Save 'breathtaking' west Quebec mine from demolition, petition urges

A scenic, off-limits mine in western Quebec that's seen an influx of visitors over the past year could end up being demolished if a campaign to save it is unsuccessful.

Tourists have flocked to remote Wallingford-Back Mine over past year, annoying residents

The picturesque Wallingford-Back Mine in western Quebec had seen an influx of tourists from Ottawa and the surrounding area. (Chloé Fedio/CBC)

A scenic, off-limits mine in western Quebec that's seen an influx of visitors over the past year could end up being demolished if a campaign to save it is unsuccessful.

The Wallingford-Back Mine, located approximately 60 kilometres northeast of Ottawa, has become a popular spot for paddlers, ice skaters and explorers, all drawn to its pristine turquoise waters and imposing rock pillars.

However, Quebec's Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources has issued an ultimatum to the regional municipality of Papineau, Que.: either invest money to secure the mine from trespassers, or demolish it.

In response, supporters of the mine launched a petition this weekend calling upon the site to be protected for its "undeniable richness, not only for the Outaouais region, but also for all of Quebec."

The petition had about 1,800 signatures by Monday afternoon.

"A lot of people compare the mine to an underground cathedral because it is so beautiful," said Chantal Crête, one of the founders of a group devoted to preserving the mine.

 "It's really breathtaking when you're there."

Closed since 1972, the Wallingford-Back Mine was once one of the largest quartz, mica and feldspar mines of its kind in North America.

Nearby residents, however, have complained about the noise, garbage and traffic problems generated by the recent arrival of hundreds of tourists to the mine, spurred on by postings on social media and on travel websites about its natural beauty.

"Since this summer, it's madness," said Jean-Marie Duchamp, who lives near the mine, in an interview with Radio-Canada last week. "Everyone wants to go to the mine."

Papineau's council is expected to make a decision about the mine's fate at a meeting on Oct. 19. Some local politicians, like Saint-Sixte, Que., Mayor André Bélisle, have told Radio-Canada that two weeks isn't enough time to come up with a plan for the site, however.

No one from Quebec's Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources was available for an interview Monday.

Sunlight dapples the frozen waters of the Wallingford-Back Mine in west Quebec. A petition to save the mine from being demolished has gotten more than 1,800 signatures since being launched three days ago. (Chloé Fedio/CBC)

'Historical potential'

Crête acknowledges that the mine isn't designed to handle huge numbers of visitors, as the only road in is a narrow thoroughfare intended to be used by the cottagers and rural residents who live there.

But she says there are better options out there than simply demolishing the mine — in part because the land behind the mine is federally controlled and could be used to create a different access point.

She said she's planning to take local public officials on a tour of the mine ahead of the Oct. 19 meeting.

"It's got a lot of historical potential. It could become a museum site for [mining] history in Canada," said Crête.

"Our objective right now [however] is not to talk about projects. Our objective right now is to save the mine." 

With files from Radio-Canada