Conservation History -
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"
"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…"
Thomas S. Axworthy,
Welcome to homepage
from a barren
dust bowl and wasteland region to
a leading Canadian conservation landmark
(an overview of the modern day conservation
beginning with the
establishment of Ganaraska
to the creation of the world's largest greenbelt)
* * * * *
Ganaraska Forest project was undertaken at an unusual time during
(when all resources were
mandated to the war effort abroad)
and represents one
of the most important conservation projects ever undertaken
In the same year
(1942) the Ganaraska Forest Project was sponsored by the Federal and
Provincial Governments, the Eldorado Uranium Refinery was acquired by the Canadian Government in nearby Port Hope
and made into a Crown Corporation. Shrouded in top secrecy, Eldorado
played an important role in the war effort (Hiroshima
and Nagasaki bombings).
The establishment of
Ganaraska Forest was not only important to the Oak Ridges Moraine
(a large hydrologically sensitive glacial ridge of great ecological
significance - including the headwaters),
but played an important role in flood control of Port Hope, where
Eldorado was situated (now Cameco).
Co-sponsored by the Federal and Provincial
levels of governments of the day, the Ganaraska study
provided a new direction and
transformed the approach to conservation
- with far reaching
was also the first large-scale
reforestation conservation project on the
Oak Ridges Moraine. The ORM is also an important part of the
world's largest greenbelt (Ontario's Greenbelt).
"The Ganaraska Authority was the first
to undertake afforestation on a large scale.
Some 20,000 acres, largely on the interlobate moraine (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
About an hour's drive north-east of Toronto,
is southern Ontario's largest
continuous block of forest and located within
the Counties of
Kawartha Lakes (Victoria)
and the Region of Durham.
Ganaraska Forest was first conceived
many years before the greenbelt term was commonly used -
beginning at a 1941 conference in Guelph, Ontario.
The Ganaraska watershed was selected as the
initial test area and marked the beginning of the first
conservation authorities in Ontario.
Today, Ganaraska Forest is owned and managed today by the Ganaraska Region
"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.
the Canadian Government appointed a sub-committee on the
Conservation and Development of Natural Resources. Dr. R.C. Wallace (Principal of
Queen's University) was appointed by the Federal
Government to head the sub-committee and 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
became the first province to develop a comprehensive conservation
The Ganaraska Watershed (1944) report. It was the
first conservation study of its kind
in Canada and in essence, the foundation of the modern day
It was the foundation report which resulted in the establishment of Ganaraska
document proved to be
monumental in terms of the resurgence of the
conservation movement in Canada
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
Steve Jobbitt, Recivilizing
the Land: Conservation and
Postwar Reconstruction in Ontario, 1939-1961, (2001)
Ganaraska Forest is now
part of Ontario's Greenbelt
- the world's largest greenbelt.
Ontario's Greenbelt (2005) contains the same conservation
components as the original Ganaraska study (1944) published several decades
earlier (incl. green space, forests, farms, wetlands, etc.)
the Ganaraska project as the blueprint, the world's largest greenbelt (Ontario's Greenbelt)
and Rouge National Urban Park would probably not exist today.
Without the acquisition of conservation lands by
the newly formed conservation authorities, two of the greatest conservation
achievements in Canadian history would probably not have happened.
"... 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 The Ganaraska Watershed report,
A.H. Richardson, 1944 p. vi
Ganaraska Forest is considered a great conservation landmark of national
importance today because of its far reaching effects. More
than any other document,
the recommendations of the Ganaraska report (1944) was the model
for the R.D.H.P. Conservation Report (1956) which eventually led to the creation of Rouge
National Urban Park,
one of the largest urban parks in the world (also
part of Ontario's Greenbelt).
Both the Ganaraska and Rouge conservation reports
included the same
principal authors, A.H. Richardson,
Forest Engineer and
V.B. Blake as the lead historian
(plus other technical staff).
"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
History, Volume XCIV, No. 1, Spring 2002)
The intervention of
Dr. R.C. Wallace, the eminent scholar from
Queen's University at a critical time prior to the publication of the Ganaraska report
provided for the inclusion of the history section in the Ganaraska
report and assured the interest and support of the politicians and general
public and the success of the newly formed conservation authorities
and numerous conservation projects which followed.
Conservation authorities were non-existent prior to the Ganaraska Watershed report
in 1944 but today Ontario’s 36 Conservation Authorities own and operate
over 500 conservation areas and collectively are among the largest
public landowners of the most valuable real estate in Canada (a total land area of 145,357 hectares (359,185 acres).
The Ganaraska region
was the first watershed to demonstrate new concepts like the
ecosystem approach and watershed based conservation planning (based on
natural rather than political boundaries).
The establishment of Ganaraska Forest was
the first act of landscape planning in
Ontario in that it considered natural features and processes
in their entirety.
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
Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation
Ground: Landscape Architect Quarterly,
Ontario Association of Landscape Architects, Fall
Forest was the catalyst which led to the creation of the first
conservation authorities in Canada, the first conservation legislation,
a conservation model for other watershed areas
and provided a blueprint for acquiring conservation lands.
Pre-WW II - the Sahara of the North
By the late 1800s, Southern Ontario was one of the most
populated and densely settled areas in Canada.
In a 1871 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 also noted the spread of
civilization around the world was too often and too closely
followed by the spread of deserts and that vast areas in Canada were headed along the same road.
Much of the Ganaraska region was seen as "the Sahara of the North"
prior to WW II. 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
left huge barren wasteland areas. The first settlers
viewed the remaining trees and forests as obstacles to be cleared
for farmland. Topsoil was blown or washed away.
Flooding downstream in Port Hope
was a major problem and regular event before Ganaraska Forest was
Floodwaters through downtown Walton Street, Port Hope
The Ganaraska Watershed Report, 1944, p. 71
Co-incidence, or was it?
In the middle of a World War (WW 2) when most resources were legislated to toward the war effort abroad,
a major conservation project north of Port Hope was sponsored in 1942 by the Federal and
Until Ganaraska Forest was established to the
north, flooding was a regular event in downtown Port Hope.
Eldorado Nuclear (now Cameco) was located below
Walton St. at a lower elevation more likely to
For perhaps the first time in
Canadian history, Canada was turned back at the brink in the Ganaraska watershed
through a remarkable effort at reforestation, forest
management, and other soil conservation efforts which
Ganaraska Forest - unofficially Canada's
The establishment of Ganaraska Forest
in 1947 was Canada's first
greenbelt model and marked
the beginning of the greenbelt movement
in Canada. It 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 -
now almost two
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...".
Ministry Municipal Affairs and Housing
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 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.
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 conservation model used by conservation authorities in other
"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
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, Conservation by
the People (1974)
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). One of it's key
recommendations was the establishment of a 20,000 acre 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
has many benefits:
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)
In January, 2013, the Ontario Government
in the river valleys of southern Ontario will become part of a new Urban
River Valley designation in Ontario's Greenbelt -
increasing the size of the largest
world to almost two million acres.
“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
Dr. Edmund J. Zavitz (1875-1968)
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
vision for the Ganaraska and Oak Ridges Moraine area:
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
published by Ontario Department
More than any other man, it was
Zavitz who planted the seeds of a modern day greenbelt plan
more than a century ago as shown in the above 1908 report.
Immediately following the Guelph Conference in 1941, Ganaraska was selected as the
first pilot project.
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 to
organize the Ganaraska study.
respected as a pioneer historian, historic preservationist, archivist,
conservationist and Ganaraska area resident.
Meeting of the Port Hope Historical Society (formerly East Durham) on March 18, 2009 drew much
public attention with one of the best turnouts ever.
The unusually strong attendance was probably in response to the
Press Release written by Ron Getz, President which
“We 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…”
V. B. Blake arrived
in the Ganaraska region (north of Port Hope) in 1926. He became known as “the quiet conservationist” and was very knowledgeable about
history, particularly in the Ganaraska area. Blake
played 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.
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 published in 1944 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'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 - beginning with 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
work reflected the natural linkage
between history and conservation for the first time -- the
general public (and public officials) not only found this historical
material interesting but were better able to understand the technical
recommendations of the conservation reports.
Other conservation reports
also opened with Blake's historical backdrops which were essentially the
first major conservation blueprints for the respective watersheds from which
most modern day conservation achievements can be traced.
remains a goldmine of information to this day - he is remembered for his extraordinary work in
heritage and conservation.
Today, Blake is still regarded as:
"the Dean of Local Historians ...
hasn’t been anybody like him since…”
Heritage and Libraries Branch, Ministry of Culture