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Camping 

Camping at the Torrance Barrens is only permitted at six official campsites designated by Ontario Parks.

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If you are thinking about camping at the Barrens this summer, here is what you need to know:

 

  • All official campsites are designated by an orange sign with a tent on it (see photograph on the right).

  • All locations without this orange signage are not authorized sites.

  • Camping and fire-making are banned across the Torrance Barrens except at the six official campsites. This ban will be enforced by Ontario Parks.

  • Camping and fire-making are also banned on lands owned by the Township of Muskoka Lakes, including those that adjoin the Torrance Barrens.

  • Designated campsites have a fire cairn and a backcountry (“thunderbox”) bathroom facility (see images to the right).

  • There are no structures, shelter, running water, cell service, Wi-Fi, or other amenities at campsites. Campers should expect bugs and mud.

  • Campers must carry out all waste, as there are no garbage facilities at the campsites.

  • All designated campsites are accessible by walking trails that start at the main parking lot off Southwood Road (see map below).

  • Campsites are currently available on a ‘first-come, first-serve’ basis and are free of charge. In the future, Ontario Parks may implement a campsite reservation/permit system, similar to locations such as Algonquin Provincial Park.  ​

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The purpose of designating campsites was to concentrate camping-related disturbance to a finite number of locations.

 

Specifically, campsite locations were chosen in consideration of ecological values (e.g., avoidance of species-at-risk habitat), respect for all user groups (e.g., campsites are located far away from dark sky viewing areas), and fire safety (e.g., all sites are located next to large waterbodies).

Each designated campsite is associated with the name of someone who helped protect the Torrance Barrens. Read more below. 

 Orange site designating an official campsite 

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Fire Cairn

Access and Location of the Torrance Barrens Official Campsites

Photograph of Official Campsite #3 / Dan Waters Site

Introducing the Designated Campsites...

The Charles Sauriol Site (Campsite #1)

 

Charles Sauriol was an environmental champion who created the protected Donlands in Toronto, and instigated Hardy Lake Provincial Park and its purchase by Ontario from the Grand family. His dream was a protected space between the Severn River and Lake Muskoka. In the early 1990s, when Charles was in his early 90s, Mike Silver met him at a gala dinner in his honour put on by the Metro Conservation Authority. The two talked and agreed to collaborate on advocating for the establishment of the Torrance Barrens. Part of Charles' motivation was for a Crown land linkage between the Barrens and Hardy Lake so as to make the protected space contiguous with the Severn River Conservation Reserve to the south of the Barrens. Charles had hiked the area of the Barrens as a youngster and loved the area and its remote, mystical qualities. Silver and Sauriol put together a number of brochures, utilizing pictures taken from the air by Lou Wise, a friend of Charles, in his airplane. They presented their request for the Barrens' establishment to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Charles actually passed away in 1995 at his typewriter while writing copy for a Barrens brochure about which he was to meet with Mike Silver only an hour later. He literally died doing what he loved. Once when asked why he was spending his time in his nineties lobbying for protected spaces, he answered "That's easy--I'm doing the Lord's work."

 

 

The Keith Villamere Site (Campsite #2)

 

Keith was Mike Silver's initial partner in advocating for the Barrens. Before anyone provided any help in the movement to protect the Barrens---there was Keith Villamere. Keith had a cottage on Clear Lake and ran the Clear Lake Cottage resort in Torrance. He was an ardent environmentalist and a very patient, caring champion of government doing the right thing. He believed in public service and knew the area of the Barrens well, having hiked and picked berries there for decades. He accompanied Mike Silver on all of his initial forays in lobbying the public realm, including meeting with local MPPs and attending Township of Muskoka and Township of Gravenhurst meetings to have resolutions passed supporting the creation of the Barrens. He hiked the area extensively and with Mike Silver mapped out the first boundaries of the proposed protected space. He also helped to do an inventory of wildlife and botany in the area. Sadly, Keith passed away in 2014 but will be remembered for his affable personality and community spirit.Campsite

 

The Dan Waters Site (Campsite #3)

 

Dan was the first local MPP (part of the NDP Ontario Govt.) for Muskoka/Georgian Bay to consider the protection of the Torrance Barrens in the early 1990s and he became a pivotal champion as the decade unfolded. He listened to presentations by Silver and Villamere and Silver and Sauriol as the local MPP. At first, he was skeptical of the protected space, given that Georgian Bay National Park had protected some similar wilderness (and this, at first, was the initial position for rejection of the Barrens idea by the Ministry of Natural Resources, which also relied on its ANSI (Area of Natural and Scientific Interest) designation as the sole source of Barrens protection. Dan quickly educated himself about the Barrens and became a pillar of support. He paved the way for the Barrens proposal to get to the hearing stage of the Conservation Reserve approval process and he saw it through its first public hearings. The NDP were defeated at the polls by the Conservatives but notwithstanding, Dan's contribution was recognized publicly at the launch of the Barrens on June 6, 1998. The local community groups who had supported the Barrens were grateful to him in recognizing the need for protection and the Barrens' importance to Muskoka.

 

The Bill Grimmett Site (Campsite #4)

 

Bill was the second MPP for Muskoka /Georgian Bay to be involved in the establishment of the Barrens. He had hiked the area as a boy, and when he took over as the local MPP, he and his family took a hike with Mike Silver at which all the Barrens wildlife showed up on cue--even the secretive blue tailed skink! Bill was an instant proponent of establishing the Barrens and supported its withdrawal under the Mining Act and its listing at the Ontario Legislature together with its formal promulgation. Bill cared about legacy and understood the need to leave our children an intact natural world. His government created a number of Conservation Reserves, responding to the need to protect more of Ontario's wilderness and intact natural places but at the same time to avoid the pitfalls and more laborious process of inclusion within the Provincial Park system. Bill's support of this protective middle ground was crucial to the late 1990s establishment of the Barrens.

The Ken Kane and Jan McDonnell Site (Campsite #5)

 

Ken and Jan worked at the Bracebridge office of the Ministry of Natural Resources and had the jurisdiction over the creation of the Barrens. They supported Mike Silver in his lobbying efforts from the inside---enlarging the area of suggested protected space after commissioning Ministry wildlife, botanical and geological studies, all of which identified noteworthy features and species at risk within the Barrens. Interestingly, apart from rare animal life, the studies identified the presence of rare Atlantic Coastal flora leftover from the last ice age. They helped to map and chart the protected area and ushered the Barrens proposal through the hearing stage and towards formal promulgation. They also were immediately supportive of the designation of the Barrens as a Dark Sky Reserve and expedited all the requisite approvals culminating in the Barrens becoming the world's first permanently designated Dark Sky Reserve. As MNR staff, both Jan and Ken saw in their role an opportunity to make a difference and to influence a positive and improved outcome. They both were critical allies in the quest to get the Barrens protected. They valued nature and the public interest in protected space. Muskoka is the richer for it.

 

The Mike Silver Site (Campsite #6)

 

The Torrance Barrens was the brainchild of Mike Silver. Its protection was his idea in the early 1990s and he campaigned strenuously with Township, District, and provincial government to make it a reality. He assembled a wave of local support, enlisting the Muskoka Ratepayers' Association, the Muskoka Lakes Association, FOCA, the Clear Lake Association, the Muskoka Conservancy, the MNR, the RASC and the YMCA (the largest abutting landowner) and obtaining supportive resolutions from the Towns of Muskoka and Gravenhurst and the District Municipality. While creating grassroots momentum towards protection, he educated individuals by taking groups of 20-50 people on hikes through the Barrens and asking them to write letters of support. He had got a certain distance with the provincial NDP govt., only to have to re-start lobbying when the Conservatives won in 1995. Interestingly, he conversed with Prince Philip and the then Ontario premier Bob Rae in 1993 at a World Wildlife Fund Event and obtained His Highness' disapproval of the Ontario govt's lack of action on the Barrens. Prince Philip chastised the premier in an off the cuff remark which may have shamed Ontario into action. After the Conservation Reserve was established, Silver campaigned to have the Barrens declared a Dark Sky Reserve, and it became a world first. Subsequently, he advocated for dark sky bylaws in the Towns of Gravenhurst and Muskoka and has led the effort to protect Muskoka's night sky---the so-called Dark Sky Project. His goal was to have the night sky seen as akin to the other natural attributes of Muskoka---such as water, fish, trees and wildlife, and to be just as cherished and protected. Mike's advocacy ultimately helped to establish the Torrance Barrens Working Group headed by the Ministry of the Environment and populated by a myriad of supportive local groups and individuals. The Working Group is a unique institution for an Ontario Conservation Reserve. It was born out of concern over Barrens despoliation and unrestricted camping and firemaking. He also lobbied to regulate the Crown land outside the Barrens so as to prevent camping, garbage and firemaking---in the interests of preventing an out-of-control fire. The motto of the Torrance Barrens "where people may frequent, but do not remain" was his wording and he has encouraged, cajoled, motivated and inspired others to take an interest in the Torrance Barrens and its protection.

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Image of Bill Grimmett Site forthcoming...

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