The Case for Community Access to Lake Superior in Terrace Bay

Editorial by Chris Dube, Photo by Richard Main Photography

About 15 years ago, I applied for a job teaching at Lake Superior High School in Terrace Bay. I had previously passed through the community while travelling through to southern Ontario or in search of remote canoeing opportunities, and I always considered it a beautiful small town with a prime location on the north shore of Lake Superior. It offers pristine views of the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area and the Slate Islands. Another, lesser known attraction at the time was the rumoured waves that supposedly occurred on the Big Lake.

The first call I made once I received the job offer was to Jaakko Natri. Apparently he ran a surf shop out of his house in Lappe. We became instant friends as we both shared the same stoke and love for being on the water. He spoke to me at great length about the scene, the waves, and the conditions needed to generate the swell to surf the Big Lake. Over the years, with the rise in popularity of social media, we watched the scene grow. In 2017, we created Waasaashkaa: The Gathering of the Great Lakes Surfers. This event draws close to 200 participants, families, and photographers to various local beaches. One of those beaches is Hydro Bay.

Historically, the Hydro Bay area has been open to the public, with the Casque Isles trail running through the property. Surfers, hikers, cross-country skiers, dog walkers, and photographers alike have enjoyed accessing the shoreline to experience pristine views of nature. The topography of the beach creates, arguably, some of the best waves in all the Great Lakes.

Years ago, when the local pulp mill went bankrupt, sections of Hydro Bay owned by the mill were auctioned off. The Thunder Bay Field Naturalists bought some land to the east, and a private developer purchased some land to the west. Access was gated off. Recently, the developer has moved forward with a proposed development for 16 year-round camps and a private boat launch. In order for the development to proceed, the developer needs to amend township by-laws.

As a concerned citizen of Terrace Bay, my primary interest is preserving access to the waterfront for the public. I know I’m not alone in that opinion, as I’ve received a lot of community support through an online petition, as well as through speaking with other township residents. The official plan for Terrace Bay’s (2015) waterfront development policies states that “It is a policy of Council that public access to the shorelines will be preserved through the design of future development or redevelopment where appropriate. This may include the establishment of public lots or public right-of-ways within shoreline subdivisions.”

The developer’s planning report quotes the province’s public policy statement on land use planning, which notes that healthy, active communities should be promoted by “providing opportunities for public access to shorelines.” That same document, paradoxically, also states that the “proposed waterfront residential development is not intending for public accessibility to the shoreline as these lots will be individually owned with a common/shared boat launch dedicated exclusively to the owners.”

I am not against the development. I understand it will provide our rural community with much-needed tax revenue. What I am proposing is a modification to the draft plan amendments that seem to fit logically with the proposed development, the township’s official plan, and with the spirit of the provincial policy statement. I propose that the language concerning the accessibility for the boat launch be reworded to allow for public use of the boat launch, and the area designated for the launch. Community access to the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area via Hydro Bay will diversify tourism opportunities by creating space for activities such as kayaking, surfing, and photography. It will allow for current and future generations to experience the beauty of this unique Lake Superior shoreline. I am urging Terrace Bay town council and Mayor Jody Davis to delay passing this motion until the amendment is modified to allow for public access to the proposed boat launch.