In 2002, several Manicouagan stakeholders met in Baie-Comeau with the goal of obtaining the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status. The project promised to be as uncertain as it was interesting. On the one hand, the consultation process meant was a major challenge given the diversity of users on the territory. On the other hand, very few reserves in the world had managed to get large industries involved in such a challenging process, which was unavoidable in Manicouagan.
The leading visionaries and proponents of this project included the Association touristique régionale (ATR) de Manicouagan (now Tourisme Côte-Nord), the Manicouagan Regional County Municipality (RCM), the Conseils des Innus de Pessamit, the City of Baie-Comeau, Hydro-Québec and the Kruger Company. They were impressed with the international visibility that this status would provide and the benefits of joining the worldwide network of Biosphere Reserves in terms of relevant experience and expertise. A number of individuals invested their personal time and energy in this project right from the start. In this regard, we would like to acknowledge the dedication of Christian Bouchard (founding president) and the late Pierre Frenette (founding vice-president).
The project was built on the vision of the region becoming a model of sustainable development. Obtaining Biosphere Reserve status was a great opportunity to diversify our options for the future and open our horizons to the world. After more than 50 work sessions and major regional mobilization, we submitted our application to UNESCO in 2007. The official documents were endorsed by more than 60 signatories from all walks of life: economic, Indigenous, municipal, educational, political, touristic and environmental stakeholders. Not only did we get industries involved in the project, but they are also essential founding partners.
On September 18 of the same year, the International Co-ordinating Council in Paris finally announced the designation of the Manicouagan-Uapishka region as a Biosphere Reserve, rewarding five years of regional efforts.
David A. Walden, former General Secretary of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, stated in his evaluation: “Manicouagan-Uapishka represents a promising direction for the evolution of modern World Biosphere Reserves and I am confident that it will contribute significantly to inspiring the entire network in its journey towards sustainable development.”
This status embodied the relevance of our new perception and understanding of regional development. With this status came the responsibility to work towards our vision and the duty to inspire the world network through our success stories.