The Darker Side of Ontario's Boreal Forests

by streetleaf on October 7, 2016 - 11:04pm

"Ontario environment officials concerned that clear-cut logging releases mercury” as seen in the Toronto Star

            Grassy Narrows is a first nation reserve on the English River (ironic) of Western Ontario which signed to treaty three in 1871. This Ojibway first nation community has an upsetting and heartbreaking history with environmental mismanagement. Over an 8 year period in the late sixties to early seventies, a local paper plant upstream polluted the river in which the Grassy Narrows community lives and depends on. Dominant among the pollutants in the river was the neurotoxin, mercury. As the smaller fish were exposed to the mercury, the larger fish bio-accumulated higher levels of mercury as they were eating many smaller fish. The residents of Grassy Narrows have always relied on fish as a primary source of protein and were then being exposed to incredibly high levels of mercury. Today in the community, many are suffering from the long term effects of mercury poisoning such as loss of muscle coordination, tunnel vision, tremors and slurred speech. These people have gone through terrible tragedy and loss, and are now being threatened with the prospect of even more.

Sections of Boreal forest upstream to the reserve are being considered for logging projects. This is incredibly controversial as research has recently found that logging can increase levels of mercury in an ecosystem. Richard Carignan, research associate at the University of Montreal, found in a 2000 study that Boreal lakes which were nearby or exposed to logging (“logged lakes”) had a significantly higher level of mercury in Northern Pikes (Garcia and Carignan, 2000). The levels of mercury found in Northern Pikes in the logged lakes were above the World Health Organization’s safe consumption limit. Does this scientific evidence backed with the tumultuous history of the Grassy Narrow’s community not give us enough reason to terminate any potential logging projects in the area? Apparently not, the ministry denied Grassy Narrows a request for an environmental impact assessment that would focus on the long term implications (10 years later) for the logging projects. To worsen the situation (if possible), emails have been released to the public in which ministry scientists have acknowledged logging to cause mercury introduction as well as the fact that no downstream implication assessment has been completed. Not only are we revoking basic human rights of living in a safe, poison free environment, we are creating a vulnerability to disability in the community and stripping the community of their previous traditional relationship with the environment.

Aboriginal knowledge is centered on the relationships and connections between the people and the environment. This is their way of life and has been for years before European Colonization. What I am most disturbed by is Canada’s awareness of the issues and the lack of action being taken. In 2013, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, stated that “…aboriginal claims remain persistently unresolved, and overall there appear to be high levels of distrust among aboriginal peoples toward government at both the federal and provincial levels” (Anaya, 2013). This official UN statement was made three years ago and we are still not seeing social justice change or government acknowledgement of aboriginal claims and issues. The Ontario Boreal Forest is more so the property of the Oijbway and other aboriginal peoples than anyone else’s and this must be nationally respected. Grassy Narrow’s community must be brought into the issue-attention cycle as I believe many Canadians are unaware of what has taken place and what is still taking place in terms of the neglect of aboriginal rights.



Anaya, J. (2014, September). The situation of indigenous peoples in Canada. UN Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Garcia, E., & Carignan, R. (2000). Mercury concentrations in northern pike ( Esox lucius ) from boreal lakes with logged, burned, or undisturbed catchments. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 57(S2), 129-135. doi:10.1139/f00-126

Poisson, J., & Bruser, D. (2016, September 14). Ontario environment officials concerned that clear-cut logging releases mercury. Retrieved October 07, 2016, from


Hi, there,
I really enjoyed reading your post! Your title was catchy, creative and peaked my interest making me want to read what it was about. Your post really focused on the ongoing environmental issues related to the Grassy Narrows community which is really interesting as it is not an issue I’ve heard or learned about. It brought to issue that traditional Aboriginal lands and resources are being contaminated by extraction processes causing health effect. This is something that is happening in many Aboriginal communities but is often not reported on in depth by the media and so many people are not really aware of it. I also really liked how you tied in scientific findings to support the information presented to show that the issue extends further than just one news article.

My only question would be how do you feel about all of this? You mentioned you were disturbed by the lack of reporting and awareness of the issues surrounding Aboriginal rights as well as the logging projects going on in the Boreal forests. Other than disturbance, what else did you think about when you first read this? Did it raise any emotions? Bring forth knowledge you’ve gained from classes? I really enjoyed your post but I think that you could include more of a reaction piece more than just the presentation of facts. Let the reader get to know you a little bit while they read your piece! Otherwise, I think your post is very well-written, easy to understand and really gets the issue out there for people to learn about!


I really enjoyed reading your post and the title really drew me in as it seemed like a dark and mysterious secret that I was eager to hear about. To my surprise I had heard of this issue and I actually wrote quite and extensive policy analysis on this issue in a previous class! I am happy to hear that you as a fellow classmate have heard of this issue and how detrimental it really is.

Prior to my policy analysis I hadn’t really heard of this issue and I was quite ignorant to how poorly these people are being treated and neglected. As part of my assignment I had to create some policy alternatives to deal with this situation, so I am curious to hear what yours might be? These people have been poisoned, their livelihood taken away from them, and they are just fighting for the right to survive in a healthy environment but this seems to be a lot to ask of the Ontario government. I hope that something can be done so the people in this area can return to their traditional way of life.

Firstly, your title is really good. I liked the play on words, and it made me read your article. Also, I liked the picture you added. Secondly, I can't even imagine what those poor people are going through! High levels of mercury in fish is bad anywhere, but especially where people depend on it! The whole eco system there seems to be in trouble--humans, fish, trees. I guess I don't understand why people want to do logging nearby in a way that they know will cause higher mercury levels. I am just wondering what people can do to stop the logging, or what officials can do to make it safer. Is there any action that can be taken?

I had no idea that logging can cause mercury to be released into the ecosystem! I thought that it was bad enough that logging projects can impact the livelihood of the Indigenous peoples, and now I have the knowledge that it is even more detrimental to the ecosystem than I had known. I have no doubts that logging operations can allow the release of pollutants into the ecosystem, but I would like to know how they discovered the elevated mercury levels. If I knew that they had monitored the affected lakes before the logging operations and confirmed that the mercury levels have increased over time, than I would believe this article even further.


I'd like to start off by saying that this is a well written post. You managed to concisely summarize the article and provide your take on it in an engaging way. It is also upsetting to me how it seems as though the government is being negligent. The fact that e-mails have been released revealing internal government knowledge of the implications of a logging site being developed really shows that this inaction is not warranted. In my opinion it is the role of the government to supply it's subjects with the right to EA's when reasonable. This situation seems like one which should be investigated. I was also unaware that forestry and logging had an impact on local mercury levels - so thanks for that!

I initially chose to comment on this post because it is well written, with a catchy title and great picture. Also, you are addressing a heavily discussed hot topic, but from a case study I have not heard of before. I too disagree with the negligence of the government regarding Aboriginal well-being, however I think this is just another case in a long list of similar situations where the well-being of those directly affected is put on the back burner (or completely ignored). I am actually very disturbed that government and industry scientists are aware of the problems associated with logging, and there have been emails made public showcasing such, and that inaction and continued development is still an option with no repercussions. There are a few issues here that need to be addressed, and could be solved by mandatory impact assessments and environmental/societal based regulations before development of resources can even start.

This topic really caught my eye along with your tittle witch is very daring. This article really educated me on the issue that mercury is being exposed by logging in the Boreal Forest. I am very interested in why there is nothing that is being done to stop the logging, when it is known that mercury is present and there are negative effects of mercury on humans. Here is an article I thought might interest you: