The Nature Conservancy of Canada is hoping to tap into the support of year-round residents and cottagers in Batchawana Bay to purchase and protect Lake Superior’s largest remaining privately-owned island.
Mid-April, the land trust revealed an opportunity to acquire Batchawana Island for $7.2 million. The purchase will extinguish the threat of cottage lot and resort development, as well as logging on the twin-lobed, 2,076-ha island with 27 km of shoreline, and contribute to the NCC’s existing protected areas on Lake Superior.
Local entrepreneur and long-time resident Frank O’Connor says the announcement is “such great news for the bay and all those who love this shore.” The view from O’Connor’s Voyageurs Lodge and Cookhouse, a popular waterfront attraction on the Trans-Canada Highway, is dominated by Batchawana Island’s sprawling form, which interrupts Lake Superior’s otherwise watery horizon.
The purchase “preserves the area’s natural heritage,” adds O’Connor. “It leaves the island rugged and wild and respects the history of the Indigenous peoples who have lived and have burial sites there. So many reasons make this special place worthy of protection.”
Why Batchawana Island is worth saving
Besides being the focal point of Batchawana Bay, Batchawana Island supports an ancient maple forest that’s estimated to sequester 3,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, the equivalent of almost 450 households’ emissions. The island is home to moose, black bears, gray wolves, and at least 36 species of provincially significant birds, including rusty blackbirds and bald eagles. Its sandy offshore waters support spawning lake sturgeon, an endangered species. But until now, the island was held by an American landowner and zoned to accommodate various forms of development.
“This is our best and possibly last chance to see this incredible island protected for the future,” says Kaitlin Richardson, the NCC’s northern Ontario program director. “The impact of conserving Lake Superior’s largest privately-owned island cannot be understated. The communities of plants and animals that rely on Batchawana Island are unique and precious. I can’t wait for the day when we can say they get to stay that way forever.”
How to help save Batchawana Island
Richardson says the conservancy has already raised 80 percent of the funds needed. With the deal set to close in early May, the NCC is seeking major gifts and launching a campaign in the local community to complete the fundraising. She says a plan for bridge financing is in place to extend the window for funding through the summer if the target isn’t reached by May 9.
The campaign will no doubt receive plenty of support from Batchawana Bay’s community of cottagers, who cherish island views, visit its sheltered coves by boat and kayak and have long worried about its future. “I am happy to know that Batchawana Island will remain wild,” says Tammy Story, a local cottager. “I have kayaked most of its diverse shoreline many times. There are some spots that are truly magical. It is a jewel that future generations will thank us for preserving.”
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