Pictured are members of the local Golden Gears car club with one of two truck loads of food they delivered to the Morrisburg Branch of the Dundas County Food Bank on Wednesday, September 19. In addition to approximately $3,000 worth of food which was collected at last weekend’s celebration in Iroquois and the Club’s Car Show, the delivery included cheques totalling $1,100 which were presented to coordinator, Norma Smith. This represented donations from the club and proceeds of the 50-50 draw held at the September 16 Car Show.
“These men cared nothing about what we thought. I know that there was not one of them in that unit who, if given the command, would not have immediately beheaded us.”
Former Special Envoy of the UN, Robert Fowler, kidnapped in December, 2008, in Niger, by an affiliate of al-Qaeda, was the guest of the Canadian Club of Morrisburg and District, on Wednesday, October 17, 2012. A large crowd was on hand.
The former diplomat was Canada’s longest-serving Am-bassador to the United Nations. He acted as foreign policy advisor to three prime ministers and, in 2011, was named Officer of the Order of Canada.
At the time of his abduction, Fowler was posted to Niger as a Special Envoy to Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. His task, in the increasingly unstable, desperately poor nation of 18 million, was to try and find a diplomatic resolution to the “low-grade” rebellion of the Taureg people. During three trips into the Taureg territory, he and his colleague, Louis Guay, had convinced the rebels to agree to sit down. What they could not move was the government of then president Mamadou Tandja.
Fowler now believes that Tandja harboured private ambitions to continue to rule Niger, depending on an ongoing state of “civil unrest.” It is Fowler’s stated contention that the president “arranged to send our itinerary to al-Qaeda so that these people could come after us.”
They were ambushed by men armed with Kalashnikovs on a highway well inside the capital region of Niger.
This was the start of a terrifying off-road journey into the desert as the kidnappers fled back to their desolate campsite, ironically nicknamed Camp Canada.
“The commander of our kidnappers, called Omar One by Louis and me, demanded our papers (probably to be sure they had got the right men). Louis produced his passport, but I had absolutely no papers on me. Omar furiously exclaimed that it was illegal to travel in Niger without documents,” Fowler told the audience sardonically.
Every day, the captives lived with the very real fear of being beheaded on camera. Hauled into a tent on two occasions to make videos, Fowler quietly recalled looking around “for plastic. The kidnappers don’t want blood getting on their few possessions.”
The gang ranged in size. But there were never fewer than three rifles aimed at the hostages.
“These were fundamentalists of the most extreme kind. Omar often told us, “We fight to die. You fight to go home to your families. How can we lose?” They were kidnappers and killers, but utterly dedicated to their cause. They absolutely believed in Jihad, absolutely believed that the moment they died, they would sit in paradise by rivers of milk and honey,” Fowler said.
“They exist in a 7th century bubble, but are festooned with 21st century cell phones and weapons. They hate democracy, liberty, freedom.
And any Muslim who espouses a view contrary to theirs is an apostate and should be assassinated.”
Sweltering in 52 degree Celcius heat, deprived of even basic resources, Fowler and Guay struggled to keep up each other’s spirits. They had no idea if anyone was even looking for them.
Fowler later learned that president Blaise Campaoré of Burkina Faso, through his envoy Mustapha Chaffi, had agreed to take on the complex negotiations for their release. (“Ironic,” Fowler commented, “as I had, the year before, called Campaoré an ‘international criminal.’”). Also stepping in to help was Baba Ould Cheikh, envoy of Mali’s president Touré: Cheikh made 11 perilous journeys into the rebel region on behalf of the Canadians.
“The government of Canada swears it did not pay any ransom for us,” Fowler said. “But al-Qaeda does not carry out humanitarian acts, such as releasing hostages. I truly do not know what was paid for us or to whom. Apparently it was ‘enough.’ In a way, I do not want to ever know.”
Finally turned over to the “good guys” after 138 days of captivity, Fowler said that he took five showers and still felt sandy. He also drank three cokes. “But I knew I was truly free when I asked for a beer, in a Moslem country, and eventually someone produced a room temperature LaBatts 50.”
Fowler, who is now with the University of Ottawa, was a riveting and thoughtful speaker. His address obviously struck a strong chord with the audience.
He was asked, at the end, how he and Louis Guay, stayed sane.
“We had these rules,” Fowler explained quietly. “No “what ifs.” No talking about bad stuff after lunch. And, if one of us fell into despair, the other was to haul him out of that pit.”
The Victoria Day weekend kicks off the camping season with all eight of the Parks of the St. Lawrence campgrounds (Glengarry, Long Sault Parkway–McLaren, Mille Roches, Woodlands, Farran, Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Riverside-Cedar and Ivy Lea) opening on Friday, May 16.
The campgrounds which are situated along the shores of the St. Lawrence River from Ivy Lea in the 1000 Islands through to Glengarry Park near Lancaster are showing strong reservations for the holiday weekend.
“Our parks offer some of Ontario’s most spectacular scenery. Each campground has a very distinct personality and unique features,” said Lou Seiler, Manager of Parks and Recreation. “We are continuing the renewal of our parks infrastructure, and I am confident our customers will enjoy the new amenities we have added.”
New Camper Cabins have been added (bringing the total cabin availability to 14) at McLaren Campground (The Aultsville) and at Riverside-Cedar Campground (Whip-poor-will and Hummingbird).
The cabins offer a great opportunity to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature right at your doorstep while enjoying the comforts and security of a charming wooden cabin. The cabins come furnished with beds, mattresses, refrigerator, microwave and barbecue, but must bring some sleeping and dining essentials.
McLaren Campground, largely considered to be the family campground has undergone a major renaissance over the past three years.
More than half of its 206 sites have been upgraded to offer RV capacity with 30 and 50 amp electrical services. Plus, a number of pull-thru sites have been added.
Four exclusive new waterfront sites have been added on Hoople Island on the Long Sault Parkway. The sites were selected to take full advantage of the stunning sunrises and sunsets seen from this island.
At Woodlands Campground, also located on the Long Sault Parkway, 30 new 50 amp sites have been added. In the 1000 Islands, taking advantage of its unique location and spectacular views, 6 new ‘Castle View’ sites have been added at Brown’s Bay. They are called ‘Castle View’ because of their magnificent view of Singer Castle.
Recently, Scuba Diving Magazine included the dive site Lock 21 located on Macdonell Island on the Long Sault Parkway as ‘one of the planet’s best freshwater dives’ list.
Lock 21 offers divers a shore dive where they can see the remnants of the lock which was built to circumvent the Long Sault Rapids along with old power generating systems, house foundations and bridges.
“To local divers it will come as no surprise as they have experienced the wonders of this dive and they have seen the Lost Villages sitting in the depths of the St. Lawrence River,” said Seiler. “But for many residents or visitors who are more accustomed to staying on land or on top of the water, it is a confirmation of the uniqueness of this destination.”
The final phase of the revitalization of the 1000 Islands Recreational Trail along the 1000 Islands Parkway between Brockville and Gananoque will move forward this spring.
The Friends of the Sanctuary “Get on Board” boardwalk project to replace and enhance the existing boardwalk system at the Upper Canada Bird Sanctuary east of Morrisburg, received a solid boost on Monday, June 8, when TransCanada presented a $5,000 funding cheque.
“We are thrilled to receive this important funding from TransCanada,” said Friends chair Chuck Clavet in a press release. “Our “Get on Board” boardwalk rehabilitation project is an important one as it helps to connect visitors to some very unique aspects of nature in our region.”
The Get on Board rehabilitation project was launched by the Friends in 2014.
One boardwalk at the sanctuary is currently closed due to deterioration and the existing Redwing Trail is seeing much deterioration.
“We do a lot of work in this area,” said Jon Pitcher, Trans Canada’s Ontario Community Relation Lead who was on hand to make the presentation. “Trans Canada has been in this area for the last 60 years. This goes with community and environment in a big way, and we are happy to help out. We are very happy to support nature and the beautiful environment we live in. TransCanada is very proud to be contributing to the Get On Board Boardwalks initiative.”
“This is a project that is the fruit of a lot of hard work, as well as thoughtful dedication by members of this community. As we plan, construct and operate the Energy East pipeline, TransCanada is committed to working with local communities along the project corridor. We believe in making a positive difference where we live and work. We are always looking for ways to help build stronger communities by investing in community, the environment and safety. Giving back has been both a part of our everyday culture and one of our core beliefs for more than 60 years.”
The Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary covers 9,000 hectares of wooded uplands, crop land, waterways and marshlands. It offers more than 8 km of self-guided nature trails where visitors can get up close to nature seeing countless species of birds, wildlife and natural habitat.
In addition to a campground located on Nairne Island, the Waterfront Trail for Cyclists runs through the Sanctuary.
“The Sanctuary is a wonderful place for everyone, but especially families and children to experience nature first-hand,” says Clavet. “The Friends is very much a community minded group of volunteers committed to the Sanctuary.”
Large corporations, groups and individuals are invited to partner with the Friends of the Sanctuary in support of the Get on Board project. The Friends of the Sanctuary is a registered charity organization and donations are eligible for a tax receipt.
Donations can be sent to PO Box 156 Ingleside, On, K0C 1M0 or made online at www.friendsofthesanctuary.org