Springwater Township ponies up $10,000 to help re-imagine Springwater Park – Camp Nibi

February 21, 2014

An economically sustainable plan is what has always been needed.

Honour treaties park 20131226

It is appropriate that a 177 year old municipal township gets the ball rolling in welcoming back our 10,000 year old neighbours for what will become an internationally-important, cross-cultural treasure.

From today’s print edition of the Barrie Examiner by Cheryl Browne, Money possible to help Springwater Park pdf:

SPRINGWATER TWP. – The gates of Springwater Provincial Park may be pushed a little more open as council sets aside $10,000 for its re-opening this year.

Although the park remains technically locked up, Springwater Township council has voted yes to Coun. Sandy McConkey’s motion to set aside $10,000 to help re-open the provincial park that’s been in limbo since the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) changed its status to non-operational last year.

“I can’t say how the money will be used,” said McConkey, Thursday. “We just want to be able to have access to it in case the user groups need it.”

Coun. Jack Hanna, who also voted in favour of the motion, said the money would be set aside from the economic development fund, but won’t be approved until the township’s budget receives final approval Feb. 25.

“I know negotiations are ongoing with the MNR and First Nations who are considering making it a training centre,” he said, but added he doesn’t know the current status of the talks.

After 107 years in operation, the 193-hectare day-use park’s status was unclear last year after the MNR locked the gates. The 29 orphaned animals that were receiving care in the park were removed and sent to other wildlife sanctuaries across Canada.

Elizabeth Brass Elson and several other First Nations people quietly moved in to occupy the park in early April and remained there for the duration of the year, leaving just days before Christmas 2013.

Brass Elson named their campground Camp Nibi – the native word for fresh or spring water – and ran instructional classes on native culture, sweat lodges and full moon ceremonies, which continue monthly.

The also cleaned up after walk-in only visitors and called police when teenagers started fires and vandalized buildings.

Talks with the MNR and Beausoleil First Nation continued, and in December, Brass Elson said they were assured they would be given a voice in the planning and development of the park lands for the continued use of all.

“We were told we would be in a partnership with the MNR,” said Brass Elson. “It was a shaking-hands deal with Beausoleil council. I was told to stand down and go home and warm up, so I did.”

Although the gates have been chained shut since last April, Les Stewart of the Springwater Park Citizens’ Coalition said dozens of people took to the trails on Family Day.

“People are still enjoying it, so councillors setting aside some money for its re-opening is a positive step forward,” Stewart said.

Mayor Linda Collins, who voted against setting the money aside, confirmed if the budget passes, it would go towards the re-opening of the park this year.

“Nothing is determined yet. I’m not opposed to nurturing Springwater, but the County of Simcoe is taking the lead there, frankly because they have the bigger purse,” Collins said.

She says the county has been assisting the township by hosting meetings between the First Nations and the MNR.

“We’re not a big enough player so we need to join hands with the County of Simcoe,” she said.

Spokesperson for the MNR, Jolanta Kowalski, wrote in an e-mail ‘the ministry is pleased to be working with Beausoleil First Nation to discuss a future partnership for the operation of Springwater Provincial Park.’

Kowalski also wrote that ‘the ministry is not considering selling Springwater Provincial Park. Maintaining public ownership keeps the park regulated under the Provincial Park and Conservation Reserves Act and ensures this land is protected for future generations.

Brass Elson said she and several First Nations friends will go the park for an anniversary ceremonial sleep-over April 1.

“It will be nice to spend some time in the park again.”


Come on out.

Sun park vertical 20140228 2

It’s about the land.

Sun Park 20131210It’s about the water.

Park spring

It’s about time for spring, I’d say.

Please distribute.


The $10,000 budget was approved on Feb 25th. Thanks to those on Council who voted for it (4 “yeahs”, 2 “nays”). This amount represents about 0.04% of the township’s 2014 operating budget.

Proportionally, the County of Simcoe should be in the $161,200 range. Annually.


The Ministry of Natural Resources agrees to start to consult First Nations on the future of Springwater Park – Camp Nibi.

December 21, 2013

After a 9 month peaceful and lawful occupation, the stage is set for respectful discussions.

Examiner Elizabeth Kim Sylvie

Three First Nations women — from left, Sylvie Simard, Elizabeth Brass Elson and Kimberly Rose Edwards — have been the core group of people at the centre of the Native occupation of Springwater Provincial Park since Ontario Parks declared the park north of Barrie non-operational on April 1. Beausoleil First Nation and the Ministry of Natural Resources have agreed to discuss the park’s future together. IAN MCINROY/BARRIE EXAMINER/QMI AGENCY

Ian McInroy reports for the Barrie Examiner in First Nations and MNR to enter into talks about Springwater Park’s future:

Beausoleil First Nation and the MNR have agreed to enter into discussions to ensure the interest of Camp Nibi — as a group of First Nations women who have occupied the park have renamed it — and its traditional, cultural and spiritual education activities continues. Since April there have been ceremonies, teachings, potluck suppers and a connection with the land and the surrounding community.

“The traditional territories of Beausoleil First Nation will be protected and our teachings and ceremony will continue. Camp Nibi and Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge will have a voice in the planning and development of the park lands for the continued use of all in the future,” said Elizabeth Brass Elson, one of the original protesters.

From the Ministry of Natural Resources:

Jolanta Kowalski, of the MNR, said there is still much to do in regards to the park’s future.

“The ministry is pleased to be working with Beausoleil First Nation to discuss a future partnership for the operation of Springwater Provincial Park,” she said. “The ministry has committed to working with the First Nations. However at this time, an agreement has not been signed and details of the partnership have not been determined.

“We appreciate the interests expressed by the First Nation individuals who had occupied the park and respect their commitment to First Nation traditions and culture. The public can continue to enter the park and enjoy the use of the park for activities like hiking or snowshoeing.”

Kowalski re-iterated that the park is not closed and that the province and the MNR, which took over the area in 1958, is not considering selling it.

Ontario Parks has existing partnerships with other organizations and municipalities to operate other provincial parks, she added.

“Kowalski re-iterated that the park is not closed and that the province and the MNR…is not considering selling it.”

A very large thank you is in order from the community to the core three ladies and their supporters.

NOW Magazine Toronto picks up the Springwater Park – Camp Nibi reckless development defense story.

September 5, 2013

Will the Ontario government continue to allow Springwater Provincial Park to unthinkingly slide into sprawl?

now Bacher

An article in NOW Magazine’s News Frontlines section called John Bacher on Wild West sprawl wrecking Ontario parks will be appearing on September 5, 2013.


Those who love Georgian Bay and its tributaries are getting accustomed to bizarre schemes threatening its sanctity. First there was Dump Site 41 in Simcoe County, and then the Melancthon mega-quarry – both stopped in their tracks by massive protests, marches and cook-ins.

Now there’s the Ontario government’s plan to abandon Springwater Provincial Park, 10 kilometres north of Barrie. Since April 1, women from the Beausoleil First Nation near Midland have been occupying Springwater, protesting the park’s changed status from “operational” to “non-operational.” The closure is one of six.

It’s not a coincidence that the action’s spokesperson, Beth Elson, is a veteran of both the Dump 41 and the mega-quarry fights. She’s learned a thing or two about forming alliances with non-natives – and about winning.

The province points out that even though the gates are locked, visitors can still stroll the 193-hectare green space. But the reality is, the 12 kilometres of wheelchair-accessible trails, mostly used for cross-country skiing, will no longer be maintained; comfort stations are closed, as are the buildings; and the lovely stone water fountains and picnic pavilions will presumably be left to moulder.

The women have named their occupation camp Springwater Nibi, “nibi” being the Ojibway word for “uncompromised water,” a vivid reminder that the park’s beautiful ponds are fed by underground springs – it sits on the headwaters of the Minesing Wetlands. Those gushing waters allowed park officials to restore habitat for the elegant trumpeter swan, a species once wiped out in eastern North America.

Occupiers, who have set up a sweat lodge and given smudge blessings to the park’s zoo animals before their relocation to other sanctuaries, say the land traversed by old trading routes has deep roots in Ojibway history. They worry that the Ministry of Natural Resources’ withdrawal will leave the space vulnerable to trashing.

First Nation occupiers have strong relationships with the Springwater Park Citizens’ Coalition. Native environmentalist Danny Beaton, an anti-Dump 41 mainstay, is an official SPCC adviser. The group is deeply troubled by the sprawl wreaking havoc in Simcoe County in defiance of the weak policy supposedly protecting land on the fringe of the Greenbelt.

Contrary to the Growth Management Plan, development is encircling Springwater. A few weeks before the closure, I noted a sign across a road from the park indicating proposed zoning changes from environmental protection to medium-density residential. The Coalition fears construction is poised to pollute the Wetlands.

The province says it has no intention of selling the land, but the SPCC is skeptical that the government can resist building pressures.

Parks Ontario’s Jolanta Kowalski tells me parks are being closed as a cost-saving measure, part of a “transformation plan to make the ministry more modern, efficient and sustainable.’’ Springwater, she says, “returns only 53 cents on the dollar” and gets half the visits it did a decade ago. Changing its status, she says, will provide savings of $70,000 and avoid a capital investment of $1 million.

It depends on what you value, of course. The Beausoleil women say they are taking over the space from a ministry that has left it to ruin, and they want an aboriginal healing and heritage centre established on site. Will the Liberals see the light?

John Bacher is the author of Two Billion Trees And Counting: The Legacy Of Edmund Zavitz.


Dr. Bacher continues to serve on our SPCC Advisory Council.

Zoocheck Canada is helping the MNR strip the orphaned animals and First Nations’ totems out of the now-occupied Springwater Provincial Park

April 4, 2013

Maintaining your personal and not for-profit animal rights organization’s integrity is a tough thing to do.


Funding is always scarce and the danger of being used or co-opted for $ is always present. And, in the internet world, research funding sources are next-to impossible to keep secret.

Laurie Watt writes in the Barrie Advance article quotes the official Ministry of Natural Resources spokesperson in an April 2nd article, Springwater park closes, protest ongoingpdf

“Relocation of these animals is ongoing, and in the interim, the animals will continue to be housed and cared for at the park,” said MNR senior media relations officer Jolanta Kowalski. “We are working closely with Zoocheck Canada to find suitable homes for the animals.”

MNR Minister David Orazietti was kind enough to confirm Zoocheck’s involvement in an email that he sent to the SPCC on March 28th: The ministry will no longer be maintaining the wildlife facility at the park and we are working closely with Zoocheck Canada to find suitable homes for the animals.

Zoocheck wrote a report last fall recommending that the MNR either (1) upgrade the conditions or if they refuse to do so, (2) close the +80 year old animal sanctuary. This is the 3rd attempt by the MNR to abandon the orphaned and imprinted indigenous wildlife. The 28 animals are central to the very little promotion that has ever is used to encourage attendance. The MNR has refused to assure both First and Settler Nations that the animals would stay in ON or Canada which is a problem because “hunting” in Michigan Texas it is perfectly legal to release tame deer into compounds for their customers’ target practice.

On November 16, 2012, Zoocheck Executive Director Rob Laidlaw was generous in coming to the park and explaining the deficiencies to members of the AWARE Simcoe and Springwater Park Citizens’Coalition. The SPCC has subsequently communicated with Mr. Laidlaw to integrate his concerns with a community effort to keep the park.

In January, the MNR was reminded (in writing) by our First Nations neighbours’ elected leaders that (1) their nation recognizes a uniquely intimate spiritual bond with those non-human relatives (generations upon generations of being compelled to honour and protect thier brothers) and (2) the MNR had failed to consult with them before announcing the dispersal.

The MNR were told very clearly verbally that dispersing them out of their community would result in action to protect them. Move them and expect a response, especially since the parklands have been under dispute for decades and some of the individuals (white wolf, 2 bald eagles, albino raccoon) hold exceptionally high significance in Chippewa cosmology.

The Ministry’s response to these communications? Silence.

Is “contemptuous” too strong a word to use to describe treatment of a people’s heritage by packing up the most sacred, highest animal totem or symbol (2 bald eagles) and sending them off to some for-profit zoo in America?

On April 2, 2013, Elizabeth Brass Elson and other First Nations members started camping at Springwater Provincial Park. Go to the park and ask the ladies what moved them to act on Monday. And why.

Mr. Laidlaw can be reached here or 416 285 1744 Office or 416 451 5976 Media Relations.

Springwater Park’s animal sanctuary is an 80 year old legacy that should be passed on

March 20, 2013

“The loss of Springwater Park would be a tragedy, not only for this community, but for future generations,”…

Wanzel eagle

A bald eagle takes flight in its enclosure at Springwater Provincial Park, Tuesday. As of March 31, the park’s wildlife compound is slated to be closed. (Mark Wanzel Photo)

Another good article by Ian McInroy of the Barrie Examiner, Park’s animal ‘legacy’ in peril:

The clock is ticking for the wildlife compound at Springwater Provincial Park.

The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) has stated the compound — enclosures first built in the 1930s to house a variety of wild animals and birds — will be removed as part of the ministry’s plans to change the park’s status from operational to non-operational as of March 31.

Park maintenance, road access, comfort stations and other facilities, trail maintenance and the compound will no longer be available.

Romaine Miller eloquently sums up the value of caring for those creatures that cannot care for themselves:

 “I will never forget the thrill of seeing deer up close — and feeding and petting them. They were trusting and beautiful,” she said.

“The compound cares for animals that have been injured in the wild, or are unable for a variety of reasons, unable to survive in the wild. This makes it unique among parks and an especially valuable treasure: one of a kind. It is a legacy for future generations,” Miller said.

“Today, we are able to enjoy provincial parks such as Algonquin Park and Springwater Park, because of the vision and the caring of the generations who preceded us. This is their legacy to us,” Miller added. “What will our legacy be for our children and the generations to come?

And still, a ray of hope on a breathtakingly beautiful day at the park:

“Reconsidering the decision to close Springwater Provincial Park represents an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and inspiration; to recognize a treasure of great value; and to create a meaningful legacy for future generations.”

That legacy should include the wildlife compound and all it offers to visitors, she added.

“It’s too bad the MNR can’t see the animals through the wondrous eyes of a child,” she said.

“The animal compound gives people an opportunity to develop a sensitivity and caring for animals they may not otherwise have.”

“In the immediate future at Springwater Provincial Park…Buildings will be protected and assets removed…”

February 26, 2013

The Ministry of Natural Resources spokeswoman Ms. Jolanta Kowalski reassures Springwater Park supporters.

MNR logo

As quoted in a Barrie Examiner article by Ian McInroy in Ministry of Natural Resources says it’s receptive to ideas to keep Springwater Provincial Park openpdf

No more slides.

boys on slide


No more outstanding play equipment.

mike in suit boys

winter play equipment

No more picnic tables.



No more teeter-totters.


No more swings.

terry on swing 1979

winter swings

No more drinking fountains.

richard and boys at fountain


These fountains are heritage gems.P1050631


These fountains are far superior in craftsmanship than what I saw the last time I was at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg.


Did you notice that each fountain had a step to let a child get a drink by themselves?


sos green carpet copy

Thank you Romaine.

“No buildings will be demolished in the short term…”

February 19, 2013

The Ministry of Natural Resources spokeswoman Ms. Jolanta Kowalski reassures Springwater Park supporters.

MNR logo

As quoted in a Barrie Examiner article by Ian McInroy in Ministry of Natural Resources says it’s receptive to ideas to keep Springwater Provincial Park openpdf

The main pavilion.


Cabin F.


Cabin G.P1050658

The cabins from behind.


Design detail.



Notice the way the bridge used to look?

Bridges swans

Heritage buildings can be considered an asset.

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