A man doesn’t plant a tree
He plants it for posterity.
Scottish Poet (1830-1867)
not the earth,
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
in the eyes of others
only a green thing that
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 a long
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
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 *
ecosystems are like
complex tapestries --
a million complicated threads, interwoven, make up
the whole picture.
Conservation with its abundance of
is rooted in the future.
Samuel Woodstock **
Woodstock was a fictitious character and alias used by A. H.
Richardson. First published in "Our Valley"
(TRCA - 1950s - later A.H. Richardson
"Conservation by the People:The History of The Conservation Movement in
Ontario to 1970"
"History matters to us as individuals because it
locates us in time and place and gives meaning to our lives. It matters to us as
citizens because through an ordering of the past into discernible patterns, we
can better understand how past choices have present day consequences. What we
remember, what we stress as significant, what we omit from our past, and what we
don’t know or understand about the stories of our fellow inhabitants, is
critical to our ability to endure as a collectivity... The past is part of our
present and thereby part of our future…"
1942 Mapping -
Proposed Ganaraska Forest
Welcome to homepage
GANARASKA FOREST -
from dust bowl
and wasteland to
Canada's land mark forest
(the beginning of world's largest
"Forests and other natural features symbolize Canada.
From the earliest times, the inhabitants of this land have
heavily on the forest... forests are integral to our
our economy, our culture and our history.
They are instrumental
in the realization of our aspirations as a society and as a nation."
Origin of Ganaraska -
historically Ganaraskè (Fr.) - name of early Iroquoian (Cayuga)
village which once existed by the mouth of the Ganaraska River
(now Port Hope, Ontario) as shown on early 17C French maps - meaning
"the spawning place". True to
its name, Ganaraska Forest helped spawn the conservation
movement in Canada.
establishment of Ganaraska Forest represents one
of the most successful conservation projects ever undertaken
its beginning as a barren wasteland area,
it was in essence the historical
world's largest greenbelt (Ontario's Greenbelt) -
established many years before the greenbelt term was
Today, Ganaraska Forest is an
important part of the greenbelt.
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 ... ".
Municipal Affairs and
From the 1940's, Ganaraska
was also the
catalyst which led to the creation of the first conservation
authorities, the first conservation legislation, the conservation
model used for the protection of other watershed areas and
established the means of
Watershed report was published in 1944 and sponsored by two levels of
government. It was the first comprehensive document in Canada to lay a
greenbelt foundation with its components.
"... the Ganaraska Watershed area
is small; but its importance is greater than its size.
The area was deliberately chosen from the older settlement
areas of Eastern Canada to demonstrate what intensive
surveys and plans for future work should aim at. It
was undertaken not as a routine or maintenance survey, but
as a much needed piece of research in Canadian
Dr. Robert C. Wallace,
Principal of Queen's University, December 21, 1943
as quoted in Introduction of The Ganaraska Watershed report,
A.H. Richardson, 1944 p. vi
The Ganaraska Forest project was
also the first major reforestation program on the Oak
moraine (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).
"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 Forest..."
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources,
of Historical and Current Tree Planting
on Private Lands in Ontario, 2001 p. 10
Without Ganaraska Forest
as the pilot project and the creation of the first conservation authorities
Ontario, Ontario's Greenbelt
composed of over
1.8 million acres,
would probably not
"In 1941, conservationists
from across the province met
in Guelph to address the
extensive damage to southern
Ontario's environment. Great
tracts of land had been
ruined through over cutting
of the forest and through
faulty farming practices.
The conference, under the
leadership of J.D. Thomas,
chose the Ganaraska
watershed, one of the
most damaged in the
province, as its pilot
project. Over the next
few years they worked to
restore the natural values
of the watershed, mostly by
planting trees. Its
restoration marked the
beginning of the
conservation authorities of
Conservation Authorities Act
was passed in 1946. Over the
next four decades the
Ganaraska watershed had
become one of the largest
forested areas of southern
Ontario with two million
Sauriol, Charles (1984).
Tales of the Don. pp. 164, 165
Toronto, ON: Natural heritage/Natural History Inc.
About an hour's drive north-east of Toronto,
is southern Ontario's largest
continuous block of forest consisting of 11,000 acres
(45 km2) and located within
the Counties of
Kawartha Lakes (Victoria)
and the Region of Durham.
Meeting of the Port Hope Historical Society (PHHS
- formerly East Durham) on March 18, 2009 drew much
public attention and had one of the best turnouts ever.
The strong attendance was probably in response to the
Press Release written by Ron Getz, PHHS President which
tend to take the Ganaraska Forest and
the millions of evergreens on the Great
Pine Ridge (Oak Ridges Moraine) 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…”
Sahara of the North
As early as 1871, in a letter
to the Premier of Ontario, Sir John A. Macdonald, Prime
Minister of Canada wrote
“we are recklessly destroying the timber of Canada, and
there is scarcely a possibility of replacing it.” The late Henry Kock of the
University of Guelph Arboretum later noted the spread of
civilization around the world was too often and too closely
followed by the spread of deserts and that history showed
vast areas in Canada were headed along the same road.
Prior to World War II, the northern Ganaraska region was seen as "the Sahara of the North". Desertified and almost stripped of its trees, the landscape
had become barren and unproductive.
farms were left abandoned as a result of extensive
deforestation and poor agricultural practices.
Ganaraska wasteland area before
World War II (above)
Photo courtesy of John
The early timber barons had
left huge barren wasteland areas. The first settlers
which followed viewed the forests as obstacles to be cleared
for farmland. Topsoil was blown or washed away.
Flooding downstream in Port Hope
was a regular event before Ganaraska Forest was
Floodwaters through downtown Walton Street, Port Hope
(a regular event before Ganaraska Forest was
The Ganaraska Watershed Report, 1944, p. 71
By the late 1800s, Southern Ontario was one of the
most populated and densely settled areas in Canada -- its
resources unwisely exploited. For perhaps the first time in
Canadian history, Canada turned back at the brink -- through
a remarkable effort at reforestation, forest management, and
other soil conservation efforts -- beginning in the
In 1942, the Ganaraska Forest idea
was born which would become the first act of landscape planning in
Ontario in that it considered natural features and processes
in their entirety. By 2005, Ontario's greenbelt was
formed - now the world's largest greenbelt.
Site: The Ganaraska Forest Reborn
“One of the most remarkable things about the
Ganaraska Forest is that its story begins with
the first act of landscape planning in Ontario
that looked beyond site to consider natural features
and processes in their entirety…
In 1942, after several decades of surveying,
documenting, and disseminating information about the
spread of wastelands in Southern Ontario, and the
need for a comprehensive reforestation program, a
report on the Ganaraska Watershed was issued by the
Government of Ontario, Department of Lands and
Forests (which would later become the Ministry of
Natural Resources). Co-authored by V.B. Blake, a
local historian, and A.H. Richardson, a
colleague of Zavitz’s from the Department of Lands
and Forests, the report proposed a large-scale
reforestation program. It also included a call for
new land-use management strategies led by government
agencies. This would be the birth of the idea for
conservation authorities in Ontario, and the first
example of land-use planning that considered
natural features and processes above property lines
and political boundaries.”
Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation
Ground: Landscape Architect Quarterly,
Ontario Association of Landscape Architects, Fall
The first comprehensive
of Ganaraska Forest in the 1940’s was a major impetus in
the conservation movement of Canada - jointly sponsored by two
levels of government. It had
far reaching effects
was studied around
In 1942, the Canadian Government (Federal
Committee on Reconstruction) appointed a sub-committee on
the Conservation and Development of Natural Resources. The Ganaraska watershed was selected as the
initial test area.
Headed by Dr. R.C. Wallace (Principal of
Queen's University), the sub-committee was directed to
"consider and recommend…. the policy and programme
appropriate to the most effective conservation and maximum
future development of the natural resources of the Dominion
of Canada." Without such unprecedented commitment by the
federal level of government in the early 1940's, Ganaraska Forest would probably
never have been established (especially at a time when all
resources were mandated to the war effort abroad).
As a result, Ontario
became the first province to develop a comprehensive conservation
The Ganaraska Watershed (1944) report was the first conservation
study of its kind
in Canada. Under
the joint auspices of the
Federal (Dominion of Canada)
and Provincial (Ontario) Governments during World War II,
the Ganaraska study provided a new direction and
transformed the whole approach to conservation.
(See: The Ganaraska Watershed
document proved to be
monumental in terms of the resurgence of the
conservation movement in Canada generally,
and in Ontario in particular...
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
Steve Jobbitt, Recivilizing
the Land: Conservation and
Postwar Reconstruction in Ontario, 1939-1961, (2001)
Ganaraska Forest -- the
The establishment of
Ganaraska Forest during
the 1940's represented the foundation of the
greenbelt movement in Ontario (and Canada) and
also set in motion a series of events which
eventually led to the creation of the largest greenbelt in
the world (Ontario's Greenbelt, 2005 -
composed of more than 1.8
The Ganaraska project
demonstrated the benefits of
conservation and showed for the first time how resources (water,
land, forests, wildlife and recreation) be considered together through a
coordinated programme of resource management.
The Ganaraska region
was also the first watershed to demonstrate new concepts like the
ecosystem approach and watershed based conservation planning (based on
natural rather than political boundaries).
The Ganaraska Watershed (1944)
also led to the passing of the first
Conservation Authorities Act in 1946 and the creation of first
conservation authorities in Ontario.
Act was significant within the broad context of Canadian environmental
history in that it marked a revival of state-sponsored conservation in
The Ganaraska survey was
the model used by conservation authorities in other areas.
"1946: The Conservation
Authorities Act was passed, enabling
municipalities to apply for the
establishment of conservation
authorities in their areas. The Ganaraska Survey
was intended to
be the model for the study on which each
authority was to base its work."
Greening Our Watersheds - Revitalization
2002 Ch. 5 p.76 by Etobicoke and Mimico
Creek Watersheds Task Force
The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority
The recommendations in The Ganaraska
Watershed (1944) report formed a foundation for the conservation authority movement in
Ontario and have been studied around the world:
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."
A.H. Richardson in
It was highly
unusual to see in the middle of World War II that around the same time all resources
in Canada were legislated to go toward the war effort abroad, the Ganaraska Forest project was sponsored on the homefront by the
Dominion of Canada and the provincial governments.
In exactly the same year the Ganaraska project was
commenced, Eldorado Nuclear
in nearby flood-prone Port Hope was acquired in 1942 by the
Canadian Government and made into a Crown
Corporation. Eldorado had an important
role (refined uranium) in the Manhattan Project which in essence ended the
bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).
This theory supports a
Ganaraska link and that the interest of the Canadian
government in two major projects at the same time during a
world war, in a relatively small township on Canadian soil
(in an area where up to the war, it had shown no interest)
was more than a co-incidence. At the time, Eldorado was
classified top secret and the Town of Port Hope had no
knowledge - but it did experience regular flooding events.
Ganaraska Forest -- a conservation model for Rouge National
The Ganaraska Watershed
Report, 1943 was the conservation model which would be
used in many other watersheds - including the Rouge
watershed (R.D.H.P Conservation Report, 1956).
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."
C. Carter, Ontario Conservation Authorities:
Their Heritage Resources and Museums,
Volume XCIV, No. 1, Spring 2002)
Great Conservation Pioneers
Dr. Edmund J. Zavitz
E. J. Zavitz was the
first Chief of Reforestation in Ontario (The
Ganaraska Report (1944) p.xii). From a early report
published in 1908,
more than any other man, Zavitz is given credit for expressing the first conservation
and reforestation vision for the Ganaraska and Oak Ridges Moraine area:
"Extending through 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
More than any other man, it was
also Zavitz who planted the seeds of a modern day greenbelt plan
more than a century ago - as shown in the above 1908 report.
Richardson - Forester
his graduation in 1920, A. H. Richardson became the long-time
assistant to Dr. Zavitz (above noted) 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
A.H. Richardson was appointed
by the Ontario Government during WW2 to
organize the Ganaraska study.
respected as a pioneer historian, historic preservationist
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.
V.B. Blake was also certainly influenced by two of the greatest academic
scholars of the time, his uncle, G. M. Wrong
University of Toronto
Professor and Author and
Dr. R.C. Wallace
- 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:
"...of general significance
for the conservation and rehabilitation of all our resources
(A. H. Richardson, Conservation by the People: The
History of the Conservation Movement in Ontario to 1970, (1974)
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
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
John C. Carter,
Ontario Conservation Authorities:
Their Heritage Resources
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
remains a goldmine of information to this day. As a pioneer historian
and the only Ganaraska area resident on the original Ganaraska survey
team, Verschoyle Benson Blake is remembered for his extraordinary work in
heritage and conservation.
"We need something more
than archives to tell us
this in books and
our forefathers lived...
pictures is a good thing,
it is infinitely better
some of the things themselves.
To let these be lost through our indifference is
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)
Canada's first greenbelt
The establishment of Ganaraska Forest
was Canada's first
greenbelt model and marked
the beginning of the greenbelt movement
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
Greenbelts serve a major conservation role
with many benefits: "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
Joanne Tacorda, March 18, 2013)
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.
Other greenbelt projects followed the Ganaraska model
in Canada -
but none preceded it.
Name of Greenbelt
Reserve in B.C.
Niagara Escarpment Plan - preliminary
Vancouver's Green Zone
Montréal - announced
Québec City - announced
In January, 2013, the Ontario Government
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. 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
comprised of 1.8
million acres (Ontario’s
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).
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
"Ontario went on to
become a leader in conservation in Canada,
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
"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
ever undertaken in central Canada."
Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority,
The late Judge Richard Lovekin
Ganaraska Forest ceremony in 1994
Member - Port Hope Historical Society
Supporter - Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority