Accord between lake and town tested over Skyline protection

By Brian Back                                              POSTED: JUNE 26, 2009


The Municipality of Temagami exists as an uneasy alliance between the Evinrudes on Lake Temagami and the Goodyears in town.

At a March Council meeting, the political accord that cemented their 1998 amalgamation was severely tested. It may be the opening shot in a battle to tear it up.

The birth of the Municipality goes back to 1990. The closing of Sherman Mine and Milne's sawmill caused a deficit tsunami that swept the Township of Temagami, then governing the urban areas.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on the land claim erased the legal basis for the land caution, which had blocked new lot creation from Crown land for 20 years. Its revocation was imminent. That threatened to change the remote, wild character of the lake.

The Township approached the lake on amalgamation. Both sides saw opportunities. The Township needed a bigger tax base to survive. The lake needed a new, stronger plan to control development. The Temagami Lakes Association, the dominant lake player representing property owners, knew it had a strong financial hand to deal, but saw, too, its weaker voting base would leave it without long-term power.

Like Moses, the lake brought forth the commandments. It called them the Tenets of Temagami: restrained island-only development, no mainland development, a barrier against new road access and sanctity for the Skyline Reserve. The Township adopted them as a pre-condition to starting the talks and, later, as the political accord for amalgamation.

With amalgamation in 1998, the new Official Plan became a priority.  The Tenets (printed in every issue of Temagami Times) were written into the preamble and molded the plan as it applied to the lake. The power-on switch was flipped in 2004. The town kept its part of the bargain.

In February, the Ministry of Natural Resources sought Council’s position on the proposed sale of the Crown-owned, kilometre-long shore reserve fronting a 10.5-hectare (26-acre) patented mining claim on Ferguson Point of Lake Temagami. As with many properties on the lake, the Crown held the 20-metre-deep (66-foot) shore reserve. The new owner wanted to buy the strip. The Municipality’s approval would be a nod that it conformed to the Official Plan.

The claim had been staked and patented in 1887 (when such things for mining were permitted) by prospector Peter Ferguson of Mattawa.  He found traces of iron-pyrite, copper-pyrite, and silver. It is one of the oldest properties in the region. (He also patented Ferguson Island and Ferguson Mountain.) His descendants sentimentally held the mining property for generations. No building had ever been constructed on it and no mine ever developed. There is just a small hand-dug test pit and an active campsite on the point in the shore reserve. The land has no road access. Nobody passing by or camping there ever knew it was anything but public land. In 2008 the descendants sold it, using real agent Barry Graham, a municipal councillor.

The first non-mining, non-town-based lot development by the province of Ontario on Lake Temagami began in 1906. The government restricted it to the islands. In 1935, property holders and the logging industry shook hands over protection of what became known as the Skyline Reserve — all land and trees that could be seen from the surface of the lake. For almost 40 years the Ontario government largely supported the agreement, reaffirmed the principle in the 1973 lake plan, and formalized it in the 1997 Temagami Land Use Plan.

TLUP applies to Crown lands in the area. The new Official Plan applies to all non-Crown, non-aboriginal land: private property and patented claims.

When the Crown sells land it becomes a municipal affair. Someone could buy a lot from Ontario, but the Municipality cannot issue building permits for any permanent structures that do not conform to the Official Plan. Who would buy a lake lot if no cabin could be built? So the Crown doesn’t generally sell lots that do not conform to municipal plans.

In TLUP the no-development mainland is called Management Area 39. The Official Plan calls it the Skyline Reserve. Ferguson Point is in the Skyline Reserve.

Only one attempt has been made at development in the Skyline between the creation of TLUP  and the Official Plan: the expansion of Temagami Marine in 2001. MNR eventually rejected it over environmental and public concerns.

The municipal Planning Committee produced a report on Ferguson Point for Council that concluded the sale of the land contradicted the municipality’s Official Plan, MNR’s Lake Trout Capacity Assessment Handbook, Ministry of Environment’s Lakeshore Capacity Assessment Handbook, MNR’s TLUP and the Tenets for Temagami.

“The long history of no mainland development on Lake Temagami,” the report said, "and the protection of the Skyline Reserve, is reinforced in the Land Use Plan for the Temagami Comprehensive Planning Area, the Official Plan, and the Tenets for Temagami. All three documents were written with considerable public input and reflect the desire of the public to adhere to the principle of no mainland development on Lake Temagami.”

On March 26, Council voted on a motion that called for opposing MNR’s sale.  It was also a roll call on the municipality’s continued support for the Tenets.

Mayor Ike Laba and councillors Lorie Hunter and Biff Lowery voted for opposing MNR's sale, and thereby voted for the Tenets. Barry Graham and Wendell Gustavson voted against. (Two councillors were absent.) The Tenets were upheld by a single vote.

Biff Lowery almost didn’t make the meeting, but skipped a prior arrangement because he suspected it would be a close vote.

Lowery had chaired the committee that wrote the Official Plan. “In my view it was entirely too close,” he said. “When Council starts contradicting its own policy, that’s not good. Policy represents a hard-won consensus. The Tenets and the agreement we have with the Lake Temagami community are vital. We lose sight of that at our peril.”

Lowery is concerned that the history of the Tenets is being lost as longer-serving councillors move on. He laments that community unity used to be an important issue. Today there is still an undercurrent in the town of seeing seasonal residents, who represent the majority of lake-property owners, as second-class citizens.

“You cannot say,” Lowery said, “oh, we’ve got the Official Plan now, we can all go to sleep. Or, all I have to do is make the right mark on the ballot.  If you went to the urban part of the Municipality, do you think they could tell you what the Tenets are any longer? I suspect not.”

“The vast majority of the lake residents that voted for amalgamation did so with the understanding that the Tenets would be honoured. Council has not reneged and it has to stay that way. Otherwise, there will be hell to pay from the lake.”

On April 22 MNR told the landowner in a letter that it would not sell the land. “We believe,” it said, “they (the Municipality) have reasonable and justifiable objections to the sale of the Crown Shore Reserve fronting your property.”

It should be the end of it. But this year is the five-year review of the Official Plan.

“The Tenets are a recommendation of the amalgamation,” says Barry Graham. “It is not cast in stone. It needs to be re-examined for the better of all communities, not just the lake community. The Skyline is a good policy. We need to protect our Skyline, absolutely. I think there needs to be some concessions though. Given the restrictive nature of doing anything in Temagami under the Official Plan, there is nothing happening. It’s not the economic times. People are absolutely turned off, scared. This town deserves to be alive, but we’re quickly dying here. I’m not prepared to let that happen.”

When asked if he stood by the Tenets and no mainland development Gustavson said, “We have to look at all of our options. I wouldn’t say totally no against mainland development. There’s always exceptions to rules.”

The TLA was alarmed by the close vote. Rob Corcoran, president of the TLA, admitted it could have gone either way.

“There is a concern on our part,” he said, “that dismantling the Official Plan could become an agenda for some folks. The Tenets were a key element of the amalgamation. The Official Plan works fairly well now. If they tried to change the game and remove that mainland protection, we would take this as a very strong violation of the trust which led us into the amalgamation, and would take whatever legal action was required to defend the Tenets.”

Seasonal residents don't vote in the numbers they could. They are a sleeping cougar. If the accord is broken, municipal priorities would be shaken. Is the urban area prepared?










"I wouldn’t say totally no against mainland development. There’s always exceptions to rules."

— Councillor Wendell Gustavson


"The Tenets and the agreement we have with the Lake Temagami community are vital. We lose sight of that at our peril.”

— Councillor Biff Lowery








Map: Ferguson Point, Temagami Marine, Temagami village and Temagami harbour on Lake Temagami.











1887 Ferguson Pt. mining claim staked by Peter Ferguson
1906 Property rights restricted to islands

Skyline Reserve created by property holders and logging industry


Skyline Reserve acknowledged in MNR's lake plan

Laud caution halted Crown land sales


Supreme Court ruling cleared way for Crown land sales

Sherman Mine and Milne sawmill closed


Tenets for Temagami sealed the political accord and amalgamation talks began


Temagami Land Use Plan went into force

Vote for amalgamation


Municipality created out of Township, Lake Temagami and Marten River


Official Plan went into force

2008 Ferguson Pt sold

Council voted on mainland development at Ferguson Pt










Ferguson Mt. and Ferguson Bay on the North Arm, and Ferguson Island and Ferguson Pt. on the Northeast Arm are named for Peter A. Ferguson, who had mining patents at these locations.








  MAP:  Skyline Reserve

             TLUP zones



    Municipal report on Ferguson Pt (PDF)



    Crown land sale in Skyline turned down

   Amended Official Plan approved by board












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