Save the Bala Falls

“If we let it happen here, it can happen anywhere…”

Beautiful and historic Bala Falls, visited by the Canadian explorer David Thompson in 1837 - on his way to discover a North West passage.
Beautiful and historic Bala Falls, visited by the Canadian explorer David Thompson in 1837 – on his way to discover a North West passage.

A new perspective this week.

This is the story of a David-and-Goliath-struggle to save a precious community resource. The ‘David’ in this case is the residents of a small community in Northern Ontario, and the ‘Goliath’ is the might of their own Provincial Government being used against them for profit.

Bala is a Canadian community famous for the Bala Falls. It is located in Muskoka Lakes Township in Ontario, where Lake Muskoka empties into the Moon River. It is considered one of the hubs of cottage country located north of Toronto. Thus, its year-round population of several hundred is increased by thousands of seasonal residents and weekend day-trippers during summer months. It is known as the Cranberry Capital of Ontario, as the province’s largest cranberry farms, Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh and Wahta Iroquis Growers, are located nearby.

Why it matters

Carved out of the Canadian Shield, Bala Falls is located at the west end of Lake Muskoka (approximately two hours north of Toronto) where the lake’s waters spill into Moon River and eventually into Georgian Bay. Part of an important cultural landscape, the falls are a physical landmark that define Bala’s identity and which are central to its recreational and tourism-based economy. The historically important Portage Landing on the north side of Burgess Island has been a portage point for First Nations and later for the community of Bala, tourists, YM-YWCA campers and cottagers. The landmark boat livery business, Purks Place has operated continuously since 1906. It is historically interconnected with the portage landing on the west of Burgess Island for water access to Moon River. The only other structure on Burgess Island is the Stone Church, designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Why it’s endangered

In December 2004, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources released an RFP for the development of a hydroelectric generating station on approximately one hectare of Crown land adjacent to Bala’s north dam as part of the province’s green energy program. Swift River Energy Ltd (SREL) proposes to build a 4-5 megawatt run-of-river water power facility that will include:

 

the excavation of an approach channel immediately above Bala’s North dam; the installation of an intake and a concrete powerhouse structure abutting the north Bala falls; a tailrace channel to return water to the Moon River some 40 metres from the base of the North dam’s waterfall.

Community concerns are focused on the conservation of the natural features of the falls central to Bala’s identity and its natural resources (water and water flow, foraging and spawning habitat for fish and invertebrate species, and identified heritage trees) as well as its cultural features. Concern is also focused on potential damage to the Stone Church related to blasting shock and vibration.

What you can do

Listen to the following summary, and then visit to “Save Bala Falls” website. From there it is up to you, but please support the people of Bala in any way you can.

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Thank you

 

 

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