West Quebec mayors have accepted a plan by Quebec’s Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources to block access to the Wallingford Back Mine, a now-popular destination for Ottawa adventurers seeking a dip, dive, paddle, skate, and breathtaking geological features.
Wallingford Back Mine: Spectacular Natural Beauty
About 60k north of Ottawa near Hawkesbury, the Wallingford Back Mine features the massive, cavernous remains of what was once one of the largest quartz mines in the world. The water that has filled the mine in the years since it closed in 1972 is a tropical shade of turquise, and pretty deep, and all together makes for a spectacular geological formation.
The mine was pretty unknown until a couple years ago, when it started popping up on social media and (ahem…) a few websites that feature local gems like this.
Walligford Back Mine Becomes Nuisance for Residents
Unfortunately, since then it has become almost overrun, with local residents complaining of hundreds of tourists, traffic, garbage, and even break-ins related to the extra traffic.
“Since this summer, it’s madness,” said Jean-Marie Duchamp, who lives near the mine, in an interview with Radio-Canada last Fall. “Everyone wants to go to the mine.”
“My neighbour, somebody tried to get into his house last summer,” said Serge Morin to CBC, who has lived near the mine in the village of Mulgrave-et-Derry, Que., for six years.
The site is also pretty unsafe, to say the least. Swimmers, divers, and even just the curious are only a slipped rock away from a watery accident, with no easy way to get help. In 2013 a 22-year old man died at another local Quebec swimming hole, giving weight to their concerns.
It was with these two main concerns in mind that the Quebec ministry issued an ultimatum to the regional municipality to secure the site from trespassers, convert the site to a proper tourist location, or do nothing and have the Province would literally blow it up.
Efforts Mount to Save the Wallingford Back Mine
That existential threat prompted supporters of the mine to form a Facebook group page called Les amis de la mine Back and a petition calling for the mine used as a tourist draw for the region (and the dollars that could bring with it), citing it’s link to Quebec’s long history with mining, the sheer beauty of the location.
“A lot of people compare the mine to an underground cathedral because it is so beautiful,” Chantal Crête, one of the founders of a group devoted to preserving the mine, told CBC at the time.
Crête acknowledges that the mine really is not designed for tourist use: it would be hard to add enough safety features to actually make it safe while still allowing visitors to enjoy it’s features. However, she pointed out that the land behind the mine is federally owned, so it is possible to create a different access point that avoids the nearby rural residents and cottages.
“Our objective right now [back in October] is not to talk about projects. Our objective right now is to save the mine [from demolition]”, said Crête.
In short order the petition had over 5,000 signatures, and it was presented a few weeks later at a public consultation in October of last year.
New Wallingford Back Plan Pitched to Mayors
Then, last week the Ministry announced that they would be pitching a plan to the regional mayors to permanently block off the mine from all visitors.
Previous measures to block access have been tried already, since the site is officially off-limits. A chain link fence was erected around the site years ago, with danger signs and all, only to be pried and cut open by dedicated spelunkers.
This time the barricades will be more significant. Barriers anchored in the ground will be placed at the entrance of the old quartz mine so that no one can get there, and then trenches will also be dug on the road leading to the mine to prevent vehicles from passing.
In a concession to supporters of the mine, Ministry spokesman Sylvain Carrier told CBC in an email that demolition was now off the table, and that the new measures would not involve steps that might jeopardize a future tourist attraction.
That proposal went to the Regional Municipality on Wednesday, and the local mayors voted in favour of the plan.
Wallingford Back Barriers coming this Summer
The Ministry said before the vote that, if approved, they could have the new barriers and safety mesaures in place this summer.
So that doesn’t leave much time for those who are still determined to check it out. IF you do… why not make an effort to be respectful of the local residents and their concerns: park somewhere sensible and cart out your own garbage.