From Willy Brant’s Diary

Part 1 — planting trees — Rainy day last spring.  Stopped at Joe’s on my way home from town.  Found him busy transplanting tiny little cabbage plants into bigger pots; Joe has great big hands, my fingers are smaller and nimbler so I stayed to give him a hand with that little chore.

I say “So, I came home from town by the back road, haven’t gone that way for a year or two, and guess what I saw?” His reply “How would I know, maybe a moose or something?”

“Nope, you know the old McWhirtle place over in the 4th concession?  That bigger field at the back, must be 40 acres?  The whole thing has been planted to trees; you can just see them above the grass, nice job, looks like a good success rate, nicely spaced.”

Joe responded, squinting as he tried to pick up a really tiny cabbage “Nothing new there, the bush is claiming a lot of abandoned fields, I saw a field over toward Minnitaki all nicely planted. Apparently you can apply to Ontario to have your field planted, and they will send a crew, no charge, and pay you rent besides!  But only on your best agricultural land, if you have a patch that is too steep or rocky or whatever to farm, so it should be planted to trees, they won’t do that!  All at the same time as Ontario is putting up big bucks to encourage new farmers in the Temiskaming district.  They want to re-open long abandoned homesteads there while they shut down small farms here, even though the land and the climate there is not as good as here in the Wabigoon Valley.”

“Are you kidding?” from me, and “Nope” from him. Then he went on to explain that some bureaucrat noticed that in Quebec, across the Ottawa River from Temiskaming, there is quite a prosperous-looking farm community.  The dolt of course didn’t twig that Quebec supports small farms, while Ontario moves heaven and earth to force them to go big or go broke.

He finished “So, farming has disappeared in country like Temiskaming where the landscape is broken up by rock hills or lakes or whatever so big fields are not possible. Our soil and climate is better than theirs, so our farms haven’t completely gone back to bush like theirs, but it’s getting close.”

“Good grief!” from me, then “Remember old Billie McWhirtle? I remember him telling a story that when he was a kid, which would be like 90 years ago, their farmhouse was too hot to stay inside in summer.  I can imagine, cooking for all those kids on a wood-fired cook stove and no summer kitchen.  He said they would stay outside, and in early summer the black flies and mosquitoes were so bad they would go cut brush and burn it, the smoke kept the bugs away.  That’s how that big field got made into farmland in the first place.  Billie must be turning over in his grave to see all that work undone”.

Joe finished our talk with “Yep, well, you have heard me rant on all the possible reasons why Ontario wants us out of here, none of which really make practical sense, but all of which seem to help keep the money in the city where it belongs. Get used to it.”


Part 2 — Save the Boreal Forest — Joe was a bit more cheerful when I dropped in that rainy day last week, big difference from last spring.  He was sitting there with a silly grin on, surrounded by some of the heavy books and periodicals he reads, he is not real keen on the internet, says it makes it too easy to lie to the people.

“So what’s up? You into the sauce or something, you are looking mighty smug this morning!”  “Oh, well”, he said, “I feel a bit of optimism we might escape the cloud we have been under.”  “How So?” from me.

“Well”, he says, waving at a pile of papers around him, “Remember ‘Save the Boreal Forest’? A few years ago some American billionaires set it up as a charity, put out about $60 million in grants to the usual environmental groups and protest groups so they could make a huge fuss that the Canadian Boreal Forest was in danger, and had to be ‘saved’.  Actually, turns out it was only Northern Ontario they were concerned about, when they got our forest industry on the ropes they ran out of money and forgot all about ‘saving’ the rest of the Boreal Forest.”

“So, that seems a bit off”, says me, “Doesn’t the boreal forest renew itself by fire? So environmentally the best way to get the wood the world needs is to harvest the mature boreal forest, save all that C02 going up in the air when it burns, then plant again so the new trees can suck more C02 out of the air?”

He exploded “Are you kidding? This is about politics, not practical reality or what is good for the planet!”  Then he went on to say that with all the protest groups howling and a sympathetic government, the Ontario Forest Industry threw in the towel and signed a protocol which puts the whole industry in sunset mode, no new investment or growth.  Any mills that went down because of the economy are down permanently, their forest limits taken away.  Any mills still operating have three times as much timber growing on their limits as they use, so they don’t have to be real up on reforesting.  A downward spiral.

“But why would the billionaires want to shut us down? Surely they can figure all this out” from me, and   Joe replied “Well, you know my theory, the American Midwest is drying up, they won’t be able to support their population or the huge agriculture there, it is the breadbasket of the world, and they want us gone so they can divert our northern rivers south!  Of course that is just a theory, maybe there is something else.”

After some thought, I came up with “So, why so cheerful and optimistic? Sounds pretty gloomy to me” and he replied with “Yes, but our new Premier just announced that he will support growth in the North including the Forest Industry.  Maybe he will tear up the “Northern Ontario Growth Plan’ we have been stuck under, it is really more of a ‘Northern Ontario Shrink Plan’.  Maybe that will put us on an upward slope for a change.”  So, sure hope he is right, if we want our northern towns to survive.

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