Climate Change

Discover how climate change is affecting the communities and ecosystems of Georgian Bay, and what you can do to help

A photo of Kyla Zhowshkawabunokwe Judge paddling Oshkinigig.

The Story of Oshkinigig

In October 2019, several Anishinaabek youth from the territory led a wiigwaas jiimaanke. The focus of the build was to revitalize and celebrate the ancestral knowledge, teachings, and practice of building an Anishinaabe wiigwaas jiimaan.

Youth and participants were guided by the expertise of Anishinaabek canoe builders from throughout the Great Lakes. With community support and the dedication of more than 40 Parry Sound High School students and more than 10 Indigenous youth, the jiimaan was built in 19 intensive and beautiful days. Over 200 people from the community came together at a traditional gathering place to honour and launch the jiimaan into the waters.

The wiigwaas jiimaan is deeply rooted within Anishinaabek identity and culture. It connects people to the water, to the land, and to each other. A jiimaanke is a group effort, bringing together families and community members of all ages and with a wide variety of skills.




People, Nation



Anishinaabe adziwin/naadziwin

Way of Being, Way of Life

Anshinaabe nendamowin/nendamwin

Way of Thinking




Canoe Building


Way of Knowing, Learning

Building a jiimaan is one of the most complex forms of Anishinaabek science and technology. Over the past 150+ years, the practice of building wiigwaas jiimaanan has been interrupted due to policies of assimilation, such as the Indian Act and residential schools. Many Anishinaabek still have little to no access to their traditional lands and resources.

Kendaasowin loosely translates to “learning or knowledge.” The jiimaanke encompassed the use of language, cultural protocols, community and clan roles, and other elements of traditional practices.

Made of natural materials that have been harvested according to cultural protocols, every piece of the jiimaan is a gift that comes sustainably from the land and the forest.

  • Hull: wiigwaas (white birchbark)
  • Ribs: giizhik (cedar)
  • Thwarts: aagimaak/aagmaak (white ash)
  • Lashings and pitch: gaawaandagwaatig (white spruce tree)

The skills participants gained are specific to the cultural identity of Anishinaabek communities throughout the Great Lakes. These include understanding the characteristics of different trees and plants, as well as carving wood and stitching with spruce roots. The skills involved in canoe construction are easily translated into a variety of other artistic and scientific processes, such as making snowshoes or baskets, collecting maple sap, making fish spears, or building wiigwam and lodges.

Anishinaabek youth use their traditional knowledge and skills to take action on climate change by monitoring changes in nature, adapting harvests to those changes, and recovering Indigenous food sovereignty to build resilience. Protecting the land and water for future generations is a pillar of Anishinaabe philosophy and an idea that is woven into the canoe build and her caretaking protocols.

During Falling Leaves Moon, on October 25, 2019, the community gathered for a ceremony with prayer, a smudge, and an offering to the sacred fire. The naming of the jiimaan was led by Zahgausgai, Elder John Rice. Zahgausgai is Anishinaabe from Wasauksing First Nation, and he is a member of the Bear Clan.

Members of Georgian Bay Anishinaabek Youth at the Oshkinigig ceremony and launch.

The canoe was then named Oshkinigig and taken for a paddle out on Mnidoo-gamii. Light as a leaf and strong as a bow, the jiimaan danced on the water as a loon watched from a distance.

Oshkinigig’s name can be loosely translated to mean “The New Ones.” Zahgausgai spoke about the gig (otter) who was calling out to the Four Directions for help, but ultimately it was the strong Anishinaabek youth persevering to learn their ancestral ways.

The jimaanke has been instrumental in mobilizing and strengthening community dialogue surrounding relationships and responsibilities to protect our land and water for future generations. Increasing our sense of cultural identity, pride, and personal connection are important. The best part of the project was the celebration of community building as Anishinaabek!

Kyla Zhowshkawabunokwe Judge
Winter bark etching on Oshkinigig.

For so long, Anishinaabek have been told that we’re not allowed to be Anishinaabek. We built a birchbark canoe on the traditional territory of Wasauksing First Nation, on a specific piece of land that was used as a place of physical and lateral violence against Wasauksing Anishinaabek.It’s still challenging to have youth be part of these projects due to the systemic barriers they face, so our goal is to make these projects accessible and create a safe space for youth to build strong community and cultural connections.

Kyla Zhowshkawabunokwe Judge

The skills and knowledge that are used in building a wiigwaas jiimaan are no longer common today. The practice of canoe building has been interrupted over the last 150 years due to a number of issues, including loss of access to traditional land-base resources and to cultural assimilation. Due to impacts of colonization, such as residential schools and the Sixties Scoop, the knowledge and practice of canoe building has been buried.

Taylor Nanowaygahkekwe Judge

I learned patience. You have to take time to reflect on what you’ve done and the next steps that need to be taken.

Dawson Bidwayodaam Bloor

Oshkinigig is sheltered at Mukwa Nayoshing (Bear Point, Killbear Provincial Park) unless she is travelling with the Georgian Bay Anishinaabek Youth.

The Gift of Story

Over the years, the Georgian Bay Mnidoo Gamii Biosphere has been gifted with time, knowledge, connections, and stories from Indigenous people within the territory. These people include elders, healers, teachers, artists, grandmothers and grandfathers, and youth leaders. The Biosphere is grateful for these gifts, and in response holds a Cultural Advisory Circle open to all, four times each year for learning and sharing, intergenerational mentoring, and as a way to guide the path of the organization.

John Rice (Zahgausgai) giving Oshkinigig her name at the ceremony in October 2019.

Before Oshkinigig, there was a story gifted about the importance of the wiigwaas jiimaan shared by Elder John Rice (Zahgausgai) from Wasauksing First Nation. He told of the Anishinaabek connection to the river called the Ziigwan (like the season, spring) or Gizhiijwan (fast-flowing river) that flows through Wasauksing territory. It is currently known by settlers as the Seguin River but is reclaiming its original name. The story told of how before colonization, canoes were made and kept for anyone in the community to use.

The building of Oshkinigig was a vision shared by youth, elders, and adults alike to revitalize the wiigwaas jiimaan as part of Anishinaabe aadziwin and ininemowin. Elder Marilyn Capreol, Anishinaabekwe from Shawanaga First Nation and member of the French River Visitor Centre First Nation and Aboriginal Advisory Committee, provided a connection to federal resources for youth to build the canoe and support youth-led programming for the next seven years. Miigwech to those who continue to share their gifts.

Taking the fur off a deer hide to prepare for drying and scraping.

Georgian Bay Anishinaabek Youth

Georgian Bay Anishinaabek Youth (GBAY) is an Indigenous youth-led initiative in partnership with the Georgian Bay Mnidoo Gamii Biosphere. GBAY supports Indigenous youth along the rivers and eastern shore of Mnidoo-gamii and in Parry Sound, Ontario—within the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850.

Anishinaabe nendamowin (thought/philosophy) is the foundation of GBAY. Their projects and programming are connected to Anishinaabe aadziwin (cultural land-based learning), and their goal is to create safe spaces for Indigenous youth to build strong community and cultural connections.

GBAY’s first project was building Oshkinigig, the wiigwaas jiimaan. For GBAY, it was an act of reclamation and revitalization of Anishinaabek knowledge and identities. The depth of knowledge, skills, and capacity needed for harvesting, building, and caring for a wiigwaas jiimaan is a traditional rite of passage for Anishinaabek of the Great Lakes. Oshkinigig now travels each year through the territory as a teacher and a beautiful vessel for youth canoe trips and cultural learning.

It is a human right for Anishinaabek youth to be Anishinaabe.

By supporting each other, youth ages 12 to 29 have developed language revitalization programs, renewed their cultural practices, hosted ceremonies, and are relearning food sovereignty. GBAY has been able to reach hundreds of youth within the Georgian Bay Biosphere and across Turtle Island. While they focus on local communities, they see value in connecting Indigenous youth across aki kwe, Mother Earth.

Dawson Bidwayodaam Bloor preparing bones to be made into tools.

The communities GBAY connects with face existing inequalities that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. The youth GBAY are trying to reach face multiple barriers, so they create peer-to-peer programs that are as inclusive and accessible as possible—an act of decolonization they want others to follow.

The multitude of projects, programming, and partnerships of the initiative are examples of Indigenous innovation. In an era of reconciliation, it is necessary for Indigenous youth to see their realities as caretakers of the land reflected throughout Mnidoo-gamii.

Follow GBAY on Instagram @GBAnishinaabekYouth.

A photo of ice sheets and broken up ice in Parry Sound. Photo credit: Meg Wallace.

But in those times, too, the winters were healthy winters in Pointe au Baril (Gebiiyaang). There wasn’t the drought we suffer now, and it was cold enough to freeze ice blocks that would have been four feet in depth…. And you know, I remember seeing those ice blocks when I was small, and the clarity so that we understood what the ice was, and the way the people used to mark the ice for safe travelling was they would cut a square there, pull it up and put it on the ice so that we understood that four feet over here, a foot and a half over here, no ice over there, that type of thing. And they needed to do that, the men and the families, because some of the families lived on the islands. And people had a horse and a sleigh. They were what I call the ice highways.

How has it changed? … The abuse of a woman, the greatest one that we have, Earth Woman (Skwagaamok). After listening many days on the ice in February 2023, and sitting on the shores, I understood Ice Woman’s message of how weak she is becoming. You cannot stress this enough. I don’t even know what 50 years from now is going to look like. The impact in that short time, that’s how fast things are deteriorating. We’re not looking at a four-foot block of clear ice as I did at five years old, six years old. And now I’m 74, or 962 moons. That’s not a long time.

Elder Marilyn Capreol, Shawanaga First Nation. Adapted from The Water Peoples: Stories of Growing Up on the Eastern Edge of Georgian Bay.

Image credit: Meg Wallace

Global to Local

Climate change is the result of excess greenhouse gases (GHG) being emitted into the atmosphere as a result of human activity. The burning of fossil fuels, such as oil, gas, and coal, to power industry, vehicles, and buildings is the primary source of GHG emissions.

Before the Industrial Revolution (1760–1840), emissions were very low. However, with the increased use of fossil fuels to power machines, global emissions rose to 6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year by 1950. The amount had almost quadrupled by 1990, reaching a rate of over 22 billion tonnes per year. Currently, the world emits over 34 billion tonnes of CO2 each year.

A chart showing the global CO2 Emissions since 1900.

Carbon dioxide and other GHG emissions are accumulating in the atmosphere and causing unprecedented rates of global warming. With an increase of just 1°C in global temperature, the world is already experiencing more frequent severe weather events, including heat waves, wildfires, and flooding. Almost everyone can point to a severe weather event that has occurred in the last few years.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has underscored that global warming must be limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This will require drastically reducing GHG emissions and balancing remaining emissions through carbon sinks to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Addressing climate change is urgent. In Canada, communities are experiencing a rate of warming approximately twice the global average, due to the country’s northern latitude. Communities within the Georgian Bay Mnidoo Gamii Biosphere, along with the rest of the world, must act now to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Climate change is one of the great challenges of our time. It is changing nature itself, our mental and physical health, our economy, and our livelihoods. Tackling climate change requires a shift in how we live and work and think. Working together, we can have a healthier, more prosperous and sustainable future.

Regional Climate Action Plan for Georgian Bay Mnidoo Gamii Biosphere, 2023
  • Climate change is occurring right now.
  • Our current human activity is causing it.
  • We must act quickly to reduce the number of catastrophic events.
  • Individual actions make a big difference!

 Did you Know?

GHG emissions in Canada are among the highest per person in the world, along with the United States, Australia, and China.

Regional Emissions

Below is a summary of the GHGs produced in the Georgian Bay Biosphere region, calculated using the Partners for Climate Protection model. Similar to other regions of Canada, the highest emissions are from transportation and residential buildings.

A chart showing regional emissions.

The calculation of emissions from waterborne transportation is not part of a standard model, so data was collected on recreational watercraft ownership, average engine size, fuel type, average annual operating hours, and average fuel consumption. This calculation does not capture transient watercraft (coming from outside the region), nor commercial barges or fleets. Until a standard model is developed or more data is available (including fuel sales), these are the best estimates possible and part of an important conversation about reducing recreational GHG emissions in eastern Georgian Bay.

Use our carbon calculator to calculate emissions from your household or business, then set a goal to reduce them. Just by washing your laundry in cold water and hanging it to dry, you can reduce your GHGs by about 1 tonne each year! To calculate the GHG emissions of your home or business, visit:

Climate Impacts

Ice Cover

By looking at ice cover data for Georgian Bay, we can see a warming trend in our region. The Canadian Ice Service has been recording ice cover weekly since 1973. A variety of techniques are used to track changes in ice cover, including real-time satellite observations that record the area of ice cover, maximum and average ice thickness, and the duration of ice cover each year.

There is considerable variation in ice cover from year to year; this is common for most climate-related data. Despite colder and warmer years, the maximum annual ice cover for Georgian Bay from 1973 to 2023 shows a warming trend over the past 50 years.

A chart shing the annual ice cover from 1973 to 2023.

Winter 2023 saw temperatures 4°C above normal, with temperatures 6°C above normal in January 2023. Warm air temperatures in winter resulted in record low ice cover on the Great Lakes, with only 7% coverage recorded on February 13, 2023. This is 35 to 40% below the expected ice cover for this time of year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which monitors the Great Lakes.

A graphic demonstrating the ice cover of Georgian Bay in 2023.

Water Temperature

Results from summer surface water temperature data show a similar warming trend to ice cover. From 1980 to 2022, the average summer surface water temperature in Lake Huron rose between 0.4°C and 0.8°C per decade.

In Severn Sound, the mean ice-free season (May to October) surface water temperature at five locations increased significantly from 1969 to 2021. According to the Severn Sound Environmental Association, seasonal mean surface water temperature has risen by an average of 2.3°C over the last 53 years, or 0.4°C each decade, with the temperature in early October increasing at double the rate for mean temperature.

While these changes might not seem significant, an increase in water temperatures of up to 8°C over the next century could change the aquatic ecosystem as we know it. This rate of warming may be too fast for some aquatic species to adapt.

A chart showing the water temp of Georgian Bay from 1970 to 2023

 Did you Know?

Like Georgian Bay, surface water temperature in inland lakes is also projected to increase. In 2021, a Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry report showed that surface water temperatures may increase by 3.0 to 4.1°C by the 2050s. Similarly, the ice-free season is projected to lengthen by between 37 and 53 days by the 2050s. These changes will have considerable impacts on fish habitat across the province. Coldwater species, like lake trout (nmegos) and brook trout, will lose habitat across the province, while warm water species such as smallmouth bass (shigan/noosa owesi) will gain habitat.

Community Health and Well-Being

Health effects of climate change are beginning to be better understood. Community vulnerability is being studied and discussed locally to find ways to protect at-risk populations and create short- and long-term adaptation strategies to help communities prepare for the future. Populations most vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change include seniors, children, those who are socially and economically disadvantaged, those with chronic diseases and compromised immune systems, Indigenous populations, and residents of northern and remote communities.

Health and well-being is directly and indirectly affected by climate-related effects, such as:

  • Extreme heat, floods, wildfires, hurricanes, ice storms, droughts
  • Reduced drinking water quality, availability, and access
  • Increased air pollution and greater exposure to UV radiation
  • Increased food contamination and spread of vectors that cause disease
  • Changes to economic livelihoods
  • Impacts to mental health
  • Changes to Indigenous hunting, fishing, food sovereignty, and way of life
  • Food shortages and resulting food insecurity
In response to the pandemic, GBB created their GrowingTogether program in 2020 to help those facing food insecurity. The program includes managing community garden plots and distributing hundreds of food container gardens to those in-need.

Climate justice policies and initiatives address climate change and equity at the same time. They recognize that colonization and industrialization are some of the major drivers of climate change globally, and that climate actions that deepen injustice will not be fair or effective solutions for the planet and people.

A climate emergency, increasing disparity and poverty, the housing crisis. These complex and intractable issues are challenging livability in Canadian cities. They are interrelated, and intervention strategies for one impact the others. By understanding and addressing energy poverty, policymakers can advance progress on a number of these critical priorities and ensure we ‘leave no one behind’ in the low-carbon transition.

Canadian Urban Sustainability Practitioners

As of 2019, 55% of households in the Parry Sound District were found to be “energy poor,” where 6% or more of after-tax household income was being spent on home energy.

The upfront costs of energy retrofits are a barrier to many. Strategies are needed for affordable retrofits to improve the energy performance and comfort of inefficient housing that can be too cold, too hot, or too damp. Part of having affordable housing for all means designing homes to be energy efficient, like the one built by Habitat for Humanity in Pointe au Baril in 2020. Communities that generate clean, renewable power locally can also help manage energy costs for residents and create grid systems that are more resilient.

We believe that Indigenous peoples’ rights and knowledge systems are critical to developing solutions to the climate crisis and achieving climate justice.

Indigenous Climate Action

 Declining Moose (Mooz) Populations

Concerns have been raised by several communities in the Anishinabek Nation over declining moose (mooz) populations in their traditional territories. Three communities, Biigtigong Nishnaabeg, Magnetawan First Nation, and Shawanaga First Nation, collaborated on a study with the Anishinabek/Ontario Fisheries Resource Centre, Laurentian University, and Mount Allison University to gather local knowledge and perspectives on how declines in the moose population are affecting food security, well-being, and ways of life. Community members identified factors associated with moose declines, shared how declines are impacting the community, and their perspectives on community-led moose monitoring and management.

The primary factor contributing to moose declines was overharvesting, with climate change and road mortality as other significant pressures. Shawanaga First Nation community members shared that the timing of the moose calving season, level of predation, and the persistence of moose habitat are, or will likely be, influenced by warming temperatures as a result of climate change.

A photo of the high water in the Parry Sound harbour in June 2020. Photo credit: Thom Morrissey Photography

Future Climate Change Scenarios

By 2100, the world will have changed in ways that are difficult to imagine—as difficult as it would have been at the end of the 19th century to imagine the changes of the past hundred years. International scientists have studied the driving forces of climate change to develop scenarios of what might occur, using models that reflect different types of demographic change, economic development, and technological change.

Climate change scenarios present a range of “possible futures” depending on GHG emission levels combined with other factors. Models use different global emission levels (low, medium, or high) and factor in the cumulative predicted rise in global temperature. Since it has risen 1°C over the past century already, scientists have warned that actions must be taken to limit global temperature to 1.5°C.

Although many believe that catastrophic rises can be avoided with immediate global GHG mitigation, a variety of scenarios where GHG emissions continue to grow have been developed to help understand what future effects could be like (regional temperatures and precipitation levels, for example) and to paint a picture of future conditions.


Recent climate change reports have suggested that Canada’s climate is warming twice as fast as the global average, in turn affecting regional temperature and precipitation. Changes in temperature can affect the timing and amount of snowpack, soil freezing, snow and ice melt, and rainfall potential during colder seasons, as well as the timing, intensity, duration, amount, and type of precipitation events (rain or snow).

While precipitation is generally projected to increase in the future, summer precipitation, particularly in parts of southern Canada, is projected to decrease. Despite an increase in rainfall at certain times of year in some regions, periods of extended hot, dry weather are projected to become more common, leading to drought conditions.

The most serious impacts of climate change are expected to be the changes in climate extremes … The changing frequency and intensity of precipitation can be expected to lead to a changing likelihood of extreme events, such as floods and droughts.

Independent Review of the 2019 Floods in Ontario

Heat Extremes

Under a low GHG emissions scenario, Ontario could experience 4.7 more “hot days” each year, where the maximum temperature is above 30°C. And under a high GHG emissions scenario, Ontario could experience 38 more hot days each year.

With drier conditions projected, the number of wildfires could potentially double by 2040. In 2018 there was a record 1,325 wildfires in Ontario, including Parry Sound District 33, which burned 11,362 hectares. To visualize the size of forest fires, one hectare is about the size of a football field.

In 2021, Ontario experienced dry, hot weather, and northwestern Ontario faced drought conditions not seen in close to 50 years. Severe drought and dry weather led to 1,198 fires. In total, more than 793,000 hectares of land were burned, a span larger than the Greater Toronto Area.

Land Management Through Shkode

Fire (shkode) as a land management tool has been a practice for many Indigenous groups across the world. The Anishinaabe use fire as a way of influencing the land and restoring ecosystems. Blueberries (miinan) and other species thrive after fire burns the competing vegetation and releases nutrients, creating better growing conditions and more abundant harvests. Indigenous peoples have long managed forest habitats in ways that could promote or reduce the risk of fire, depending on their needs.

However, colonization completely disrupted the fire ecology practices of Indigenous peoples. Fire was seen as a threat and was suppressed. In turn, forests lost some resilience created by regular burning and became more vulnerable to larger fires. Because fire was viewed as a destructive force, the Fire Act was created in 1878, with jail time for people who caused or started fires. Fire Rangers were also introduced to enforce the Act; they used fire towers, like the one on Tower Hill in Parry Sound, to patrol fires on Wasauksing First Nation. Despite the laws, the Anishinaabek persisted in having low-burning fires to help clear the understory so that blueberry plants could thrive.

Indigenous knowledge has informed contemporary forest management practices to help avoid large-scale forest fires. Massive fires should not occur as often when “controlled burning” is used on a more regular basis. Unfortunately, forests are more vulnerable to fire than ever before as global temperatures rise with climate change and local drought conditions become more frequent.

Fireweed thrives in areas that have been burned by forest fires.

I had a conversation with my uncle and Elder, John Rice (Zahgausgai) about cultural burning practices in the Wasauksing area. He said that burnings would take place along the undercut of the forest and along shorelands to help clear the forest and prevent forest fires that would occur due to accumulated dry brush. Using fire as land management through cultural burning is a part of caring for the earth. In my understanding of cultural burning, it is a way that Indigenous people can manage land or forest by starting controlled fires in areas to help with regrowth and rejuvenation of certain species. There are some plants that need fire to reproduce. Jack pines are an example of a species that needs fire for seed cones to open so they can reproduce and grow.

Gracie Crafts, Niizhogiiziskwe

Fire Keeping for the Future

Women are given the role of water keepers in Anishinaabe traditions. Men are given the role of fire keepers. Fire keepers traditionally monitor the age and health of forests and other ecosystems. They would observe changes in the abundance of plants, animals, and harvests, as well as changes in biodiversity, to help determine times to use fire. Burning times would happen during the fall and spring, when the ground is wet. Wind direction also helps determine burning times and can be used to control the direction that fire moves through an area.

Sacred fires are kept at specific times within community life and ceremony. However, due to the loss of knowledge, there is a disconnect of roles within communities. Use of fire within the community and at social gatherings creates shared spaces and a deeper connection to land, sky, and water.

Two Spirit people have many roles in society and can be fire keepers, water keepers, carry eagle feathers or fulfil other roles given to them. However, many of these teachings and traditional roles have been lost and are now being relearned and reclaimed. Youth, including Two Spirit youth, have the opportunity to reclaim this knowledge, along with important land management and leadership practices. Fire keeping is one of the ways that communities can adapt to climate change.

Why Has Traditional Knowledge Been Lost?

Anishinaabek became disconnected from fire practices through loss of knowledge and oral tradition due to colonization processes that began before Confederation. Assimilation policies introduced by representatives of the British Crown and policies upheld by European settlers disrupted the transfer of Indigenous knowledge between generations when children were taken from their parents and sent to residential schools. Children no longer learned their language, ceremony, or land management practices. Many laws were put into place to make traditional practices and ceremonies illegal for Indigenous groups.

It is important to understand the history behind the loss of traditional knowledge in order to understand why these practices no longer take place and why there is sometimes still so little information available about them.

Through stories, language, the teachings of elders and other support, some traditional knowledge can be reclaimed and revitalized, but it will never make up for what has been lost and stolen from communities over generations. As elders pass on to the Spirit World, some cultural understandings are lost forever. Ongoing colonization and the dominance of the English language threatens Indigenous languages with future extinction, making the reclamation of Indigenous knowledge urgent work.

Researchers in the McMaster Ecohydrology Lab conduct field research in a peatland several years after the Parry Sound 33 wildfire.

Recovery After the Parry Sound 33 Fire

Since the Parry Sound 33 (PS33) wildfire burned more than 11,000 hectares in 2018, researchers from the McMaster University Ecohydrology Lab have studied these ecosystems’ recovery. While fire has occurred historically in eastern Georgian Bay, climate change makes more frequent and intense wildfires more likely. At sites near Key Harbour and in French River Provincial Park, the McMaster group studies the resilience of landscape components to increasing fire risk, and how they continue to provide habitat for vulnerable species.

The group primarily studies the effects of fire on peatlands: wetlands with organic soil at least 40 centimetres deep. They use a variety of methods, including laboratory and field studies, to understand how peatlands respond to fire. Through controlled peat-burning experiments in the lab, researchers determined that fire could lead to leaching of carbon-based and nutrient pollution.

After the PS33 fire, measurements showed that peatland areas with an initial depth greater than 70 centimetres were least likely to be severely burned. Meanwhile, shallow soils around peatland margins and in upland forest areas burned severely. In less-severely burned peatland areas, which researchers call “fire refugia,” plant regrowth is off to a strong start. Four years after burning, more than 75% of Sphagnum moss in some peatlands had returned. Refugia represent about 9% of the area burned in 2018 and act as safe havens for plants and displaced animals. The researchers are developing a model to identify and protect refugia, to allow burned ecosystems to bounce back more quickly.

 Did You Know?

Sphagnum moss takes large amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as it grows, but it could be 30 years before peatlands recapture the 500 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide released by the fire.

By studying aerial images of 144 wetlands, researchers found that small peat-filled wetlands were most common in the PS33 fire area. About 30% of studied wetlands were larger and more spatially complex, with floating peat and open water patches in addition to solid peat. Wetlands covered by solid peat were more severely burned, while complex wetlands with open-water patches were more fire-resistant. Not only that, but water flow into complex wetlands was often controlled by beaver dams. This new understanding can help fire and landscape managers identify areas most vulnerable to burning, and those in the greatest need of conservation.

The Georgian Bay Mnidoo Gamii Biosphere is home to several at-risk reptile species, including turtles that nest in moss- and lichen-covered soil. While turtles require soil to be at least 8–20 centimetres deep, researchers found that burning decreased the number of soil deposits deep enough for nesting by about 72%. Now researchers are assessing whether burned habitats sufficiently incubate turtle eggs and prevent them from drying out. They’re doing this by measuring the temperature, moisture, and drainage conditions of soil in burned areas and comparing the results to those of unburned nests.

In the wake of the PS33 fire, the McMaster Ecohydrology Lab continues to work on understanding the impacts of wildfire on peatlands and develop strategies for preserving resilient areas and restoring habitat as climate change progresses.


Partner Profile: Integrated Community Energy and Climate Action Plans

Established in 2019, the Integrated Community Energy and Climate Action Plans (ICECAP) is a partnership between the Georgian Bay Mnidoo Gamii Biosphere and area councils for addressing climate change as a region. Communities are working together to reduce GHG emissions, adopt new technologies, and adapt to climate impacts.

To reduce GHG emissions and adapt to climate change, each participating community is developing action plans that work toward emission-reduction targets by improving energy efficiency and conservation, reducing fossil fuel consumption, adapting to new technologies, creating supporting policies, and involving community members. Each of the local plans help to achieve the targets set in the Regional Climate Action Plan, which include reducing regional emissions by 6% below 2016 levels by 2030 and striving to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This 2050 target aligns with Canada’s current commitments.

Net zero describes a balance of GHG emission sinks and sources over a matching time scale. This means that the amount of GHG emissions released into the atmosphere is offset by restoring and protecting natural areas that sequester carbon.

Learn more at

Sustainable Transportation

  • Increase active transportation (cycling, walking)
  • Increase use of Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEV)
  • Improve electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure
  • Improve transportation efficiencies

Green Buildings

  • Retrofits and energy efficient appliances
  • Low-carbon building practices and policies
  • Net-zero building designs
  • Generate clean, renewable energy

Waste Reduction

  • Reduce the volume of waste produced
  • Reduce the volume of waste disposed at landfills
  • Improve re-use, repair, recycle
  • Improve organic waste programs (composting)
  • Challenge community institutions, business, and industry to reduce their waste
A photo of a climate champion.

Partner Profile: Moose Deer Point First Nation

Moose Deer Point First Nation is committed to climate action. As part of their overall approach, they are using community energy planning as a tool for reducing community energy costs and emissions, while also building energy resilience.

In 2022, Community Energy Champion Millie Williams helped to evaluate and implement energy-related priorities in the community. She organized educational workshops and helped many community members measure their energy use, costs, and GHG emissions.

Using this information, Millie helped community members undertake home retrofits that reduced energy consumption and saved energy costs. Retrofits included projects like improving home appliances with energy-efficient fridges, freezers, dehumidifiers, and air conditioners. Other measures included weather sealing and switching to LED lighting, along with future proposals for high-efficiency windows and doors.

 Did You Know?

Connecting Guardians in a Changing World was a two-day workshop involving a series of facilitated sharing circles with elders, knowledge holders, youth, and environmental professionals. Participants discussed their greatest climate change concerns related to the environment, to their community and ways of life, and their climate change research priorities and needs.

The workshop discussions further reflected the vulnerability of Indigenous cultures, health, and well-being to the impacts of climate change, in part due to strong connections with the environment through traditional ways of life.

Connecting Guardians in a Changing World workshop report

Take Climate Action

1. Push for new policies

Follow solutions for climate change, share your personal actions to influence others, voice your concerns to those in power, and spread the word to family and friends. Vote.

2. Active transportation

Think before you drive. Consider walking, cycling, skiing, rolling, or carpooling to your destination if you can. Transportation accounts for 70% of emissions in our region.

3. Choose cleaner energy

Switch your energy source away from oil and gas to cleaner hydroelectricity or renewable energy, such as solar, geothermal, or wind. Retrofit your home with a heat pump.

Clean energy generation produces energy without emitting any greenhouse gases. Examples include solar-power systems, wind turbines, geothermal, and biofuels, referred to as “renewable energy” sources, which are created by natural processes that replenish at a rate equal to or faster than the rate at which they are consumed.

A house with a solar panel collector on the lawn.

4. Consider zero-emission vehicles

The average Canadian vehicle burns 2,000 litres of gasoline every year and releases about 4.6 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. Investing in an electric vehicle can have one of the biggest impacts on reducing GHGs.

Sales of electric vehicles are growing in Canada. An increasing number of EV charging stations can be found in the Biosphere region, with more planned to support the growing number of EVs on the road. With more charging stations, better battery technology and range per charge, EVs have been shown to save money on fuel and maintenance over time. See the map at

5. Be energy efficient

Turn down your heating and air conditioning. Use LED light bulbs. Turn off the lights and unplug! Look for Energy Star labels when buying electronics or appliances. Consider a tankless water heater, timer, or smart device to manage energy use.

6. Your food choices matter

Eat less meat, especially beef. Meat consumption contributes to deforestation, as well as the release of methane and other greenhouse gases. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that livestock production is responsible for at least 14.5% of global GHG emissions, the majority from cattle.

A photo of members of the Georgian Bay Youth Climate Collective.

7. Reduce your waste

Garbage buried in landfills produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Compost when you can. Recycle paper, plastic, metal, and glass. Buy less, reuse and repair. Rethink gifts.

Compost. Several local governments are working to reduce the estimated 40 to 60% of organic waste going into landfills by promoting composting. Not only does composting reduce the production of methane (a potent greenhouse gas), but it also creates nutrient-rich mulch from kitchen scraps and yard waste. Electric kitchen countertop food waste units are also available.

8. Plant trees

Trees store carbon dioxide, helping to remove it and other greenhouse gases from the air. You can also help reduce deforestation by purchasing recycled or sustainably sourced paper.

Miigwech! Thank You to Our Sponsors!

Thank you to our partners, sponsors, and many individual donors for your support and investment in a healthy Georgian Bay!