Our Wabakimi Family
Wabakimi Park and Wabakimi Outfitters were both founded by the same guy, Bruce Hyer. Born in Connecticut, Bruce at the age of 5 years told people there that he planned to move to Canada, build a log cabin and live in it in the wilderness off the land, be a biologist, trapper, wilderness guide, and bush pilot. Folks patted him on the head and said “That’s nice.” But at the age of 29, he did just those things. Later he became a Member of Parliament of Canada for 7 years. In 1993 he married spouse Margaret, and Michael Hyer was born in 1995 (now one of Wabakimi’s best canoe trip leaders).
Bert and Brenda Zwicker managed Wabakimi Outfitters for many years, They have retired (and we miss them!) and now Bruce and Margaret are back, managing full time. Bruce is especially enjoying helping with trip planning, to match canoeists up with trips that match their hopes, skills, experience… and budgets! We are quite proud of all of our Wabakimi staff and guides are well trained, helpful, responsible, and friendly!
Wabakimi Outfitters is committed to the following priorities:
- Safety of clients and staff
- Protection and sustainability of all Wabakimi ecosystems and native species
- Protection of aboriginal cultures and heritage
- Enjoyment of the Wabakimi wilderness by responsible and appreciative clientele
- Economic benefits for communities surrounding Wabakimi
- World class canoeing, fishing, hunting
10,000 years ago, the area north of Lake Superior was covered with about 2 miles of glacial ice, which pushed most of the soil into what is now Minnesota and Wisconsin. About 7,000 years ago, those glaciers started to melt back, leaving bare rock, sand, and gravel. The meltwaters formed huge lakes. One is called by the glacial scientists “Lake Agassiz”. It ranged from what is now Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba to the area that is now Wabakimi Park. The shallows were at what is now the CN rail line at the southern park boundaries. The present day and historic Albany River that is the northern park boundary was under the deep part of that ancestral lake. When you paddle today from south to north you go from the shallows of ancestral lake leaving “wave-washed bedrock” with little or no soil, to giant boulders (“boulder pavement”) left by glacial “spillways” of cascading meltwaters. Continuing to paddle north into the areas of deeper and deeper waters of that ancient lake, you find gravels, then coarse sands, then finer sands, then up by the Albany River you find clays and silts. The plant communities become richer and larger as you go north. A 150-year pine near the south boundary might be 6 inches in diameter, while a white spruce near the Albany might go almost 2 feet!
Slowly, plant and animal species that had been pushed as far south as the Smokey Mountains by the cold and ice moved northward again: first lichens and tundra fed upon by caribou, and later forests and swamps and marshes that became home to moose, bear, wolves, and other animals. The aboriginal people had also been pushed south by the glaciers, but they were right behind the caribou in reclaiming the land “North of Superior”. They were the ancestors of the Ojibway peoples (they call themselves Anishnabe) who were there when the first European missionaries and traders appeared a few centuries ago. Many Anishnabe peoples (and some Indigenous people who have intermarried with Europeans during the fur trade era) still live in communities surrounding the park, including Whitesands Reserve (near Armstrong), Namaygoosisagagun (Collins), New Saugeen, Mishkeegogaming, Eababametoong (Fort Hope).
In the 1900’s loggers and miners started to fan northward from Port Arthur and Fort William (now Thunder Bay), after the Canadian government orchestrated “treaties” to separate the natives from their trees and minerals.
In 1976 Bruce Hyer moved from New England to Shawanabis Lake on the rail line 25 miles from the nearest road at Armstrong, and lived for a year there in a tipi, then a second year in a log cabin. In 1978 Bruce Hyer left his wilderness cabin at Shawanabis to attempt to talk with the forest companies holding the timber licenses for the huge land mass in what would later become Wabakimi Park. They informed him the future of that area was for them to decide, and it was not his business to ask. Bruce decided to move to Thunder Bay “temporarily” (perhaps 3-5 years) to lobby for the creation of a huge protected area without roads, logging, mining, or hydro-electric developments. To say that it was not a popular concept would be putting it mildly. Some have called it “Wabakimi Wars”! It took 25 years to create the present boundaries of Wabakimi Wilderness Park. Bruce’s best friends said he was dreaming an unattainable dream. The impossible just takes longer.
Along the way, Bruce started Thunder Bay’s first canoe & kayak shop, married a wonderful wife Margaret, and a no-longer-small child, Michael. He and staff ran guided trips. Bruce became a caribou biologist, with a multi-year thesis project using his airplane to track woodland caribou, wolves, moose, and human activities, leading to a forestry and wildlife Masters degree.
In 1998 Bruce and Margaret added the Wabakimi B&B and outfitting base at Frontier Trail on Mattice Lake near Armstrong. Bruce’s former home at Shawanabis was our first remote outpost, followed by Allanwater Bridge, and then Windfall Lake in the heart of the park. Now we have 8 remote outposts … from capacity 2 to 20 and everything in between. 7 are fly-in and one accessible by VIA rail. Call Bruce for details.
Today the park has several concentric layers, donut-like. The original park core created in 1983 was tiny. Then it was expanded hugely through the activities and advice from 1992-1995 of the Wabakimi Park Boundary Committee. Some of the key members of that committee included Don Plumridge (bush pilot), Bruce Petersen (teacher, environmentalist, naturalist, and award winning conservationist), Dr. Willard Carmean (soils scientist and naturalist), and committee Chair Dr. Peter Duinker (forestry professor). Later, in a conflict-laden process called Lands for Life, millions of acres of nature reserves, conservation reserves (including most of spectacular Lake Nipigon), and waterway parks were glued onto Wabakimi in 1999. Today, Ontario parks struggles to determine the classification of the outer rings of Wabakimi, and to develop a management plan (38 years and no plan yet!). Regardless, the most important reason for Wabakimi has been achieved: The world’s largest paddling areas, and one of the largest reserves in the world to protect ecosystems and species, and to provide for a scientific “control” in the huge and unintentional “experiment” the results of which are still uncertain. That experiment is dubiously called “civilization”.