Ganaraska Forest History

Ganaraska Forest
- a history of conservation  -

Ganaraska History
V.B. Blake
Pioneer Historian
Ardfree of
E. J. Zavitz
Chief of Reforestation
A.H. Richardson
Dr. R.C. Wallace
"Wallace of Queen's"
G.M. Wrong
History Prof./Author
Lois James
hampion of the Rouge
Trees: Guardians of Walker Road












"A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots."

Marcus Garvey










"After all, history
is life itself."

 George M. Wrong




























Ganaraska History

On this page: a wilderness of trees... First Nations ... First Europeans... Early greenbelt idea (1908)... Guelph Conference (1941)... Ganaraska - the first conservation model (1942)...Reasons Ganaraska selected as first test site... World War II (1939-1945)... Eldorado Uranium Refinery... Timeline... General Motors (military vehicle testing)... Formation of Department of Planning and Development (1944)... Conservation Authorities Act (1946)... Creation of Ganaraska Forest (1947)... First Ganaraska Conservation area (Garden Hill) Commemorative Memorial (1967) - Conservation Authorities of Ontario... Summary

10,000 years ago ...

Ten thousand years ago, the Ganaraska watershed was an expanse of land that lay buried all year round in ice and snow.

As the ice age came to an end, the surface features of the moraine took shape, molded by the flow of melting ice and water. Soon the land that had been buried in ice, became a wilderness of trees.

First human occupation ...

The First Nations were the first occupants of the Ganaraska watershed and included the Hurons, Iroquois (Cayuga) and the Mississauga.

Ganaraskč was the first recorded name of present day Port Hope, Ontario. Mostly forgotten, a hidden place known as Monkey Mountain in the Town of Port Hope is one of the most important cultural and natural heritage landscapes in Northumberland County.

According to early historical accounts and maps, Monkey Mountain was the location of a village site of the Cayuga people of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Several early French maps (Joliet, Franquelin, Raffeix, Bellin, Danville, etc.) from the mid 1600's show the village named “Ganaraskč” (or close derivation) at the site of modern day Port Hope - more than a century before the arrival of the first fur trader, Peter Smith.

Ganaraskč it was the first recorded site of human occupation in Port Hope and Northumberland County. In Ontario, Ganaraskč was one of several important sites when Ontario was a thick forest and the only road was a foot-path. 

This period of the French Regime was witness to the colonial expansion of the Old World into New, the fur trading ambitions of the Europeans, the workings of the Sulpician missionaries and the strategic role the native people played in the struggle between the French, British and Dutch for control of the fur trade.

Ganaraskč was more than a Cayuga village, it was a trading and missionaries place. Ganaraskč was also located at the foot of the Ganaraska historic trail which led from the north shore of Lake Ontario to Rice Lake.  It was also the most used and shortest carrying (portage) route to areas further north including the Peterborough area and northern interior (chain of Kawartha Lakes). 

The Cayuga name meant "People of the Great Swamp".  A large marshland once existed by the mouth of Ganaraska River (which disappeared soon after the 1829 incorporation of Port Hope Harbor and Wharf Company).

The exact location of Ganaraskč remains uncertain but important clues are found in the origin of the Monkey Mountain name. A well documented historical legend describes:

“If you walked on Monkey Mountain at night, you are followed by little red lights and little children can be heard screaming and running around yet there is no one there. This occurs around an area where the natives had their longhouse.” (Port Hope District Historical Society (PHDHS) Newsletter, September, 2015; Little Tales of Old Port Hope, 1966; Port Hope Evening Guide series, 1965/66)

Sketch of typical longhouse

The Cayugas were known as “people of the longhouse" - a longhouse would be evidence of a village site. According to notes from PHDHS/East Durham collection, the Monkey Mountain name may have been a change over time from "Monk's Mound".  The Sulpician Missionaries from France were known visitors. After Denonville’s expedition in 1687 attacking the villages around Lake Ontario, Ganaraskč was heard of no more.

The late Ted Austin (1925-2001) who lived nearby on Cavan St. reportedly uncovered local native burial sites and had the largest known collection of artifacts found in the Port Hope area.

As mentioned above, Ganaraskč first appeared on several French maps from the mid 17th century. J.N.B. Hewitt of the Smithsonian Institute wrote "Ganaraskč probably meant 'the spawning place', as this locality was refuted too 'abound' in salmon." (Toronto during the French Regime, 1933). 

When control of Canada passed from France to Great Britain in 1763, the French Ganaraskč name changed to "Ganaraska" (the French letter "e" was replaced by the English "a") from which Ganaraska River is named.

Ganaraskč could have become the only National Historic Site of Canada designated in Port Hope (like a similar Iroquoian village by Rouge River in Toronto).

Extracts published in Northumberland Today - March 8, 2017

First Europeans...

In 1818, the Chiefs of the six Mississauga tribes in this district gathered at Smith's Creek (now Port Hope) and surrendered great blocks of land to the Crown for colonization purposes. This tract comprised the modern counties of Victoria, Peterborough, and, Ontario, Muskoka and Haliburton. Treaty #20 known as "Surrender M" was comprised 1,951,000 acres. For this the Crown undertook to pay Ł740 yearly in goods a the Montreal prices, or for "every man, woman and child the amount of 10 dollars (Spanish ) in goods, so long as each child shall live but such annuity to cease to be paid in right of any individual who may have died."

Port Hope was incorporated as a town in 1834 (population 1500 residents) - the first incorporated town along Lake Ontario between Kingston and Toronto.

In 1856, the Grand Trunk Railway was built and connecting Port Hope with Toronto and the east coast.  It's viaduct over the Ganaraska River was the second greatest engineering challenge on the route (next to the bridge over the St. Lawrence River at Montreal).

After the first Europeans arrived, the Ganaraska area which had been covered in mature forests (pines and hardwoods) became severely deforested.  Countless trees were harvested for the construction of ships and ship masts by the British Royal Navy. Agriculture (farming) which followed the lumber industry caused further degradation.

With the forests chopped down and the lands cleared for farming by the early 1900's, the conditions for flooding became acute in Port Hope. Much of the region to the north became a wasteland area, with desert-like sand dunes and washed-out gullies.

“In some parts of Ontario, the trees, the soil and man’s livelihood were gone with the wind by the early 1900s. Large tracts of land that once supported thriving farms had turned into empty wastelands”. 

The Evergreen Challenge –
The Agreement Forest Story (Borczon 1982)

Until about 1860, up to 50 saw and flour mills operated along the Ganaraska River. The mills drew farmers from up to 60 kilometers away.  Grain that could not be milled was bought by up to five distilleries along the Ganaraska River who produced the famous Port Hope whisky.

Effective conservation measures were desperately needed  to reverse the ecological damage that had swept areas of the province. Re-establishing tree cover was important to preventing further degradation.

Ganaraska Wasteland Photo -- E.J. Zavitz Wastelands #23
Photo courtesy of John Bacher and Ed Borczon

Early greenbelt idea (1908)

From the late 19th century, Ontario faced massive soil erosion, drought and major flooding problems caused by extensive deforestation and poor land-management.

"Civilization has now changed wide areas of this Province into a land of cities and towns, large farms, huge industrial plants, mines, and paper and lumber mills. This is a land largely denuded of its forests; vast areas are eroded and unfit for cultivation or any other purpose; many of its streams are dried up, or polluted to the extent they can no longer support aquatic life. In Ontario, we are living dangerously – through the heedless exploitation of natural resources." 

Frank H. Kortwright, 1940

The first provincial nursery in Ontario was created in 1905 and landowners were able to acquire trees at no charge. (This no-fee service continued until 1980 when a nominal fee was introduced for the trees).

The reforestation of the Oak Ridges Moraine, including the Ganaraska Forest area,  was first advocated by E.J. Zavitz in his 1908 Report on the Reforestation of Wastelands in Southern Ontario

"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 Ontario, 1908, E.J. Zavitz, published by Ontario Department of Agriculture, Toronto

Edmund John Zavitz (1875-1968) was the first provincial provincial forester in Ontario. More than any other man, Zavitz  planted the first seeds of a modern day greenbelt plan more than a century ago (see above)   Regarded as the Father of Ontario Forestry, to fellow foresters, he became known as "E.J. - the foster father of a billion trees".  In 1935, he was appointed Chief of Reforestation.  For many years, Zavitz was also the boss and mentor of A.H. Richardson.

In 1922, the Ontario government initiated the Agreement Forest Program with local municipalities which resulted in treeplanting on over 110,000 hectares of marginal lands.  While much work had been done, it was still not enough to reverse the environmental state of affairs:

"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 water flow, the result of the increase in population and of encroachment on the flood plains of creeks and rivers, were also becoming pressing issues... With so much industry and growth, there was less and less room for fish and wildlife.''

Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters


The Ontario Conservation and Reforestation Association was formed in 1936. A new reference point was “A New Reforestation Policy for Ontario” by Watson H. Porter, managing editor and published in the Farmer’s Advocate.

In 1938, the Federation of Ontario Naturalists published a study of the Oak Ridges Moraine, calling for its reforestation. Public perception of forestry and conservation began to improve: "Never before in Canada has so much interest been taken in the proper care and development of our forests..." (Forestry Chronicle Editorial, 1938) 

Shortly thereafter, Ontario became the first province in Canada to develop a comprehensive conservation strategy in the postwar era, beginning with the Guelph Conference (1941).


Guelph Conference (1941)

On April 25, 1941, concerned citizens and a group of nine organizations met to form the Guelph Conference at the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph, Ontario on the conservation of the natural resources in Ontario.  

The Guelph Conference was organized by the Ontario Conservation and Reforestation Association and the   Federation of Ontario Naturalists.  Other organizations forming the group included the Canadian Society of Forest Engineers (now the Canadian Institute of Forestry), Royal Canadian Institute, Canadian Society of Technical Agriculturalists, Canadian Conservation Association, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, Royal Canadian Legion and Men of the Trees.

A landmark series of conferences, studies, and surveys which followed transformed the approach to conservation in Ontario. "The gathering, which immediately became known as the Guelph Conference, essentially marked the beginning of the conservation resurgence in Ontario and, more importantly, provided momentum for the conservation movement well into the postwar era." Steve Jobbitt, (2001) p. 68

The Guelph Conference lobbied the government based on the belief that: "current management practices could not adequately ensure a firm foundation on which to build an economically prosperous Ontario ... reinforced by the high frequency of serious flooding in the late 1930's." (Johnson, 1964, p. 95; Reid, July 9, 1968, p. 3).

A fundamental concept was developed where conservation of natural resources would be based on watershed, rather than political boundaries.  This watershed scope and municipal partnership model would lead to the Conservation Authorities Act of Ontario in 1946. This new act led to the creation of 36 conservation authorities across the province.

"...Natural resources form a delicate balanced system in which all parts are interdependent and they cannot be successfully handled, piecemeal."  (Professor A. F. Coventry quoted in Conservation by the People, 1974)

In August of 1941, the Guelph Conference committee met with the Federal Committee on Reconstruction in Ottawa.  Having a positive response, it was agreed that federal funds would be appropriated to assist in conducting a pilot watershed survey in Ontario, so long as the survey constituted a ''special piece of conservation research for application to Canada." (A.H. Richardson, Conservation by the People, 1974, p. 14)  

A follow-up report was issued by the Guelph Conference entitled Conservation and Post-War Rehabilitation (1942) which confirmed the unhealthy state of natural resources and recommended an integrated resource management planning study of watersheds, particularly in Southern Ontario. The report's conclusions listed the seriousness of many depletions observed: water resources were drying up – 80% of the streams that flowed a hundred years ago were now temporarily dry during the year (what waters remained were largely polluted by industrial waste and sewage waste from municipalities of all sizes); forest covers had dangerously decreased; erosion by wind and water was on the increase, soil had become impoverished through loss of fertility and the impact of all of this was damaging fish and wildlife habitat and population. The report emphasized the urgent need for an initial conservation project to form the basis for general application throughout the province. It was argued that environment, economy, and society would benefit from a management strategy which was watershed based and considered renewable natural resources as an integrated whole.

As well as showing the need for conservation measures, it was suggested that "the program would contribute to re-establishing people in civilian life after their return from the war." (Guelph Conference, 1942, Conservation and Post-War Rehabilitation, p. 3, Guelph, Ontario). This program entitled "Conservation and Post-War Rehabilitation", was presented to the Federal Advisory Committee on Reconstruction.

In 1942, the Government of Canada (Federal Committee on Reconstruction) appointed a sub-committee on the Conservation and Development of Natural Resources.

Headed by Dr. R. C. Wallace (1881-1955), 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".  Dr. Wallace's sub-committee was also given the responsibility of identifying "the importance of these resources as national assets..." (A.H. Richardson, 1974, p. 14)

The Committee on Reconstruction informed the Guelph Conference that the Federal Government was interested in any practical plan that employed men and women after the war;  the Guelph Conference Plan was acceptable;  a watershed site had to be recommended by the Conference; and to avoid precedence, expenses of the survey had to be shared equally by the Province and Canada (Thomas, J. D. 1966. "The Guelph Conference", Watersheds, Vol. 1, No. 4, December, p. 10.)

A highly esteemed educator and geologist, Robert Charles Wallace took a much broader approach to conservation than the prevailing soil restoration or reforestation model of the time.  What was really required was a survey of all resources leading to multiple purpose rehabilitation - in essence the first model of a modern day greenbelt plan. 

Dr. Wallace had a special sensitivity to good conservation practices which extended from the northern reaches of the watershed to the southern edge of the Town of Port Hope where Eldorado Uranium Refinery was located.  He could not  ignore the flooding problems in the town and the potential threat to the world's largest uranium refinery at the lowest elevation of the catchment basin. At the exact same time of the Ganaraska study, Eldorado was acquired by the Canadian Government and made into a crown corporation.

Following a meeting in 1942 between the Guelph Conference committee and Mitchell Hepburn, Premier of Ontario, an Interdepartmental Committee on Conservation and Rehabilitation was formed by the Ontario Government. A.H. Richardson (then a Forest Engineer with the Department or Lands and Forests) was appointed full-time Chairman of the newly formed provincial committee.

Ganaraska - the first conservation model (1942)

In 1942, the 103-square mile [265-square kilometres] watershed of the Ganaraska River, which enters Lake Ontario at Port Hope, was selected for the pilot survey. The Ganaraska Watershed was chosen to demonstrate the benefits of conservation in Ontario and as an example of conservation study for all of Canada.

The Ganaraska Survey was conducted in the summer of 1942, and the report published in 1943. The survey resulted in a new comprehensive approach to conservation and covered extended to soils, climate, vegetation, forestry, plant diseases, entomology, wildlife, water flow and utilization, and the physical and economic aspects of agriculture.

Ontario went on to become a leader in conservation in Canada, spurred largely by the fact that southern Ontario was 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.

For the first conservation model in Canada, Ontario had to look south of the border in two places, The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) in Ohio and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).  Both the TVA and MWCD provided excellent models for the development of watershed management programs in Canada in the postwar era, especially in Ontario.  

Dr. R.C. Wallace spent two weeks touring the TVA in 1942 and was deeply impressed by how the federal authority there had taken the responsibility "of bringing back a large watershed to productive life" and saw in it as a model for planning and development in Canada.

A. H. Richardson also personally organized at least three official tours of the MWCD between 1948 and 1957.

Reasons Ganaraska selected as first test site

Any location could have been selected in Ontario as the first test area - but the Ganaraska region was chosen. There are several probable reasons including:

  • the size of the watershed - the watershed was small compared to most others in Southern Ontario - 103 sq. mi. (267 sq. km);
  • "a complete group of conservation needs to develop."  A.H. Richardson, July 9, 1964 interview (Mitchell and Shrubsole, 1992, p. 59)
  • quick elevation change of Ganaraska River "rises in hilly country, most of the streams drop very quickly in elevation for the first three or four miles". (A.H. Richardson. Ganaraska Watershed Report, 1944, p. xii)
  • history of severe flooding especially in the Town of Port Hope, primarily due to the rapid change in elevation further north and the location of Ganaraska River through the middle of the town.  

Flooding - Walton Street, Port Hope
The Ganaraska Watershed Report, 1944, p. 71

An interesting historical account from the Port Hope Evening Guide  - Friday, July 13, 1883 and the floodwater impact on the old Midland Railway Track line through the Ganaraska area:


"Another heavy thunder storm set in at noon Saturday. The water fairly poured down and ran in rivulets on both sides of Walton Street, large enough to float a boat in. The damage to the crops in this vicinity is very serious.'

At Garden Hill a fearful storm was raging. The Midland Railway Track was overflowed in several places to the depth of three or four feet...(the train) proceeded carefully... at the rate of four or five miles an hour. When coming to a part of the track which was covered with mud, sod and stones, six or eight inches through, (it) backed up again towards Millbrook... Between those two places (Millbrook and Garden Hill), it was found the track had been washed away in several places.

At Deyell's crossing a hole on the travelled road had been cut out eight feet deep, and railway ties had been carried 40 rods by the flood and thrown on the track.

The storm did not last more than half an hour, and such a downpour, has not been known in the memory of the 'oldest inhabitants'. The barley and fall wheat fields are all flattened by it. The creek at Canton too is overflowing the road. Such a thing has not been known before, unless it had been blocked with ice."

In modern times, the frequency of flooding has been reduced after the channel through the centre of Port Hope was deepened following the massive 1980 flood which washed away some multi-story buildings over a hundred years old.

  • a devastated landscape resulting from exploitation of resources - "the (Ganaraska region's) prosperous days of lumbering, settlement and substantial contribution to Canada's wealth are mere history, although history is all too recent in terms of the exploitation and exhaustion of resources.”  (Dr. R.C. Wallace, Principal and Vice Chancellor Queen's University - Introduction in the Ganaraska Watershed Report, 1944)

These factors however, were not exclusive to the Ganaraska region. Timing provided another important clue - Canada was in the middle of World War II. 

World War II (1939-1945)

It is ironic that one of the greatest conservation plans in Canadian history occurred during the most destructive armed conflict in human history (WW II).

"The war itself played a rather unusual but critical role in the landmark series of conferences, studies, and surveys that filled the next decade and transformed the approach to conservation in Ontario.'' 

Conservation 2000 - Chap. 5, p.75  
The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority

Canada was also committed to a policy of 'total war' effort during WW II meaning all industries, materials and people were required to be put to work for the war effort, including GM in Oshawa when the production of all civilian vehicles ceased and was replaced by military vehicles only.

With ever increasing sensitivity and security surrounding the activities of Eldorado, the refinery was purchased by the Government of Canada in 1942 creating Eldorado Mining and Refining Limited, a Crown Corporation.   

The selection of Ganaraska as the first test area was also probably influenced by the location of two major wartime industries located nearby - Eldorado in the Town of Port Hope and the military vehicle testing site of General Motors in the rough hilly terrain of the northern reaches of the Ganaraska watershed - usually at night under an envelope of darkness.

Eldorado Uranium Refinery 

Since it's establishment in the 1940's, Ganaraska Forest to the north has played an important role for the Town of Port Hope on Lake Ontario.

Eldorado was situated at the lowest elevation of a town with a long history of severe flooding problems. The uranium in the world's first atomic bomb was refined at Eldorado in Port Hope, Ontario (now known as Cameco).

Eldorado was built on a floodplain and former swamp next to Ganaraska River at the southern end of Port Hope - the lowest elevation.  By 1932, Eldorado had set up operations here before there were municipal building by-laws.

From 1932, the Federal Government had repeatedly been warned of the dangers of radiation. Dr. Marcel Pochon, the first manager of the Port Hope refinery, sounded the first alarm bells in Port Hope in 1933 "Radium is highly dangerous, the slightest fraction of a milligram taken into the system leads to cancer, anemia and disease of the hip bones. Not a doctor on earth can save the unfortunate person who is affected". (Port Hope Evening Guide)

Between 1829 to 1844, the large swampland area was dredged for a new harbour. By the 1950's, most of the original buildings of Eldorado were removed.

The Canadian government operating in total secrecy (as owner of Eldorado - a crown corporation) had a vested interest in a conservation plan that would alleviate flooding risks and minimize future environmental damage. (Today, it is recognized that nuclear wastes are potentially hazardous and enriched uranium mixed with water could trigger a “critical,” or self-sustaining, nuclear reaction.)

The Federal Government had an interest in the Ganaraska Report - it helped fund the study. Reforestation and other conservation measures upstream would help reduce the frequency and severity of flooding downstream and mitigate potential hazards associated with the Eldorado site, particularly in extreme flooding events. 

The same year Eldorado was acquired by the Canadian Government (1942), the Ganaraska Watershed was selected as the initial test survey area, the only test survey area, for conservation study funded by both federal and provits in the same year with all resources designated toward the war effort during a major war, were all probably more than a co-incidence.

The  atomic bomb project of WW II was the largest secret operation in history - code name the Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project produced two of the most destructive weapons the world has ever known - the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs (August, 1945). With the uranium supplied by the Canadians and Eldorado, the bombings in Japan by the Americans marked the end of the war.

The greatest scientific project of nuclear research and development in Canadian history followed.

"Debate on the use of the bomb will continue but it can be argued that it brought the Second World War to a sudden end and may have saved the lives of millions of people in so doing. One of the incidental effects of this abnormal wartime programme was the early involvement of Canada on a scale highly improbable under other circumstances. The greatest scientific project of research and development in Canada's history followed."

Hurst, D.G. et al (1997) Canada Enters the Nuclear Age. p. 4

On October 11, 1945, Prime Minister MacKenzie King wrote in his diary: "How strange it is that I should find myself at the very centre of the problem, through Canada possessing uranium, having contributed to the production of the bomb, being recognized as one of the three countries to hold most of the secrets." (War Into Cold War, p.159)

Without the involvement of the Federal government in the major wartime industry (and its ownership of Eldorado Refinery) and the initial Ganaraska conservation study  - historians may ponder whether Ganaraska Forest would exist today.  

While the U.S. has declassified 250,000 documents on its atomic weapons and energy program - Canada has not been open. Further research is required.


Within a narrow time-line, the events leading up to the creation of Ganaraska Forest during the war years (1939-1945) were as follows:

  • Uranium refined by Eldorado, Port Hope for the Manhattan Project - the largest secret project in human history. (From 1941 to 1945, the entire production of Eldorado was used in the Manhattan project);

  • 1941 - Guelph Conference; 

  • 1941 - Guelph Conference committee meeting in Ottawa with Federal Committee on Reconstruction;

  • Eldorado Nuclear acquired by Canadian Government and made into a new crown corporation; 

  • 1942 - Interdepartmental Committee on Conservation and Rehabilitation formed by the Ontario Government ; 

  • 1942 - Ganaraska Watershed chosen as the initial test survey in Ontario

  • 1943 - original report of The Ganaraska Watershed delivered to Dana Porter, Minister of Lands and Forests;

  • 1944 - subsequent publication of Ganaraska Watershed report; 

  • the Hiroshima bombing in 1945 which effectively ended the war.

General Motors (military vehicle testing)

General Motors played a decisive part in bringing WWII to an end.

With war looming in Europe, R.S. McLaughlin was asked by  the Department of National Defence if GM would be willing to provide war materials if needed. GM quickly responded and began building different types of army vehicles (trucks and tanks). 

In 1942, the production of civilian vehicles was brought to a halt to devote all production to the war effort. Canadian industry produced over 800,000 military transport vehicles for Canadian Forces and allies.

GM produced the vehicles in Oshawa but needed somewhere to test them. A rugged portion of the Ganaraska on the Oak Ridges Moraine was well suited for the purpose and facilitated the testing of GM military vehicles for the Canadian Army. The terrain was rugged, hilly, steep and rather remote. Mr. Peacock, local resident and Father of Mark Peacock (GRCA), still recalls the loud rumbling of heavy vehicles heard regularly during the war - usually under the cover of nighttime.

ATV enthusiasts are still attracted to the off-road challenges of Ganaraska Forest today.

Col. Sam McLaughlin tightens the last bolt on
Canada's 500,000th military vehicle for the war (center)
 Rt. Hon. C.D. Howe, Minister of Munitions & Supply (left)
Oshawa Public Library Local History Collection

The Ganaraska Watershed survey (1942/43)

As a result of the Guelph Conference, the Ganaraska Watershed was chosen in 1942 as the first test project in Ontario. 

"The Guelph meeting gave birth to an outstanding project, the Ganaraska Watershed survey, jointly sponsored by the government of Ontario and the government of Canada."  A.H. Richardson, 1974, p. 105 

The survey work was conducted in the Fall of 1942 and Spring of 1943:

"The work in compiling the report (Ganaraska), including maps and photographs, was done during the fall of 1942 and the spring of 1943.  In this work, Verschoyle B. Blake (and the Interdepartmental Committee) were of great assistance..." (A.H. Richardson (1974) p. 16) 

The first edition of the Ganaraska report was published in 1943.

 "On June 15, 1943, the original report of 450 pages of The Ganaraska Watershed was delivered by A.H. Richardson to Dana Porter, Minister of Lands and Forests (only six copies of the original full length version were printed). Porter complimented Richardson on the survey and said in his affable manner, "Mr. Richardson, this is a classic." (A.H. Richardson, 1974, p. 18)

A shorter abridged version of The Ganaraska Watershed report for public use followed and in 1944 was published by the Ontario Ministry of Planning and Development  in two editions.

"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." (Steve Jobbitt, (2001) p.74)

The Ganaraska survey was seen as an example of conservation study for all of Canada. The content of the Ganaraska Study was seen by Dr. R.C. Wallace of Queen’s University as:

 "general significance for the conservation and rehabilitation of all our resources throughout Canada." (A. H. Richardson, Conservation by the People: The History of the Conservation Movement in Ontario to 1970, (1974) 

As the first test pilot area in Ontario, Ganaraska led the way for the development of watershed conservation policies and conservation authorities in Ontario.

"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."  (John C. Carter, Ontario Conservation Authorities: Their Heritage Resources and Museums, Ontario History/Volume XCIV, No. 1, Spring 2002)

The most important recommendation in The Ganaraska Watershed report was for the establishment of a 20,000 acre forest.

"... the most important conservation measure recommended is the establishment of a 20,000 acre forest on marginal and submarginal land at the north of the watershed..." (A.H. Richardson, The Ganaraska Watershed (1944) xv)

New concepts like the ecosystem approach and watershed planning were formed and were two of the most significant innovations of the Ganaraska study.

The work of three key individuals stood out in The Ganaraska Watershed report, including Dr. R. C. Wallace (1881-1955), A. H. Richardson (1890-1971) and V. B. Blake (1899-1971). A.H. Richardson was given the responsibility of organizing the initial test survey  for the Province of Ontario. Dr. R.C. Wallace, Principal of Queen's University wrote the Introduction in the Ganaraska report and was actively engaged as the central figure for the Canadian Government.  Blake helped compile the Ganaraska Report and was the only area resident and historian on the original survey team.

The book was an immediate success and considered a landmark for the future of conservation in Ontario:

"The results of the survey of the Ganaraska River basin and recommendations based thereon, have recently been published in a report which may well become a landmark in Ontario Conservation literature... The general subject covered by the report - the condition of the soil, water, woods, wildlife, etc of a particular area of agricultural Ontario and recommendations for its restoration based on exact knowledge - is one vital to the future welfare of our province..." (A.H. Richardson quoting Prof. J.R. Dymond (1974) p. 17)

The Ganaraska Watershed report proved to be monumental, nationally and provincially:  

"the document proved to be monumental in terms of the resurgence of the conservation movement in Canada generally, and in Ontario in particular." (Steve Jobbitt, (2001) p.74)

The Ganaraska Watershed report became a model for future conservation studies in the province:

"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."  (John C. Carter, 2002)

"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. Unique in Canada until 1970, the program has proved so effective that is now being emulated in two other provinces – Manitoba and Quebec."

A.H. Richardson, Conservation by the People: The History
of the Conservation Movement in Ontario to 1970
, (1974) 

The Ganaraska Report (1944) identified a number of projects which should be undertaken. In addition to the above noted recommendation for reforestation of 8,100 hectares (20,000 acres), other recommendations included:

  • new legislation be enacted

    "It soon became obvious that the Conservation Authorities Branch was pioneering in new fields. There were no terms of reference, no guide lines to follow, and until a conservation authorities act was produced to present to the municipalities, the branch was really not in business."  (A.H. Richardson, Conservation by the People – The History of the Conservation Movement in Ontario to 1970 – (1974)

  • natural land-use planning borders

    the use of natural, rather than political boundaries was one of the most significant innovations of the Ganaraska study. 

    The Conservation Branch of the Ontario Department of Planning and Development subsequently was established in 1944.  It was charged with administering conservation work in Southern Ontario on the basis of drainage basins. (Richardson, A. H. 1960. "Ontario's Conservation Authority Program", Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, Vol. 15, No. 5, p. 252).

  • formation of the conservation authorities

    combine "the best features of the Grand River Conservation Commission and the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District so that municipalities in any part of Ontario may undertake a similar conservation programme." (Richardson, A. H.  1944, The Ganaraska Watershed, King's Printer, Toronto. p xviii).

Grounded in history

The Ganaraska Report (1943) opened with a chapter on the history of the area. The historical inclusion was controversial at the time because history was considered by many technical men to have little if anything to do with conservation:

The Ganaraska Report (1943):
Grounded in history

"The Ganaraska Report opened with a chapter on the history of the area. It presence was controversial because history was considered by many technical men to have little if anything to do with conservation. This report established that human heritage would be considered a resource from which lessons would be learned and applied, and that it would be included in the mandate of conservation authorities...

When it was decided to print the Ganaraska report, a meeting was called in Toronto of those responsible for the promotion of the survey to decide the general format and to discuss abridgements or additions. Dr. R.C. Wallace, principal and vice- chancellor of Queen's University was in the chair.

After some discussion on the historical section as to its length, contents, and whether or not it was germane to the survey, Dr. Wallace asked for a show of hands. A few were in favour of reducing it considerably but the majority voted that the whole section should be deleted; they considered history had little relation to the technical aspects of conservation.

Then, as chairman, Dr. Wallace took the floor and with diplomacy and tact, said he did not agree; on the contrary, he said, he considered the section on history the most interesting in the report. It would, he said, go far to making the report more acceptable to a wide circle of readers. He then ruled that the section should be left in and any abridgement be left to Dr. Marsh and me. With this excellent support from an eminent educator, it was evident that here was an open sesame to promote and encourage historical projects in the programmes of the authorities, if they should be formed..."

Conservation - Chapter 5, 75 (2000)
The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority

(Dr. R.C. Wallace served as Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Queen's University from 1936 to 1951 and was President of the Royal Society of Canada in 1941. During the war he was active in the re-establishment of returning veterans, their education and employment in the expanding development of the natural resources of the country through the Federal Committee on Reconstruction.)

The Ganaraska report established that human heritage would be considered a resource from which lessons could be learned and applied, and that it would be included in the mandate of conservation authorities.

"Owing to the linkage between heritage and conservation, Conservation Authorities have a significant role to play in both areas. Conservation reports are a goldmine of information for historians doing research on local history."

James H. Marsh,  Conservation Chap. 5 p.75
The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, 2000

Formation of Department of Planning and Development (1944)

Responding to the recommendations of the Ganaraska Survey, in 1944 the Provincial government established the Department of Planning and Development

A watershed-based and an integrated approach to conservation planning quickly followed with the establishment of the Conservation Branch (later the Conservation Authorities Branch) within the Department.

Office space was at such a premium during wartime years, the branch was originally housed in the former butler's pantry at the rear of the dining room at 15 Queen's Park Crescent in Toronto.

The Conservation Branch of the Department of Planning and Development became the Conservation Authorities Branch in 1962 under the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests (now Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources).

Conservation Authorities Act (1946)

Following up on the recommendations of the Ganaraska Survey, in 1946 the Ontario government passed the Conservation Authorities Act (CCA) which led to the creation of 36 conservation authorities across the province. 

The Ontario government had to look south of the border for its model. 

 "As a direct result of the Guelph Conference and with its eye on the Grand River Conservation Commission, the Tennessee Valley Authority (USA) and the Muskinghum Conservancy District (Ohio, USA), as models for water management on a river basin basis, the Province of Ontario passed the Conservation Authorities Act in 1946." 

Mitchell and Shrubsole, 1992;
Statues of Ontario, C. 11, 1946

Based largely on similar U.S. legislation, the purpose of the CCA was to provide a foundation for a comprehensive conservation strategy for Ontario's heavily-populated river basins.  The legislation was broad in scope and dealt with issues pertaining to flood control, reforestation, woodlot management, underground water supplies, wildlife and recreation. Significantly,

"The passing of the Conservation Authorities Act was significant within the broad context of Canadian  environmental history, in that it marked a revival of state-sponsored conservation in Canada."

Steve Jobbitt, "Re-Civilizing the Land: Conservation and
Post-war Reconstruction in Ontario, 1939-1961", 2001

Tree Planters at work in eroded Ganaraska gully on  May 14, 1947 
Photo courtesy of John Bacher and Ed Borczon

Following up on the recommendations made in the Ganaraska report (1944), massive restoration through reforestation and other conservation measures were undertaken to control erosion and downstream flooding problems associated with the deforested sandy soils.

The plan for rehabilitation of the watershed included reforestation of approximately 8,100 hectares (20,000 acres) - particularly on the Oak Ridges Moraine in the northern section of the watershed (including water retention ponds and improved agricultural practices). 

“The Ganaraska Authority was the first to undertake reforestation 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. The Authority determined that the best solution for managing the forest would be to bring it under the same agreement as that used for county forests. However, whereas the agreements with counties required that they must acquire and pay the full price of the land, the authorities were given a grant of 50 percent of the cost of the land (Richardson 1974). By 1970, twenty-two authorities had forests with a total of 36,796 hectares managed by the Department of Lands and Forests.” 

Critical Review of Historical and Current Tree Planting Programs on Private Lands in Ontario Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources March, 2001)

In 1947, the first trees of Ganaraska Forest were planted on 640 hectares (1,580 acres). By 1991, the total area of land acquired by GRCA was 4,200 hectares (10,400 acres).

Establishment of Ganaraska Forest

The recommendations of the Ganaraska report quickly led to the establishment of Ganaraska Forest.

In 1947, the first trees of Ganaraska Forest were planted on 640 hectares (1,580 acres). By 1991, the total amount of land acquired by GRCA was 4,200 hectares (10,400 acres).

The Ganaraska Forest was the first large-scale conservation program on the Oak Ridges Moraine.

As the first test pilot area in Ontario, Ganaraska also led the way for the development of watershed conservation policies and studies in other watersheds throughout Ontario and across Canada.

First Conservation area (Garden Hill Conservation Area - 1956)

The Province of Ontario did not support the creation of recreation areas until the mid 1950’s, when the CA Act was amended to enable the payment of grants for development of facilities with Conservation Authority lands (known as Conservation Areas):

"An Authority shall have power…  to acquire lands with the approval of the Minister, and to use lands acquired in connection with a scheme…" (CAA, R.S.O. 1950, Ch.62)

Acquired on June 3, 1956 on 53 acres of land, Garden Hill Conservation Area was the first conservation area to be owned and managed by Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority. Today, there are nine conservation areas within the Ganaraska region.

Commemorative Memorial (1967) - Conservation Authorities of Ontario

On September 27, 1967, the Conservation Authorities of Ontario dedicated a special memorial in the Garden Hill Conservation Area nearby Ganaraska Forest, north of Port Hope.

The large boulder with bronze plaque bears the names of the nine organizations of the Guelph Conference and marked more than one-quarter of a century of conservation achievement begun at the Guelph Conference.


Conservation by the People: The History of the Conservation Movement in Ontario to 1970, (1974) A.H. Richardson


Ganaraska Forest is very important for the following reasons:

  • the largest forest in southern Ontario;

  • the site of Ontario's first large-scale conservation program on the Oak Ridges Moraine;

  • the initial test area in Ontario to demonstrate the benefits of conservation;

  • Ganaraska led the way for the development of watershed conservation policies and conservation authorities throughout Ontario and Canada.
  • first watershed to demonstrate new concepts like the ecosystem approach and watershed planning (where land-use planning borders were based on the use of natural boundaries, rather than political boundaries);

  • reforestation and other conservation measures especially on the Oak Ridges Moraine has controlled flooding downstream, particularly in Port Hope where Cameco (formerly Eldorado), the world's largest uranium refinery is located;

Today, the Conservation Authorities of Ontario are composed of about 38 conservation authorities in charge of over 400 conservation areas.

The Conservation Authorities of Ontario are also amongst Canada's largest public landowners. Collectively, the Conservation Authorities own and protect approximately 144,000 hectares (355,800 acres), including forests, wetlands, areas of natural & scientific interest, recreational lands, natural heritage and cultural sites as well as land for flood and erosion control.

Conceived during World War 2, the Ganaraska Forest was the catalyst in the conservation movement in Ontario. As a major cultural landscape with distinct cultural and aesthetic values, it provides an understanding and appreciation of a unique cultural and natural heritage resource first laid out in a world recognized conservation plan over seventy years ago.


Researcher:  M. Martin