Ganaraska Forest -- first major conservation project on Oak Ridges Moraine
Ganaraska Forest was the first large-scale afforestation program on the Oak Ridges Moraine (ORM).
The ORM is a distinct natural landform and a hydrologically sensitive glacial ridge of great ecological significance adjacent to the most populated area of Canada (over 9 million people) where deep underground aquifers are the headwaters for about thirty rivers and streams.to undertake afforestation on a large scale. Some 20,000 acres, largely on the interlobate moraine (the Oak Ridges Moraine) and consisting of many plantable areas and woodlands was proposed as the area for the Ganaraska forest..." (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Critical Review of Historical and Current Tree Planting Programs on Private Lands in Ontario, 2001 p. 10)
"The Ganaraska Authority was the first
Ganaraska during WWII
It is interesting to note when all resources in Canada were going toward the war effort abroad during World War 2, on the homefront the Ganaraska Forest project was sponsored by the Dominion of Canada.
In the same year during WWII
in then nearby flood-prone Port Hope was also acquired by the
Canadian Government and made into a Crown
Corporation. Eldorado and its uranium later played an
important role in the Manhattan Project which in essence
ended the war.
Ganaraska Forest -- a conservation model for Rouge National Urban Park
The Ganaraska Watershed Report, 1943 was the first conservation model which would be used in many other watersheds - including the Rouge watershed (R.D.H.P Conservation Report, 1956). In recent years, this large area is now known as Rouge National Urban Park -- one of the largest urban wilderness parks in the world.
"While primarily a study in land use with plans for the rehabilitation of this particular watershed during the post-war period, the Ganaraska Report would become the model for future conservation studies throughout the Province of Ontario." (John C. Carter, Ontario Conservation Authorities: Their Heritage Resources and Museums, Ontario History/Volume XCIV, No. 1, Spring 2002)
Ganaraska Conservation Pioneers
Dr. Edmund J. Zavitz
In 1908, Zavitz expressed the first conservation vision for the Ganaraska and Oak Ridges Moraine area:
"Extending though Northumberland and Durham Counties is a sand formation locally known as the "Oak Ridge" or "Pine Ridge"... It is safe to say that seventy-five percent is wholly unfit for successful farming... These areas should be preserved for the people of Ontario as recreation grounds for all time to come... The policy of putting these lands under forest management has many arguments in its favour... It will pay as a financial investment; assist in insuring a wood supply; protect the headwaters of streams; provide breeding ground for wild game; provide object lessons in forestry; and prevent citizens from developing under conditions which can end only in failure. "
Report on the Reforestation of Waste Lands in Southern Ontario, E.J. Zavitz, 1908 published by the Ontario Department of Agriculture, Toronto
E. J. Zavitz was also the first Chief of Reforestation in Ontario (The Ganaraska Report (1944) p.xii).
A. H. Richardson - Forester
Upon his graduation in 1920, A. H. Richardson became a long-time assistant to Dr. Zavitz in the Forestry Branch of the Department of Lands and Forests.
Under the mentoring and direction of Zavitz, Richardson became known as a skilled communicator when it came to building public awareness of forestry matters. Richardson also helped to coordinate the practical end of the government's treeplanting efforts.
A.H. Richardson was appointed by the Ontario Government during WW2 to organize the Ganaraska study.
V.B. Blake - Pioneer Historian
Well respected as a pioneer historian, historic preservationist and archivist.
Verschoyle Blake arrived in the Ganaraska region (north of Port Hope) in 1926 and was the only area resident on the original Ganaraska survey team.
Blake became known as “the quiet conservationist” and was very knowledgeable about history, particularly in the Ganaraska area.
Story of pioneering conservationist to be told... "We tend to take the Ganaraska Forest and the millions of evergreens on the Great Pine Ridge for granted. There are still many in the old United Counties, however, who remember when the area north of Port Hope was a dust bowl of eroding hills and abandoned farms. The massive reforestation undertaken in the late Forties and early Fifties transformed our landscape. One of the visionary pioneers who worked behind the scenes was a shy, self-effacing historian and conservationist named Verschoyle Benson Blake. Blake bought a farm northwest of Garden Hill in 1926, and began tree-planting experiments. When Dr. A. H. Richardson laid the groundwork for the Forest, he hired Vers Blake as lead historian for the report that provided the impetus for the project. Blake’s contribution to conservation and the preservation of Ontario’s history remains an untold story...
Ron Getz, President"
Excerpt from Press
Release of Port Hope Historical Society
It was poor unproductive farmland when Blake arrived in 1926 for by then, the cumulative effects of early settlement and the lumber industry had left a devastated landscape devoid of natural vegetation. Blowouts from sand dunes were frequent.
Decades before the Ganaraska survey, the grandson of Edward Blake established his “conservation in miniature” project locally. On land once described as the“sandy desert of the north”, Blake began treeplanting experiments which became a practical demonstration of the merits of good conservation practices.
The Blake property and the only large pond pictured in the Ganaraska Watershed report, was located on the 9th Concession in Hope Twp. With his strong connections, Blake's ongoing experiment of a practical tree plantation helped influence the choice of Ganaraska as the first test area in the province. Unknowingly, Blake had planted the first seeds. Many important people "with fancy city cars" came to visit.
V.B. Blake was the last male in his branch of a very prominent family tree - his ancestry traced back to one of the knights of King Arthur's Round Table (Ap-Lake). Blake's pedigree was impressive including The Rt. Hon. Edward Blake, his grandfather - the first leader of the federal Liberal Party, provincial premier and Chancellor of the University of Toronto; William Hume Blake - Solicitor-General for Canada West and the Chancellor of Upper Canada; Benjamin Cronyn - the first Bishop for the Diocese of Huron (Anglican Church of Canada), Thomas Benson, the first Mayor of Peterborough and George M. Wrong - prominent Canadian historian and first history professor of University of Toronto. The latter was also Blake's favorite uncle and mentor. A portrait of Judge Thomas M. Benson hangs in Victoria Hall in Cobourg.
V.B. Blake was also certainly influenced by two of the greatest academic scholars of the time, his uncle, G. M. Wrong (1860-1948) - University of Toronto History Professor and Author and Dr. R.C. Wallace (1881-1955) - Principal of Queen's University.
Appointed by the Federal Government, Dr. Wallace wrote the Introduction of the Ganaraska Watershed report and concluded it's content had far-reaching effects which would be:
A. H. Richardson, Conservation by the People: The History of the Conservation Movement in Ontario to 1970, (1974)
"...of general significance for the conservation and rehabilitation of all our resources throughout Canada." (
Blake had a key role in the Ganaraska Forest project (he helped compile it) and was the only Ganaraska area resident on the initial Ganaraska survey team.
Blake's strong interest also included Canada's built heritage and he was a founding member of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario in 1933, along with C. Vincent Massey. Both men had country properties along the Ganaraska River, named Ardfree and Batterwood respectively. Blake also worked on the St Lawrence Seaway project. During the 1950's, V.B. Blake also helped organize the Provincial Plaques Program in Ontario.
V.B. Blake also served on the Advisory Committees for both Upper Canada Village and Black Creek Pioneer Village and was also instrumental in establishing Barnum House in Grafton as a museum (the primary reason the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario was first established in 1933). In 1959, Barnum House became a National Historic Site of Canada.
Blake worked as a historian with the Government of Ontario and joined the Ontario Department of Planning and Development, Conservation Branch in 1944.
V.B Blake became Supervisor of the Historical section of the Conservation Authorities Branch when it began publishing historical studies for various geographically defined conservation areas across Ontario - including the Ganaraska Watershed report (1944).
"Historian Verschoyle B. Blake was added to the survey team. It was Blake’s keen sense of the worth of history and his philosophy of how the conservation ethic could be supported through an understanding of the past that resulted in the inclusion of an introductory historical chapter in the Ganaraska study. Subsequent conservation reports by the government would also include accounts of the historical background of each watershed area studied..." (John C. Carter, Ontario Conservation Authorities: Their Heritage Resources and Museums, Ontario History/Volume XCIV, No. 1, Spring 2002)
Blake showed the natural linkage between history and conservation in his work - for the first time the general public (and public officials) not only found his historical material interesting but were better able to understand the technical recommendations of the conservation reports themselves.
Later, other conservation reports also opened with Blake's historical backdrops and were essentially the first major blueprints for the respective watersheds from which most modern day conservation achievements can be traced.
Today, Blake is still regarded as the “Dean of Local Historians” and fellow historians agree “there hasn’t been anybody like him since…” (according to Carl Thorpe).
As a pioneer historian, Verschoyle Benson Blake is remembered for his extraordinary work in heritage and conservation. Blake's work remains a goldmine of information to this day.
"We need something more
than archives to tell us
this in books and pictures is a good thing,
but it is infinitely better to preserve
some of the things themselves.
To let these be lost through our indifference is to
deprive future generations of a heritage
to which they are entitled."
Verschoyle B. Blake as quoted in Conservation by the People:
The History of the Conservation Movement
in Ontario to 1970, by A.H. Richardson (1974) p. 103
Also see: V.B. Blake, Pioneer Historian
Canada's first greenbelt
The establishment of Ganaraska Forest in 1947 was Canada's first greenbelt model and marked the beginning of the greenbelt movement in Canada - many years before the greenbelt term was commonly used.
History shows the Ganaraska Forest plan was the first blueprint and laid the earliest foundation for the world's largest greenbelt - officially known today as Ontario's Greenbelt (2005) -- by more than half a century.
The establishment of Ganaraska Forest was also inherently the first greenbelt and foundation of Ontario’s Greenbelt (2005) recognized today as the world’s largest greenbelt (1.8 million acres).
ONTARIO'S GREENBELT (2005)
"As the world’s largest greenbelt at 1.8 million acres... Ontario’s Greenbelt is an area of permanently protected green space, farmland, forests, wetlands and watersheds ... ".
"The David Suzuki Foundation estimates that the natural capital of Ontario’s Greenbelt is worth $2.6 billion annually. Part of this amount is generated by the services rendered by the Greenbelt’s forests and wetlands, which clean the water supply, enhance air quality and support flood control. These ecosystems act as habitat for wildlife, including the pollinators that maintain and enhance the annual crops of fruit and vegetables. The ecosystems in the Greenbelt also help mitigate climate change by storing over 102 million tonnes of carbon in its wetlands, forests and agricultural lands." (Ontario's Greenbelt connects Field to Fork Alternatives Journal, Joanne Tacorda, March 18, 2013)
Greenbelts serve a major conservation role with many benefits:
Name of Greenbelt
|Agricultural Land Reserve in B.C.||1973|
|Niagara Escarpment Plan - preliminary||1978|
|Vancouver's Green Zone||1996|
|Montréal - announced||2013|
|Québec City - announced||2013|
Other greenbelt projects followed the Ganaraska model in Canada - but none preceded it.
The Ganaraska report (1944) was the first study to include the components of a modern day greenbelt plan (forests, agricultural and recreational lands and wetlands). A key recommendation in the 1944 report was the establishment of a 20,000 acre forest (later named Ganaraska Forest).
Greenbelts provides enormous benefits for many reasons including fresh air and healthy food; the protection of water resources (clean water, minimized flooding) and a more liveable environment overall.
In January, 2013, the Ontario Government announced additional public lands in the river valleys of S. Ontario will become part of a new Urban River Valley designation in Ontario's Greenbelt - increasing the size of the largest greenbelt in the world.
“The Greenbelt… is a key part in our
government’s efforts to protect
the environment and combat climate change. In those terms,
the Greenbelt is one of the greatest contributions
our generation has made to the future of Ontario.”
Jeffrey of the Ministry of
Municipal Affairs and Housing
Leader in Conservation
The Ganaraska Forest project in the 1940's changed the face of the conservation movement in Canada. Historically, no other conservation project has had such far reaching effects.
The Ganaraska project during WW II set in motion a series of events which not only resulted in the establishment of Ganaraska Forest, but also laid the groundwork for the creation of 36 conservation authorities, the first conservation legislation and more recently, the establishment of Canada's first national urban park (Rouge Park) and the world’s largest greenbelt comprised of 1.8 million acres (Ontario’s Greenbelt, 2005).
Ontario’s 36 Conservation Authorities own and operate over 500 conservation areas and collectively are among the largest landowners in Canada with a total land area of 145,357 hectares (359,185 acres).
Drought, deserts and floods are conditions of the past with 43 percent of the Ganaraska watershed now in forest cover. As a result of reforestation, Ganaraska River has experienced even better results than originally predicted (including reduced flash runoff, river and streams flowing more evenly, increasing water storage in headwater aquifers, reduced spring flooding and summer low-flow conditions).
Without the ability of the Authorities to acquire and manage public lands and the legislation giving them the legal power to do so (two of the key recommendations in The Ganaraska Watershed report, 1944), the conservation areas would probably not exist today."Ontario went on to become a leader in conservation in Canada, spurred largely by the fact that southern Ontario is one of the few areas in Canada that by the late 1800s was so densely settled and its resources so unwisely exploited that conditions matched those that inspired the rise of the conservation movement south of the border. While much had been done, earlier approaches were no longer adequate to both halt the deterioration of the environment and the loss of resources, and at the same time start to reverse the trend of loss and decline. Blow sands and windswept farm land were an increasingly obvious problem. Springtime flooding and summertime interruptions in waterflow. The result of the increase in population and of encroachment on the flood plains of creeks and rivers were also becoming pressing issues..." (Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters)
History is important. Given its unique historic role in Canada's conservation movement, one tied to important events in Canadian history, Ganaraska Forest is recognized as one of the most successful conservation projects ever undertaken.
"The Ganaraska Forest is at a pivotal moment in its history.
The largest block of continuous forest in Southern Ontario,
it is a huge expanse of 11,000 acres that represents
one of the most successful conservation projects
ever undertaken in central Canada."
Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority, 2011
"Cathedral of the Pines"
Judge Richard Lovekin
Ganaraska Forest ceremony (1994)
Member - Port Hope Historical Society
Supporter - Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority