History of Algonquin Leases
Created by statute in 1893, Algonquin National Park was "reserved and set apart as a public park and forest reservation, fish and game preserve, health resort and pleasure grounds for the benefit, advantage and enjoyment of the people of the Province of Ontario." Renamed Algonquin Provincial Park in 1913 after the addition of several neighbouring townships, it is today an important member of Ontario's 800-park system. Yearly, over one million visitors come to experience Algonquin in a wide variety of forms. For some it's a canoe trip to the interior, and for others it's a camping experience at one of the public campgrounds along Highway 60. The activities these visitors engage in vary widely, from bicycle trips up the old Minnesing Road or along the Rock/Whitefish Trail, to self-guided day hikes on any one of the 12 trails that lie adjacent to Highway 60, to day paddling experiences in a rented canoe on Opeongo or Canoe Lakes, to the Algonquin Logging Museum, the Algonquin Park Visitor Centre, or the new Algonquin Art Centre at Found Lake - these are always a memorable part of every Park itinerary.
Among these many who treasure Algonquin Park are a small group of leasehold families, who have occupied small corners of the Park since the earliest days of the 20th century. It all began with Alexander Kirkwood, one of Algonquin Park's original founding fathers, who was the first to suggest that private individuals be allowed to 'lease locations in the Park for summer cottages or tents.' According to early park superintendent annual reports, though there was some interest in leasing as early as 1896, in the early years after the Park's founding, not much happened in this regard. Most of the Park was home only to logging and railroad operations and the occasional fishing party in the early spring and late fall. It wasn't until the arrival of Dr. Alexander Pirie and close friend Dr. Thomas Bertram who bought two houses from the Gilmour Lumber Company, on the south end of Gilmour Island on Canoe Lake in 1905 that there was much interest in camping or cottaging.
At about this same time, the then-Park Superintendent George Bartlett had begun to encourage the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests to develop Algonquin Park as a tourist resort for an affluent middle class clientele. It began with the construction of the Hotel Algonquin at Joe Lake Station and the Highland Inn on Cache Lake, and the leasing of a few parcels to long-time campers also on the shores of Cache Lake near the Park Headquarters. Over the next few years, the community grew to include more hotels, fishing lodges, outfitting stores, youth camps, and private leases. Bartlett's intent was to balance recreational activity with revenue producing commercial interests while still protecting the Park watershed and preserving its essential wildness. One of his most important contributions was to establish regulations that protected the interior by making cottage lease sites available only on lakes near the railway line. Though the response to government and railway advertising was slow, the idea of leaseholders as important members of the Algonquin Park community of users was firmly in place and supported by Park Superintendent Frank MacDougall in the 1930s.
For the first half of its existence, leaseholders, summer youth camps, commercial lodges, and canoe trip outfitters were a welcome addition to Algonquin Park. In the summer of 1954 a new park policy was adopted along with a plan to restore the Park to a more natural state. As was stated at the time, "In the future, there would be no new leases, licenses of occupation or land use permits granted for public, private or commercial purposes." Over the next 25 years, the Crown reacquired approximately 100 cottage leases and all leases of the commercial outfitting operations. The outfitter facilities were in turn put out to management bid and today are managed by private sector "concessionaires." In 1978, the 1954 leasing policy was amended to permit both commercial leases and those of the children's camps were extended to 2017. Subsequently, in 1986, private leases were also extended to 2017.
In 2004 negotiations were concluded to amend this leasing policy again such that commercial lease and children's camps were able to extent their leases for an additional 60 years. We are now seeking a similar extension to prevent the loss of our community in 2017.