birthplace of the
greenbelt - conservation
movement (WW II)
Legend of V. B.
A man doesn’t plant a tree
He plants it for posterity.
Scottish Poet (1830-1867)
Hurt not the
neither the sea,
nor the trees.
As the poet said,
"only God can make a tree" -
probably because it's so hard
to figure out how to get
the bark on.
Of all who plant
And tend a crop
The man of God
And the man of the forest
Dedicate their lives
To a certain faith
In an everlasting harvest
To be enjoyed
In some future time.
which moves some
to tears of joy is
the eyes of others
only a green thing
stands in the way.
creation are ordinarily reserved for
gods and poets.
To plant a pine, one need only
own a shovel.
The first principle to go by
is to just sit and let
the land speak to you.
Someone's sitting in the shade today
because someone planted a tree
Keep a green tree in your heart and
perhaps a singing bird will come.
My son, I admonish you to cherish
the little waters, for these
replenish the mighty rivers that nourish our thirsty land.
River valley development is the wise
use of all the natural
resources of a river valley for all the people… for all time.
Samuel Woodstock *
The great ecosystems are
complex tapestries --
a million complicated threads, interwoven,
Conservation with its abundance
in the future.
Samuel Woodstock *
Woodstock was a fictitious
character and alias used by
These sayings were first published in "Our Valley"
(TRCA) during the 1950’s and A.H. Richardson’s book
"Conservation by the People: The History of The Conservation Movement in
Ontario to 1970"
The establishment of Ganaraska Forest in the 1940’s
represents a great human success story and
one of the most successful conservation projects
ever undertaken in Canada. Prior to World
War II, this area north of Port Hope, Ontario was often seen
as the "Sahara of the North" because it was a barren
landscape almost devoid of vegetation.
Verschoyle Benson Blake
(1899-1971) was a pioneer historian, heritage preservationist and archivist.
He arrived in the Ganaraska region in 1926.
From 1942, Blake played a key role in the Ganaraska Forest project
as well as being the only Ganaraska area resident on the initial
survey team. With an impeccable pedigree and a
"who's who" circle of connections, V.B. Blake was a
- March 12, 2009)
Macdonald, a Father of Confederation and Prime Minister of Canada,
once wrote “we are recklessly destroying the timber of
Canada, and there is scarcely a possibility of replacing it..”
century, lumbering and settlement had resulted in
exploitation and exhaustion of resources, particularly
in S. Ontario. The timber barons
had left huge barren wasteland areas. The early settlers which followed viewed the
forests as obstacles to be cleared for farmland.
Eventually, countless farms were left abandoned
as a result of
extensive deforestation and poor agricultural practices.
The late Henry Kock
(1952-2005), of the University
of Guelph Arboretum, often noted that the spread of civilization
across the world was too often and too closely followed by the
spread of deserts and that a century ago, we were well along that
road in Southern Ontario. The following
photos show the serious
erosion and barren landscapes seen throughout the area before Ganaraska
Forest was established.
wasteland area before World War II
Photo courtesy of John
man sitting on tree stump/exposed roots
Ganaraska Wasteland Photo by E.J. Zavitz Wastelands #23
Photo courtesy of John
For the first time, in 1908,
Dr. E. J. Zavitz,
Forester expressed a clear vision for the area which would
become the Ganaraska Forest we know today when he reported
"Extending though Northumberland and Durham
Counties is a sand formation locally known as the "Oak
Ridge" or "Pine Ridge"... the poorest land lies in the area
beginning about a mile and a half west of Burketon
(Station)... and extends east to the end of Rice Lake... 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...
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. "
on the Reforestation of Waste Lands in Southern Ontario,
1908 published by the Ontario Department of Agriculture,
his graduation in September, 1920, A.H. Richardson
was hired by Zavitz and became his
long-time assistant. In
the Forestry Branch of the Department of Lands and Forests,
Richardson helped to coordinate the practical end of the
government's treeplanting efforts under the mentoring and
direction of Zavitz for the next two decades.
became a skilled communicator when it came to
building public awareness of forestry matters.
1935, E. J.
appointed Chief of Reforestation in Ontario and
also shown in the Ganaraska Report (1944) p.xii.
Guelph Conference in 1941 ,
A.H. Richardson was appointed
by the Ontario Government to
organize the Ganaraska study.
the first time in Canadian
history, its citizens
turned back at the brink -- through a remarkable effort at
reforestation, forest management, and other conservation
efforts which followed.
The Pioneer Historian
V. B. Blake
Oil Portrait commissioned after his passing and displayed by the
Ministry of Culture for decades at
77 Bloor St., Toronto
Verschoyle Benson Blake
(1899-1971) was a pioneer historian in the early conservation movement,
who resided in the Ganaraska area
north of Port Hope. Blake inherently understood the natural
connection between land conservation, history, and heritage preservation
respected as “a quiet conservationist”.
Blake had a fascinating
tied to important people
The Rt. Hon. Edward Blake, his grandfather
- the first leader of the federal Liberal Party,
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 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
The north Ganaraska region was
poor 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. Derelict lands were left and
blowouts from sand dunes were frequent.Ganaraska River and Port Hope experienced
severe flooding events.
Blake was also the only Ganaraska area resident known to play a major role
in the Ganaraska project (his farm located in the Ganaraska Forest
area on the 9th Concession in Hope Twp.).
Blake recognized the
situation was serious.
His ongoing project tree planting experiment was the first known example
to demonstrate the practical merits of good conservation practices
in the Ganaraska Forest area.
Flooding - Walton Street, Port Hope
Forest was established)
Ganaraska Watershed Report, 1944, p. 71
On land once described as the
“sandy desert of the north”, Blake began treeplanting experiments
which became a practical demonstration of the merits of
conservation. His ongoing “conservation in miniature” project waited
for the big project to come two decades later
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. 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
Architectural Conservancy of Ontario was
first established in 1933).
In 1959, Barnum House became a National Historic Site of Canada.
helped organize the provincial plaques program in Ontario.
Blake worked as a historian with the Government of Ontario and joined
the Ontario Department of Planning and Development, Conservation Branch
in 1944. He 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).
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
Ontario Conservation Authorities: Their Heritage Resources and
Ontario History/Volume XCIV, No. 1, Spring 2002)
between history and conservation, what made Blake's work different was
for the first time, the public not only found his historical material
interesting but were better able to understand the technical
recommendations of the conservation reports themselves.
conservation reports which opened with Blake's historical backdrops, were essentially
the first major blueprints for the respective watersheds from which most
modern day conservation achievements can be traced - including Ganaraska
Forest, Rouge National Urban Park and Ontario's Greenbelt, 2005.
Development of southern Ontario and what would become the most populated
part of the country was not random for according to Blake:
“The pattern of
field, woodland and road that covers the
Ontario countryside grew gradually from the
first small clearings, but it was not, as
some may suppose, a haphazard growth,
depending on the enterprise and choice of
the individual settler. From the first, the
government exercised a fairly rigid control
over settlement and was, on the whole,
successful in preventing random squatting.”
Verschoyle B. Blake
in “Rural Ontario,” U.
of T. Press, 1969
Today, Blake is still regarded as
the “Dean of Local Historians” and historians agree “there hasn’t
been anybody like him since…” (Carl Thorpe).
Blake's work is
still regarded as a goldmine of information to this
As a pioneer historian, historic
preservationist and local Ganaraska area resident, Verschoyle Benson Blake is remembered for his extraordinary work
in heritage and conservation.
"We need something more than archives to tell us
how our forefathers lived...
pictures is a good thing, but it is infinitely better
some of the things themselves. To let these be lost through
our indifference is
to deprive future generations
to which they are entitled."
Verschoyle B. Blake as quoted in Conservation by the
The History of the Conservation Movement
in Ontario to 1970, by A.H.
The Ganaraska Project
Established in 1947, Ganaraska
Forest became the largest forest in Southern Ontario and
the site of Ontario’s first
large-scale conservation program on the Oak Ridges Moraine.
Annual flooding events downtsream have become a thing of the past.
The initial test
survey area chosen was located in the northern reaches of the Ganaraska watershed
as shown in the conservation
report The Ganaraska Watershed (1944).
The Ganaraska report was the first
conservation study of its kind
the joint auspices of the Federal
and Provincial governments of the time, the Ganaraska Forest
project provided a new direction and
transformed the approach to conservation
Ontario became the
first province in Canada to develop a comprehensive conservation
strategy in the postwar era. By
the late 1800s,
Ontario was one of the few areas in Canada that was so densely settled
and its resources so unwisely exploited - spurring Ontario on to become
a leader in conservation in Canada.
(Steve Jobbitt, Recivilizing
the Land: Conservation and Postwar Reconstruction in Ontario and
Postwar Reconstruction in Ontario, 1939-1961, (2001)
document proved to be
monumental in terms of the
resurgence of the conservation movement in Canada generally, and in
Ontario in particular...
Entitled The Ganaraska Survey, the report was unlike any other ever
produced by the Ontario government, and represented a significant
departure from the way in which resources were traditionally
regarded in Ontario.
Dr. R.C. Wallace,
former Principal of
Queen's University, confirmed the Ganaraska Study was of
"general significance for the conservation and rehabilitation of all our
resources throughout Canada."
The Ganaraska watershed selected as the initial test survey area
demonstrated the benefits of
conservation and showed for the first time how resources (water,
land, forests, wildlife and recreation) must be considered together
through a coordinated programme of resource management.
region was also the first watershed to demonstrate new concepts like the
ecosystem approach and watershed planning (with land-use planning
borders based on natural rather than political boundaries).
The recommendations in The Ganaraska Watershed (1944) report have been studied
around the world.
According to A.H. Richardson in Conservation by the People
(1974): "The conservation authority movement in Ontario is world
renowned, and professionals and parliamentarians from other provinces,
the United States, the United Kingdom, and other parts of the world have
come to study it."
The Ganaraska Watershed (1944) report
also led to the passing of the
first Conservation Authorities
Act in 1946 and the creation of first conservation authorities in Ontario.
The CA Act was
significant within the broad context of Canadian environmental history
in that it marked a revival of state-sponsored conservation in Canada. The recommendations of The Ganaraska Watershed
report also led to the creation of the first conservation
authorities in Ontario.
The Ganaraska project during
World War II had many other
far reaching effects. It set in motion a series of events which would lead to
the creation of the largest greenbelt in the world (known today as
Ontario's Greenbelt, 2005 -
composed of more than 1.8
Ganaraska Forest was Canada's
first greenbelt - established many years before the greenbelt term was
Canada's first greenbelt
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
The establishment of Ganaraska Forest
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. (By comparison, the oldest and largest greenbelt in London (UK)
was established in 1938).
The establishment of
Ganaraska Forest was contemplated at a most unusual time
during WW II --
when all governmental efforts of the day were mobilized to the "war
effort" abroad. The Ganaraska project
sponsored by both levels of government and interestingly - a local
Ganaraska Forest project was initiated in the same year (1942)
that Eldorado Nuclear
in then nearby flood-prone Port Hope was acquired by the Canadian Government
and made into a Crown Corporation. (Eldorado Nuclear played an
important role in the Manhattan Project during WW II which in essence ended the war).
Ganaraska Forest was a major catalyst
for one of the greatest conservation plans in Canadian history
through the protection of watersheds through
extensive reforestation and acquisition of public lands.
establishment of Ganaraska Forest was also inherently the first
greenbelt link and a foundation of Ontario’s
(2005) recognized today as the world’s largest greenbelt (1.8 million acres).
(Ganaraska Forest shown above
"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 ... ".
Ontario Ministry Municipal
Affairs and Housing, 2011
"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
enhance air quality and support flood control. These
ecosystems act as habitat for wildlife, including the
maintain and enhance the annual crops of fruit and
vegetables. The ecosystems in the Greenbelt also help
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
By comparison, the major greenbelts in Canada include:
Name of Greenbelt
Agricultural Land Reserve
Niagara Escarpment Plan - preliminary
Vancouver's Green Zone
Montréal - announced
Québec City - announced
The Ganaraska report published in 1944 was the first study to include
the components of a modern day greenbelt plan (forests,
agricultural lands, recreational lands and wetlands). A key recommendation in the 1944 report was
for the establishment of a
20,000 acre forest.
projects followed the Ganaraska model - but none preceded it.
The Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority routinely plants
new trees in Ganaraska Forest. Many landowners have also planted
trees on their land in the Ganaraska Forest area under the Ontario Trees
Greenbelts provides enormous benefits
for many reasons including:
air and healthy food; the protection of water
resources (clean water, minimized flooding) and obtaining a more liveable environment
In January, 2013, the Ontario Government announced
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
“The Greenbelt… is a key
part in our government’s efforts to
protect the environment and combat climate change.
terms, the Greenbelt is one of the greatest contributions
has made to the future of Ontario.”
Minister Linda Jeffrey of the
Municipal Affairs and Housing
Leader in Conservation
The Ganaraska Forest project in the 1940's
changed the face of the conservation movement in Canada.
"Forests and other natural features symbolize Canada.
From the earliest times, the inhabitants of this land have relied
heavily on the forest...
forests are integral to our environment,
our economy, our culture and our history.
They are instrumental in the realization of
our aspirations as a society and as a nation."
National Forest Strategy 1998-2003
Canadian Forest Service
Today, Ganaraska Forest
is the largest continuous block of forest in
Southern Ontario consisting of 11,000 acres (45 km2) within
Counties of Northumberland, Peterborough, Victoria and the Region of
As a result of
reforestation, Ganaraska River has experienced even better results than
predicted (reduced flash runoff, river and streams flowing more evenly,
increasing water storage in headwater aquifers, reduced spring flooding
and summer low-flow conditions). Compared to the 1930’s, drought,
deserts and floods are conditions of the past with 43 percent of the
Ganaraska watershed now in forest cover.
Historically, no other conservation project in Canadian history has had
reaching effects as the establishment of Ganaraska Forest in the 1940's.
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 essential 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
comprised of 1.8
million acres (Ontario’s Greenbelt, 2005).
Non-existent prior to the
today 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).
Without the ability of the Authorities
to acquire and manage public lands and the legislation giving them the
legal power (authority) to do so (two of the key recommendations in The
Ganaraska Watershed report, 1944) -- conservation areas might not exist today.
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
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)
"Cathedral of the Pines"
Judge Richard Lovekin - 1994
Ganaraska Forest dedication ceremony
Ganaraska Forest was also the first large-scale afforestation program on
the Oak Ridges Moraine - a hydrologically sensitive glacial ridge of great ecological
significance. For thousands of years, deep underground aquifers on the
moraine have been the headwaters for about thirty rivers and streams
within the most populated area of Canada.
"The Ganaraska Authority was the first 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
(Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources,
Critical Review of Historical and Current Tree Planting
Programs on Private Lands in Ontario, 2001 p. 10)
History is important. Given a
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
Member - Port Hope Historical Society
Supporter - Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority
special thanks to:
Elizabeth Bacque for information about her late uncle
Murray Johnson, President Rouge Valley Foundation
John C. Carter, Museum Advisor - Ministry of Citizenship, Culture
Carl Thorpe, retired Manager - Heritage and Libraries Branch, Ministry
Mark Peacock, Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority
Pam Lancaster, Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority
Larry and Evelyn Hall, Port Hope
Bernadine Dodge, ret. Archivist, Trent University
Paul Litt, Dept. of History, Carlton University
Peter Stokes, Architectural Historian
John Bacher, Author
Ed Borczon, Forester