Thursday, June 6, 2013

Ontario has natural and historical diversity.

My buddy and I descended that without ropes.
Rattlesnake Point.

Ontario presents us with a diversity of natural landscapes and a rich human history.
Much of the old-growth forest of southern Ontario is gone now, but small patches remain. Living and dead trees give an idea of what a fully mature forest might have once been like, with deeply-shaded glades and more open areas due to fires, tornadoes, and perhaps flooding. Other causes of natural death besides simple age would include periodic insect and fungal infestations, and natural climate fluctuations. The ages and the sizes of the trees are pretty impressive, and yet some of the oldest trees are dwarf trees (white cedars,) along the Niagara Escarpment. I’ve seen a few while traipsing around.
White cedar was a valuable commodity because of its resistance to rot and weather. Naturally, the most accessible ones were quickly cut down, and in Oakville for example, the mature trees, oaks for barrel staves and pine for masts for the Royal Navy, supported a local industry for decades before they ran out of trees. Much of the wood went into locally constructed schooners, used for fishing and freight.
Relic trees are scattered around all over southern Ontario.
The Oak Ridge Moraine runs north of Toronto and is the source of dozens of rivers and streams. It’s important to preserve it in the name of water quality and wildlife habitat, yet it is under pressure of urban and industrial development.
A fawn.
Bronte Creek is familiar to this writer as the Bruce Trail crosses it and he has hiked places such as Hilton Falls, the Nassageweya Canyon, Mount Nemo, Rattlesnake Point, and Twiss Canyon. This river runs on rock and stone for much of the time and is consequently clear and not silted up. It’s perfect for creek-walking. At the Highway 5 bridge, the gully must be 300 feet deep with steep sides. Salmon spawn in the lower reaches, and it is a home for brook trout and other fish. Because of the Bruce Trail system, there are a number of access points. One of my favourites is Limestone Creek, a tributary, where it runs down out of Nassageweya Canyon.
While the loss of natural habitat is sobering enough, the cultural loss is significant as well. The nations that once dwelt in the Great lakes basin are in some cases almost completely unknown. The Chat (Cat) nation, the Fire nation, otherwise known as the Eries were dispersed by the Iroquois before settlement. The Neutrals are a sad story because the Jesuits met them once. When next heard of they had been destroyed. Some surviving native groups went extinct or took off on treks that led as far as Tennessee and Oklahoma. They may have originated there, as did the Tuscarora, the sixth member of the Iroquois Confederacy. It would be a natural thing to do, for the survivors to go down the Ohio River and hence to the Mississippi. Some of them disappeared, as in the Petun, (often called Neutrals,) of southern Ontario.
Native habitation goes back to shortly after the last ice age. The landscape must have been a much different place back then and the impact of man small. We can only wonder, although dimly, from the perspective of today what it might have looked like.

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