UNESCO World Heritage Project scouting trip
Jun. 05, 2011
On May 26th and 27th, Aikens Lake welcomed 30 delegates from around North America to showcase the pristine boreal forest and everything it represents. The Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Project was initially placed on Canada's tentative list in 2004 for possible application for Unesco World Heritage designation. Pimachiowin Aki comes from the Ojibwe language, and means "The land that gives life". The name is also shared by a non-profit corporation comprised of five First Nations working together with the governments of Ontario, Manitoba, and Canada toward a common mission: to safeguard and celebrate the Anishinabe cultural landscape and boreal forest as one living system. Its goal is to seek recognition of this 43,000 sq kilometers area of the boreal forest as a World Heritage Site. Geographically, it straddles a significant section of eastern Manitoba and northern Ontario. The 43,000 sq km is enormous - as big as the country of Denmark! It comprises of Atikaki Provincial park in Manitoba (this is where Aikens is!), adjacent Woodland Caribou park in Ontario, and the large chunk of land to our north where the five first nations communities reside. The group of 30 that visited the lodge were treated to an action-packed few days. They spent a full day prior to landing at Aikens at the Bloodvein River lodge, going for a river run and having the opportunity to visit with the people of the Bloodvein First Nation. In the late afternoon, under a spectacular blue sky, the delegation landed at Aikens. After a laugh-filled happy hour where every could unwind, they were treated to a traditional meal of smoked and braised bison steaks. After supper, everyone took the opportunity to either go fishing or catch a scintillating sunset while sitting on Inspiration Point. The delegation was led by the Premier of Manitoba, Greg Selinger, along with two of his ministers: minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Eric Robinson and Conservation minister Bill Blaikie. It included many videographers and photographers from the Pimachiowin Aki group, and several media from Canadian Geographic and Vanity Fair. Key funders and possible contributors from Canada and the US were on hand to experience the magic of the boreal forest. There were also several interest groups including the IISD, Boreal Songbird, and the Suzuki Foundation. Although Canada's leading environmentalist David Suzuki was unable to make the trip to Aikens, he was in Manitoba later on to lend his support and approval of the Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Project during a press conference with the Premier. During their stay, the guides treated the group to some great fishing and exhilirating river runs. Most of the people had never seen such pristine wilderness up close. On the first evening, many people sat on Inspiration Point and took in a glamorous sunset. The following morning, a helicopter landed on the big rock behind GGO to take people up for a bird's eye view of our little piece of paradise. Many were able to see cow moose nursing their newly-born calves - some of them so small they could barely stand on those shaky baby legs. Another highlight for the group was on the culinary side. For dinner, our chefs smoked & Braised traditional Manitoba Bison. The guests also cherished the opportunity to taste one of Aikens Lake's famous shorelunches the very next day! UNESCO is a specialized agency of the UN, with nearly 200 countries signed on since it started recognizing and protecting important cultural and naturally significant sites in 1972. Today, nearly 1,000 sites are listed by UNESCO. Many are instantly recognizable, like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Pyramids at Giza in Egypt, or Canada's own Rocky Mountains. Currently, there are only 15 UNESCO sites in Canada, with only one in Ontario (Ottawa's Rideau Canal), and none in Manitoba. All in all, we were extremely proud to be asked to play a part in this undertaking and to host this important delegation. Although the project has been in the works since 2004, it was the first time that a group of dignitaries traveled inside the boundaries of the proposed site. We were able to open many eyes as to how special our part of the world is, and how important preserving the boreal forest (aka: the lungs of the earth) really is. As the group was watching the float planes land to pick them up, one of the members of the delegation told us that had really looked forward to his trip because he knew that Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge was not only the flagship lodge in the boreal forest, but is now recognized as the BEST lodge in all of Manitoba! We couldn't have been prouder. The UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination is expected to be submitted by September 2011.