Province acts on 'medieval villages' in northern Ontario after months of 'limited response'

The province is taking action against 'medieval villages' being planned in the northern Ontario wilderness. It has ordered the developers working in unincorporated townships to show they are following the rules by the end of the year.

Orders developers behind wilderness villages in Temiskaming to follow the rules

The village on the shores of Long Lake, in the Temiskaming District, is calling itself Longview, but the nearby town of Charlton is worried that the development could pollute its drinking water. (Boreal Forest Medieval Villages/Facebook)

The provincial government is taking action against "medieval villages" being planned in the northern Ontario wilderness.

It has ordered the developers working in unincorporated townships to show they are following the rules by the end of the year.

More than a year after first hearing concerns about these off-grid communities popping up in the Temiskaming district, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing issued an information bulletin on Nov. 30.

It lays out existing laws and policies around planning, building, sewage disposal and water use that need to be followed in unorganized areas outside of municipal boundaries.

In a letter obtained by CBC, the ministry further requests specific information from the Boreal Forest Medieval Villages corporation that has so far developed four of these villages in the north, and gives the corporation until Dec. 30 to reply.

A piece of paper reads 'information bulletin regarding off-grid development in unincorporated areas'
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing has released an information bulletin listing the rules and regulations already in place for any development in unincorporated townships of northern Ontario. (Erik White/CBC)

The letter states that previous requests for information from the province have received "limited response."

It asks for a description and inventory of the structures built on these properties, information about the number of composting toilets in use and the estimated daily sewage flows and evidence of permits for waste disposal. It also requests information on plans for drinking water and emergency services, especially considering the "primitive" roads into these properties.

The ministry is also looking for information about the legal relationship between the people who buy shares in each village, entitling them to a half-acre of land, and the corporation that actually owns the undivided property.

Requests for comment from the Boreal Forest Medieval Villages corporation were not returned. 

'This is happening all over Ontario'

"There are laws and policies in place and that they need to be followed," said Russell Evans, president of the Kenogami Watershed Ecological Alliance.

The group was formed after a medieval village was planned for undeveloped waterfront property on Kenogami Lake, across from Evans's home.

An orange hand-made sign reads 'No! To BFMV' surrounded by green bush
There has been a lot of opposition to a planned village on Lake Kenogami, including lawn signs and a partial road blockade to keep potential investors from looking at the waterfront property (Erik White/CBC )

He and some neighbours actually tried to purchase the property earlier this year, pooling together $650,000 — about $25,000 more than what he says the village developers eventually paid for it. 

Evans said that since then, there has been some "friction" around the lake, with private roads leading to the property at times being blocked so would-be investors couldn't take a closer look.

He said he believes the ministry bulletin makes it clear that a multi-unit development would not be allowed on the waterfront property, but he would still like to see the province issue a minister's zoning order to close any potential loopholes.

"We will keep lobbying because this is happening all over Ontario," Evans said. "We will continue to make sure this never happens again."

Lois Perry, a councillor for Coleman Township and president of the Temiskaming Municipal Association, said she had a big smile when she heard the province was taking action, some 16 months after she first raised concerns.

"It started to get a little scary that they weren't listening. And lo and behold, they were," she said. "We will not drop it."

A dirt road leads into the wilderness past a small structure, a rope and a sign that reads 'Private drive: residents only'
The gate to the Swan Lake community, where only a handful of the 160 investors have set up trailers and small homes so far. (Erik White/CBC )

Perry said she hopes that the dozens of people who were interested in moving to these wilderness communities will still be able to come to the north.

"The north is always open to new development and more people; however, it has to be done the proper way," she said. 

"You know, the north isn't a playground that is open to everyone to just come up and abuse the resources."

MPP wonders how rules will be enforced

Tanner Demers and his partner bought seven shares in a village calling itself Swan Lake, on an old clearcut, not too far off Highway 11.

They moved from southern Ontario to Kirkland Lake a few years ago so they could start planning their dream home on the bush land they purchased for about $19,000.

"Ideally if the project pans out the way it was supposed to pan out, I would love to be able to raise a family up here. I would love to be able to do it in the bush. I mean, I don't know if that's going to be possible," the 27-year-old said. 

Tanner Demers stands in the middle of a stand of fir trees wearing a blue jacket and orange toque.
Tanner Demers, 27, bought seven shares of the Swan Lake village near Kirkland Lake for $19,000 and still hopes to build a family home in the off-grid community. (Tanner Demers)

"If this project pans out, this will be the best investment I've ever made. If it doesn't pan out, sure, I lose some money. The loss isn't that huge if we can't build residential homes there. I'm still going to go in and enjoy the property."

Demers said he hopes Swan Lake can be saved if he and his would-be neighbours plan it out properly. 

"I don't think anybody that's invested into the project is trying to dodge that. If we have to move forward with proper planning, we're happy to do that," he said. 

"So far I haven't been told that what we're doing is illegal, just that we have to provide information about how our project is running."

Timiskaming-Cochrane MPP John Vanthof stands overlooking the forest surrounding the town of Temagami.
Timiskaming-Cochrane MPP John Vanthof says he doesn't fault the province for the slow response to the developments in unorganized townships, but he wonders how the rules will be enforced. (John Vanthof)

John Vanthof, the MPP for Timiskaming-Cochrane, said unincorporated areas in general have been "flying under the radar" of the provincial government for decades.

"I think it took everyone by surprise when the village concept reared its head; it took a while for the government to react," the veteran New Democrat MPP said.

"I don't fault the government for taking so long. I wish they would have acted sooner. But it's something we've never had to deal with before."

Vanthof said he does wonder how the province intends to enforce the rules spelled out in the bulletin in these somewhat remote unincorporated areas. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs did not answer that or other questions submitted by CBC.

"We have to make sure that we don't hurt people who live in unorganized who are actually trying to live by the law of the land in an attempt to stop those who aren't," he said.

"That's the quandary we are all facing."


Erik White


Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to