at our gathering, but not new to cross border collaboration, was Kurt Erikson. Kurt has worked with the rescue squads and often helping out on border lakes and forests with Lake and Cook Counties rescue and Ontario counterparts. Frank Jewell, Saint Louis County Commissioner and past Chair of the Heart of the Continent Partnership, gave the group a bit of history of the partnership, from Canoe the Heart to the Community Congress and the birth of our geotourism initiative.

Tonia touched on the topic of The Travel The Heart Geotourism MapGuide and WebSite

The geotourism project helps promote the region wide vision with the goal of enabling vibrant communities to flourish along side of public lands. The website highlights the unique character of the Heart of the Continent and showcases the beautiful places, unique shops, clubs, accommodations and the rich captivating history.

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Voyageurs National Park Superintendent Bob DeGross

Shown -Bob DeGross National Park Service

Land Managers Update

Since the early months of 2020, public land agencies have dealt with issues that were exacerbated by the pandemic, presenting new problems not seen before. On the western side of the Heart of the Continent is Voyageurs National Park. Superintendent Bob DeGross, shown here in the picture above, told us how fast things were moving with the pandemic, closures not only in private and public agencies but the Canada U.S. border. He talked about the HOCP weekly calls that were shared with public land managers and included custom officials from both sides of the border. It was advantageous to all to know what each agency was doing and how they were individually dealing with issues. Other land mangers that spoke included Quetico Superintendent Trevor Gibb - Sleeping Giant PP Superintendent Christian Carl, Lakehead Region Conservation Authority Ryan Mackett.

Some common difficulties included high volume of traffic and poor camping ethics. Staff shortages have also been an issue. In Quetico it has been a shortage of visitors due to the border closures or hurdles.

There were good news stories to be told too. People are getting outside and finding our public lands, sometimes for the first time. A keen interest in our dark sky program has visitors coming from distances. Bob DeGross talked of some major adventures by canoe, skiing, skijoring and even paddleboard, sometimes for good causes, sometimes to create awareness but almost always to celebrate what we have in our region, unlimited water and forest that is protected on both sides of the border with a rich history of the voyageurs and the people that resided here long before them.

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Sister Sites Arrangement

Working Together Along the Border

For over a century there has been cooperation between the Superior National Forest in Minnesota and Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario. Trevor Gibb presented on that continued collaboration and the more recent Sister Sites Arrangement that includes the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of the Superior National Forest, Quetico and La Verendrye Provincial Parks, Voyageurs and Grand Portage of the National Park Service, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. First signed in 2012 and re-signed in 2016, the Sister Sites Arrangement will be looked at again by the agencies involved, hopefully continuing collaborations into the future.

 “The purpose of the Sister Sites Arrangement is to promote national and international cooperation and support for the mutual benefit of these special places, and to enrich the experience and training of the site personnel. The relationship allows the Sister Sites to benefit by sharing experiences and approaches to collaboration, including local efforts to work with gateway communities, regional and local economies, friends groups and partner organizations. This may be accomplished primarily through the exchange of managerial, technical and professional knowledge, information, data, technology, training, and experience.” - “While all these Sister Site agencies have cooperated collegially for decades, this continued arrangement acknowledges the value of prior, current, and future cooperation”

Trevor Gibb - Quetico Park Superintendent presents on Sister Sites Arrangement

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HOCP Projects Update

  • Science Symposium - Gary Davies spoke of HOCP Science Symposiums, past symposiums from 2016 and 2019 and our proposed science symposium for the spring of 2023. We will be looking at following a similar format that could include a poster night prior to a day symposium. Presentations will be short to fit in as many as we can, and the theme will likely be more of a knowledge symposium that would include local knowledge. Speakers should represent the HOCP, so governments (tribal, federal, state, provincial, local) and academic organizations.
  • Crane Lake multi-agency Visitor Center - Voyageurs National Park includes visitor centers at Rainy Lake, Kabatogama, Ash River and is working towards having one at Crane Lake. Crane Lake is the starting point and situated ideally to enter Voyageurs NP and The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It is also a starting point for many that enter Quetico Provincial Park through the entry station at Lac La Croix First Nation Community. Bob DeGross, Superintendent of Voyageurs National Park, took us through a short presentation of where the Crane Visitor Center will be situated, what it will look like and who is involved. With help from the community and the Voyageur Conservancy, the Crane Lake VC could be started this spring and open not long after. What is really amazing about this VC is that it could house space to promote not only Voyageurs NP but the MNDNR, BWCAW, and even Ontario Parks. The facility will be owned by the Township of Crane Lake and leased to the National Park
  • Sustainable Recreation and Cross Border Tourism Andy Hubley, Planning Director at Arrowhead Regional Development Commission, and Gord Knowles, Destination Northern Ontario, tag teamed the conversations on what has been happening in the Heart of the Continent region with tourism development. Andy talked about funding that went to the International Falls area for lost dollars during border closures. He talked about maintenance and development of paved bicycling trails that need continuous attention. Andy talked of the increase in biking, biking trails, and biking tourism and the dollars coming from it. Bike clubs are tripling in size and numbers of clubs. Trails are in areas of old roads and already allowed areas for this sort of use. He also mentioned the Superior Hiking Trail and the GIS being done on it. Andy feels that there could be so much more to Bike The Heart and should be a marketing strategy for us in the Heart of the Continent.
  • Gord talked about the isolation that occurred during the closure of not only the Canada/US border but also the Manitoba border, which had a negative affect on NW Ontario Tourism. Staycation tax credits were put in affect in hopes that some of the hotels and resorts could be utilized by locals being tourists in their own backyard. Interest from southern Ontario rose, people wanting to get away from the crowds made their way into the region, which helped. Resort owners really had to get creative. Staffing has become a challenge recently, but there has been some good things happening, like dropping border restrictions, that will help get people traveling again. There are new opportunities for new entrepreneurs and some young people are taking advantage of that.
  • Bike The Heart - Frank Jewell, Saint Louis County Commissioner, shared that HOCP began by hosting nine rides in 2019 in hopes to help promote the biking opportunities available for cyclists. Along with showcasing the trails in the area, the popular road riding routes and the clubs that help maintain them, our mission was also to show the nearby bike shops and food/accommodations for the cycling tourist. In 2020 we had a hiatus and in 2021 we started the rides again in small groups to keep the buzz going. To name a few rides but not all there were Olcott, RedHead, McCarthy Beach, Neebing, Mesabi, Duluth Traverse, Gitchi Gami, International Falls and Steep Rock Iron Range.

Shown above is Patrick Morash - General Manager - Fort William Historical Park

Millions of people have visited Fort William Historical Park over the last 49 years. In 2023, the Fort celebrates 50 years. General Manager, Patrick Morash talked of what a privilege it is to be sharing the in what was such a critical time in Canada's history. Thousands of alumni employees have called Fort William their employment and learned new skills and dealt with hundreds of visitors each day.

The big story from The Fort is the return of the Great Rendezvous and the celebration of the 50th Anniversary that will be celebrated from July 8th-16th 2023.

All were invited to return to the Fort for the Great Rendezvous.

The Heart of the Continent Partnership is looking forward to participating in the 50th celebrations.

Kay Lee Astro-photographer and Kaitlin Richardson from the Nature Conservancy Canada. Kaitlin wearing historical cloak from FWHP collection in the Fur Storage Building.

Rob Hyde - Great Lakes Program Officer Environment

and Climate Change Canada

Our Keynote speaker was Rob Hyde

Rob is the Canadian co-chair of the Lake Superior Partnership Working Group, which includes representatives from forty federal, indigenous, state, and local government agencies who work to restore and protect Lake Superior, as guided by the Canada-United States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

Slide Presentation

Rob was the leading Canadian federal representative in the development of a Lake Superior Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and the Canadian co-chair of the writing team for the Lake Superior Lakewide Action and Management Plan.  

Rob Hyde’s goal is to restore and protect Great Lakes water quality and ecosystem health. He has worked for Environment and Climate Change Canada for 18 years, currently in the position of Great Lakes Program Officer

See slide presentation link


Contact the Lake Superior Partnership Working Group co-chairs

Rob Hyde Great Lakes Program Officer, Environment and Climate Change Canada

Liz LaPlante Lake Manager, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Across the Heart in 30 Days with David and Leah Jackson

Tales of Trail from a Month Long Canoe Trip along the entire Path of The Paddle Water Route from Manitoba to Thunder Bay

stories/photos/videos from a 1,000km canoe trip across NWO on Path of the Paddle. David Jackson's stories and photos make you feel like you are out there with them!

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Presentation by Travis Novitsky Astro-photographer  and Dark Sky Advocate

Clips from PBS Documentary "Northern Nights Starry Skies" 

Northern Nights, Starry Skies is a PBS documentary celebrating star-bright skies, Dark Sky Places, Indigenous star knowledge, and our stewardship of the night sky.

Travis entertined us with his knowledge of nature, the outdoors, photography and love for the night skies

"I can't imagine ever getting tired of the stars. I am endlessly fascinated by them".

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Thanks to the presenters and all that attended participated

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