Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Land Between: Southern Ontario

Forgive the length, but I learn by writing down what I read, hear and research. I've researched the history of Nepean, a suburb of Ottawa before.

I watched this video, The Land Between, online. It is fabulous.
There is even a The Land Between Circle
My daughter, a hydrogeologist, has sparked my interest in geology. We call her rock girl!

TVO Documentary: The Land Between

The documentary features our amazing ecosystem in The Land Between, which has bioclastic limestone. This is rock created from shells of dead sea creatures, and is more than 50% calcium carbonate.

Torrance Barrens
The glaciers scraped the land of its soil
A Muskoka cottager, Peter Alley (1943 - 2006), was curious about the land. He cottaged at Muldrew Lake, in the region of Muskoka, not far from where we 'cottaged' for 50 years and my parents retired there in 1991 (Bala).
Alley asked questions of the pros, featured in the video, and I learned a lot.

Famous Spots

Torrance Barrens (we took a walk there in 2008), is a good example of the area.
 His small lake that made him curious.
Devoid of soil, this land covers many regional boundaries, with north/south highways.

Inhabited for 12,000 years, colonialists have imposed themselves on the land and its peoples.

Flora and Fauna

It is an area rich in flora and fauna.
It is made up of flat limestone, with little soil, too tough in spots for trees.
only place for 5-lined skink!
I saw one once.
Too quick for me to photograph it.
In terms of land development are the shorelines, which are the most vulnerable. Everyone wants a cottage by the lake.
  • Five-lined skink, Ontario's only lizard.
  • Turtles
  • American Eel: in the Sargasso Sea it spawns, when it is the size of a shoelace it comes inland.
  • Loggerhead shrike: songbird feet but a predator with a hooked beak feeding on grasshoppers, small mice, and they impale prey on a hawthorn tree. There are two pockets of them left in Ontario.
  • Lots of interesting plants: wildflowers and grasses. 
  • Deer, moose, bear, muskrat, blueberry, pine.
  • They've been here 10,000 years: native species from north and south meet here in the middle.
These I photographed in Gargantua Bay

Evidence of Ancient Peoples

In terms of Aboriginal peoples, the most interesting are Pictographs at Mazinaw Lake, 260 of Petroglyphs Provincial park, carved into the soft, metamorphic rock. Carved as instructions for the young people, they tell us, all created at least 500 years - 1000 years ago, at the very least.

Made from an iron-based ocre stain from the cerebrospinal fluid of sturgeon. The ocre washes off but the chemically changed surface remains.  They would have had to canoe in to do them. These are famous places for trading, celebrating the land, and for transportation to winter/summer grounds.

Rich in food sources

Inland there are many sources of wild rice, which native Peoples harvested.
Then there is the fishing. Especially, a 3000-year-old fishing weir: Mnjikaning Fish Weir Circle. This was a brilliant tool.

Fish Weir 

- Fishing Tool of Hunter-Gatherers

fish weir or fish trap is a step forward in fishing technology, used in North America for the past several thousand years.
Began to practice agriculture.
Beausoleil Island had 7000 years of occupation. Trading was important, traveling by what is now the Trent Waterway system.
Hunter Gatherer Anishinabek, Algonquin/Huron, and the agricultural Wendat ('people who live in houses'). (Common Era: 1550).
Haudenoshone and Wendat had difficulties, exacerbated by the French and English who were fighting over the resources. Beaver and other furs became scarce. There was a battle south of Lake Ontario (1615).
Champlain visited The Land Between. He writes of three days plagued by rain and snow. He created maps. The 1649 battle ended any cooperation. The Wendat were decimated by pandemics and conflict with the Haudenoshone, and the Wendat left. May, 1904, the Missassaugas decided to attack the Mohawks in Georgian Bay, on the Island of skulls. They took the Portage Rd. up to Portage Lake. 1000 warriors were slain. The war ended in 1701. Peace council at Lake Superior.  Ojibwas hunting for north after 50 years of war.
The French were defeated in 1759, Chief Yellowhead of Rama was a hero of the time. Some believe it is this chief for whom the Muskoka region was named. This is a good read:

Chippewas of Rama First Nation

Under the leadership of our hereditary ChiefChief Musquakie(Yellowhead) who ...The fish fence at the Atherley Narrows, is located near Rama First Nation.


Abandoned barns and farms are evidence of the inability of this shallow soil to keep an agricultural society. The Hunter Gatherers were well able to live here, especially with the deep native respect for the land and its species, and the circle of life.
Native Peoples grew the three sisters: corn, squash and beans.
Settlements filled up on the shores of Lake Ontario and spots further north were less tillable soil. Another good read, available in a video,
Methodist Missionaries started First Nation Reserves. Cold Water Reserve was considered too valuable and was taken back by the government. The government insisted land could not be settled until treaties were made, but they were rushed through and poorly made. This has led to a long legacy of treaty litigation.

The Williams Treaties: Lament of a First Nation. Peggy Blair
Basket clause: they gave up everything, hunting, fishing, trapping, picking berries, birch bark,
There wasn't enough land to keep them alive. They were called poachers and game wardens to harass them. And still the racism persists.
The Mississauga thrived on the land, but were no longer able to travel to meed their needs. They couldn't farm on these lands, and the outlawing of Weitung's fish weirs meant they couldn't fish according to traditional ways, harvesting what they needs, throwing back pregnant females and young males. Like my grandmother, brought home when lost by local native people (read her story here), many settlers, map makers, fur traders, corporations (e.g., HBC), would not have survived without their help. It is amazing that First Nations have survived despite this exploitation.


Red and White pines were clear cut and decimated by logging. Slash and burn, before we knew better. They used the rivers for moving the logs.
Some dude named Need developed a lumber business in  Bobcaygeon. On Sturgeon Lake, Nov. 6, 1838, the first lock was opened. Trent-Severn locks links Ontario and Georgian Bay.
Log drives employed many and killed many, as well.

Logging & clear cutting decimated Georgian Bay fish stock
as spawning grounds were destroyed by silt.
(Public doman archive photo)
The 1880s feud in McDonald's Corners between Boyd Caldwell and Peter McLaren was infamous. It was on High Falls on the Missippi River. Caldwell was using McLaren's improvements to move HIS logs. Taking each other to court, the courts ruled that the rivers were commons, you could catch fish and need not ask anyone. It was available for use by all travellers.
See the Rivers and Streams Act of 1884 (Historical Plaque).

I spotted this on a trip along highway #7
Colonisation roads were built from Lake Ontario north. More work for hungry, needy men and their families. Safer, likely, than logging. You can see these roads, where better roads were created late. I took a trip around our old lake and found the Oka Colonisation Road on my travels. Now, these remote roads are exploited by snowmobiles and ATVs.

The government, needing settlers, felt that land capable of supporting pine trees could support 8 million farmers. Land agents worked to convince immigrants to settle in The Land Between: Free Grants and Homestead Act of 1868 promised 100 - 200 acres if settlers cleared the land and farmed. 
Even Sir John A. Macdonald knew that this was bad for the environment.

nSir John A. McDonald wrote to the premier of Ontario:
The sight of the immense masses of timber passing my window every morning constantly suggests to my mind the absolute necessity there is for looking into the future of this great trade. We are recklessly destroying the timber of Canada and there is scarcely a possibility of replacing it.

My great, great grandparents
He was an organist
from England and France.

My great grandmother
she opened up a rooming house
in Port Hope.
People were failing at clearing the land, those who arrived later. You need only read the diaries of Susannah Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill to understand how military officers, securing land in 1832, were unable to be successful and farm. Transplanted from England, and more familiar with embroidery and fine clothes, rather than living off of the land, they didn't know how to farm.

They had to clear several acres a year to keep their claims, and many opted to go west. Arable land needed a jack of all trades, and diverse pioneer farmers with many skills. You can see it some of the farmers we serve through Community Home Support here in Lanark County. Carpentry, building their own homes, dairy and beef cattle, building fences, adapting to the new technology of their time.
They could work as lumbermen, and then sell produce to the loggers.

The limestone was suited to cattle ranching. In the 1870/80s, they began to make it more successful. They lost sheep to bears, and then reverted to cattle.


Algonquin College Campus - Perth

George Laidlaw imported a Scots stonemason for ten years to build stone walls. One had to do something with the immense amount of loose rock on the land. Perth, as well as many other towns, have some amazing buildings. Algonquin College offers training in repairing these old buildings. I did a post with photos, featuring some of their students. In the good, old days they used limestone to make concrete.
Repairing Perth town Museum walls


In Donald, from there to Tory Hill, they clear cut for a factory. This factory employed 300 people. They used the clearcut wood to make wood alcohol, necessary for dynamite.

Abandoned barns - so sad
Cave Eldorado, Marmora, Madoc had some gold. Ontario's First Gold Rush, in Hastings County, near Madoc. Gold, silver, iron, arsenite, uranium, cobalt, stellite, all created for the war effort, but petered out in time. They abandoned the site in 1941, to be cleaned up by taxpayers. 750,000 cu meters of waste with arsenic, cobalt, copper, radioactive waste material. Deloro mine site project is a major waste site in Ontario. I had never heard of it!


Of major importance to those who survived in The Land Between, is tourism. A good read is Raisin Wine, which explains how tourists invaded Port Carling, and First Nations could no longer hunt and fish, while whites exploited the land and water. Many lived in poverty, serving as part-time carpenters for people who visited in the summer and had the money to maintain two homes.
Snapshot courtesy Swift River
One interesting feature of The Land Between is the Kirkfield Lift Lock, finished in 1907, taking boats from Lakefield to Lake Simcoe.

In Muskoka, they still argue over the Bala Falls. Originally built to regulate water levels which fluctuated up to 9' over the seasons, they needed to be able to run the steamships for the tourists  who went north from Toronto to Muskoka for the summer.

In the 50s, the falls harnessed the power of the water for electricity. It was abandoned for this purpose, but 'Save the Bala Falls' and Ontario Wind Farms are generating a lot of controversy!
photo courtesy Swift River

I find it sad that tourists forget the rich aboriginal history of this land, and prefer to keep their precious frontage for themselves to exploit as they see fit. The quiet of the land, disrupted by transportation technology: motor boats evolved from the canoe, to the sleek, mahogony Ditchburn boats, boats with disappearing propellors (Dippies), and now the incredibly large, powerful, noisy boats and PWCs of the new millenium.
Imagine the hours and the
blood, sweat and tears
to create these barns.

1 comment:

Karen said...

Wasn't that a marvelous series? I grew up in Peterborough and knew some of the local people interviewed. My maternal Orkadian gggrandfather was one of the stone masons brought in by a rich industrialist to work on the canal system. These stories have been in our family for years so it was just a treat to see a program about it all. I did further research and found a great book called "A Respectable Ditch", which I'm looking forward to reading.