The Nation visited several eco-tourism ventures in Central and South America this past summer in hopes of encouraging eco tourism in Eeyou Istchee. To our pleasant surprise, one such venture was already up and running in Chisasibi. Run by Margaret and William Cromarty, Fort George Island Tours has been thriving for the past four years.

Trying to track down Margaret Cromarty was difficult, at best. Ironically, the only time we ended up catching her was while visiting the Chisasibi band office where we were trying to get an interview with the Chief, Abraham Rupert. At that time she informed us “tomorrow is a good time to go out (on Fort George island).”

Their season runs from April till October, after which time it is too cold to stay overnight in teepees on the island.

We met Margaret and her husband William at the community centre, and ventured out to Fort George Island. After a short boat ride across the water, followed by a bumpy ride to the cabin, we had arrived.

While on the island, it was surprising how many houses still remained, as well as how many people were having their homes refurbished in order to move back to the island (if only for the summer months). One couldn’t help but wonder, if everyone had to move away 23 years ago, why were so many moving back?

The Cromarty’s eco-tourism venture is located in a humble abode on the island with a few teepees in the back yard. This is one of two locations clients are brought to as part of the tour; the other is located around Kilometre 10.

As part of the tour, visitors get to experience what it was like in the old days, living off of the land. Guests come from all over the world to experience the traditional food, lodging and story telling that very few non-Cree people have the opportunity to witness first hand.

“People that are interested in nature and learning the Cree way of life, those are the ones who come to visit,” said Margaret.

Prices for a stay on the Island range from $25 per person for a 2-hour visit; to $650 per person for a 5-day/4 night stay. Boat tours are also available and they range in price from $30-$75 per person.

Before starting their own business, the Cromartys worked for Mandow agency, which is an eco-tourism operation run by the Chisasibi band. Things didn’t go as well with Mandow, and that was one of the reasons why they decided to start up their own venture.

In order to get off the ground, they had to apply to Aboriginal Business Canada for a grant. The whole process took three years to secure the money needed to purchase equipment and get started.

Now that they are getting older, the Cromartys are looking to sell the business. Running a venture such as this takes too much time and energy.

“Not as many people have been coming because of September 11th, when the dams were shut down. Then when SARS hit it really hurt us as well,” she said.

Margaret described eco tourism this way: “You take nothing in, and you take nothing out. Just good memories.”

The Cromartys would like to thank the towns of Matagami and Radisson for their continued support. The information centres there were very helpful, they said, especially Eric Hamel for promoting their eco-tourism venture from Radisson.

Those who are interested in purchasing this venture should contact Margaret or William Cromarty at 819-855-2800 or 1982.