Ganaraska Forest

Ganaraska Forest - historical roots incl. Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority and world's largest greenbelt (Ontario's Greenbelt)

Ganaraska History
V.B. Blake
Pioneer Historian
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

































































































































































































A.H. Richardson - The Father of Conservation


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Mr. Conservation

"Forest preservation and other environmental issues that make news today were concerns addressed by Richardson and his colleagues 50 years before the Green movement hit its stride. And the foresight, common sense, and sensitivity shown then… helped protect our natural heritage for future generations."

Paul Masterton, Author Herbert Richardson (1992) and
former Supervisor of Kortright Centre for Conservation

In 1942, the Ganaraska Watershed was selected as the initial test survey area in Ontario and jointly sponsored by the Province of Ontario and Government of Canada.

A.H. Richardson was given the responsibility of organizing the initial test survey. The results of survey work were published in "A Report on The Ganaraska Watershed" (1944).

A.H. Richardson was the first (and only) Chief Conservation Engineer in the Province of Ontario.  To people who knew him, AH was simply "Mr. Conservation".

By Order-in-Council of the Ontario Government, in 1957 A.H. Richardson was appointed the first Chairman of The Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (MTRCA). The official crest of the newly formed MTRCA contained the Latin inscription "Conservatio Ab Populo" which embodied Dr. Richardson’s philosophy and would later become the title of his book "Conservation by the People: The History of the Conservation Movement in Ontario to 1970".

Richardson also played an important role in the Boy Scouts and Forestry movement.

Dr. Richardson was best described on May 13, 1962 in the following citation made by Dean H.G. Dion at the Convocation Ceremonies of McGill University:

"I have the honour to present Arthur Herbert Richardson, distinguished Canadian Conservationist, in order that you may confer on him the degree of Doctor of Law, honoris causa. Mr. Richardson has been responsible, more than any other single man, for the development of conservation and flood-control programmes and policies in Canada… culminating in the establishment of 37 Conservation Authorities in Ontario, which are a model for co-ordinating the interests of regional local government and dealing with these problems. Mr. Richardson’s vision and leadership in the field of Conservation earned an international reputation which is the greatest tribute to his success. As a biologist with imagination, a forester with insight, an engineer with a sense of real values, and a man with a burning concern for the well-being of his fellow men, young and old, he does us honour by becoming one of our distinguished graduates." 

Herbert Richardson by Paul Masterson, 1992


A.H. Richardson first appeared on the scene in 1920 fresh from Harvard University, with a master’s degree in Silviculture.

Richardson was hired by Edmund J. Zavitz as a Forester in the Forestry Branch of the Department of Lands and Forests (now Ministry of Natural Resources). He quickly moved into the reforestation program in Southern Ontario to encourage the reforestation of wasted lands.

One of his earliest efforts for the Forestry Branch was his booklet entitled "Forest Tree Planting" published in 1924 and distributed as an aid to farmers and private landholders. Other booklets followed including Forest Trees for Distribution, The Woodlot, Windbreaks and Shelter Belts, Tree Planting Acts of Ontario, Gathering Pine Cones and other Seeds and The Municipal Forest – all encouraging farmers to apply the silvicultural technique of sustained management.

In 1925, Dr. Richardson became founder and first editor of the Forestry Chronicle, a national publication which in following years led to the research, development and management practices of the science of forestry in Canada.

In 1927, Dr. Richardson was appointed Forester in Charge of Reforestration in Ontario.

"Never before in Canada has so much interest been taken
in the proper care and development of our forests..."

Forestry Chronicle Editorial – 1930’s

The Boy Scout Movement

Dr. Richardson was actively involved with the Boy Scout movement for over 30 years.

With the provincial government’s resumption of reforesting waste lands in Southern Ontario, a serious interest in forestry was promoted by the Ontario’s Boy Scout Association. 

In 1924, Richardson launched a program to teach forest conservation and resource conservation at the first permanent Scout Leadership training site by the Grand River.

In his book ‘Conservation by the People’, Richardson recognized:

"For many years, the naturalists of Ontario – both professional and amateur – have tried to instill in the youth… a heightened regard for the complex relation between man, animals, and the landscape that we call nature… That their efforts have been successful is self-evident: today’s youth can and do speak with knowledge and discernment about ‘ecology’: ‘environmental factors’ and ‘recycling of waste’."

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

Under Richardson’s influence, a Canada-wide "Save the Forest" campaign in 1925 saw many Scout troops carrying out tree planting exercises directed by the Lands and Forests’ Forestry Branch.

As testimony to his leadership in teaching and developing the Scouts Forestry programs, in February, 1937 Richardson was awarded the Medal of Merit "in recognition of outstanding work for the Scout Movement" by way of a presentation made by the Rt. Hon. Lord Tweedsmuir, then Governor General and Chief Scout for Canada.

From 1945 – 1951, Richardson served as President of the Ontario Scout Council.  In 1946, he was appointed to the Executive Committee for the Canadian General Council in scouting.

Dr. Richardson’s highest honour from scouting came with the Silver Wolf Medal on July 1, 1958 where the Right Honourable Vincent Massey (then Chief Scout of Canada and the first Canadian-born Governor General in Government House) officially awarded him: "the highest recognition of national importance for service of the most exceptional character to Scouting".

"From a very basic forest conservation program in 1924 until 1991, it is estimated that Scouts, Guides, Cubs, and Brownies in Ontario have planted 60 million trees on 45,000 acres of treeless land." 

Paul Masterson, Herbert Richardson, (1992)

The Conservation Movement

During the 1920’s and 1930’s, Ontario faced massive soil erosion and major flood problems caused by extensive deforestation and poor land-management practices. Frank H. Kortright (Founder of the Conservation Council of Ontario) voiced the opinion of fellow conservationists during this time:

"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, Ontario’s Future? Conservation or Else
(Toronto: Conservation Council of Ontario, 1940)

In 1941, a group of six organizations met to form the Guelph Conference on the Conservation of the Natural Resources in Ontario. They recognized resources – water, land, forests, wildlife and recreation – must be considered at the same time and handled through a coordinated programme of resources management.

The report issued from the Guelph Conference entitled "Conservation and Post-War Rehabilitation" (1942) highlighted the unhealthy state of natural resources and recommended an integrated resource management planning study of watersheds particularly in Southern Ontario. It’s conclusions listed the seriousness of the following depletions: 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. To address these concerns, the report emphasized the urgent need for an initial conservation project to form the basis for general application throughout the province.

In 1942, the Interdepartmental Committee on Conservation Rehabilitation was formed by the Ontario Government. A.H. Richardson (then a Forest Engineer with Department or Lands and Forests) was appointed full-time Chairman of this Committee.

First Conservation Model in Ontario: The Ganaraska Watershed

In 1942, the Ganaraska Watershed was selected as the initial test survey area in Ontario as a follow-up on the recommendations of the Guelph Conference a year earlier. The survey was jointly sponsored by the Province of Ontario and Government of Canada.

A.H. Richardson was given the responsibility of organizing the initial test survey in the Ganaraska watershed. The results of survey work were published in "A Report on The Ganaraska Watershed" (1944) by A.H. Richardson. It’s contents had great educational value and was prepared in such a way so as to be understood by the general public.

In terms of provincial and national significance, the Ganaraska Report was viewed as "a landmark in Ontario Conservation Literature" by Dr. J.R. Dymond of the Royal Ontario Museum.

Dr. R.C. Wallace of Queen’s University further concluded the content of the Ganaraska Study would be:

"of 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)

The Ganaraska report also served as model for other conservation studies in the Province, including the Rouge watershed (which became Rouge National Urban Park in recent years).

"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

Formation of the Conservation Branch

Before the 1940’s, the need for conservation was seemingly ignored by the provincial government and not factored into ministerial planning. Dr. Richardson recognized the urgent need for change and strongly promoted the need for the formation of a Conservation Branch to then Minister Dana Porter, Planning and Development.

"Richardson was well connected politically… He sold the idea
of Conservation in Planning and Development to Dana Porter." 

Paul Masterson, Author
Herbert Richardson, (1992)

Richardson and the small group of technical staff he gathered in the Conservation Branch gave direction and leadership to many advances in soil conservation, recreation development, wildlife management, stream improvements, major dam installations for flood control and outdoor education camps.

Richardson also recognized the inherent value of bringing the Government VIPs to the people in events, well-planned conservation tours and field trips which also brought the people to the politicians (from telephone interview with Cathy Richardson, January 23, 2004).

Asked to transfer from the Department of Lands and Forests, Richardson became the first Chief Conservation Engineer of the newly formed Conservation Branch in Ontario – a title he would hold for 17 years.  He was the only person to be recognized with this official title by the Ontario Government - which was retired shortly after Dr. Richardson's retirement in 1961.

Conservation Authorities Act

In 1944, the newly formed Conservation Branch was pioneering into new areas.  Until a Conservation Authorities Act was passed, the Conservation Branch could not effectively carry out its role, especially at local/municipal levels:

"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 –

To be fully effective, Richardson also recognized in this new approach to conservation preservation and restoration of natural resources within river valleys would have to include an entire river basin (and all municipalities within it) .

When he became head of the Conservation Branch in November, 1944, Richardson immediately began drafting the Conservation Authorities Act:

"He (Richardson) immediately began work on drafting Bill 81, which would ultimately constitute the Conservation Authorities Act. This act was passing during the 1946 session of the provincial legislature. It embodied three fundamental concepts: local initiative, cost sharing by the province and member municipalities, and watershed jurisdiction. All municipalities in a watershed were required to be included in a corporate body known as a conservation authority." 

John C. Carter, Ontario Conservation Authorities:
Their Heritage Resources and Museums,
ntario History/Volume XCIV, No. 1, p. 11, Spring 2002

Establishment of Conservation Authorities in Ontario

One of the most important recommendations in Richardson’s report entitled The Ganaraska Watershed in 1944 highlighted the pressing need for the formation of conservation authorities in Ontario.

The conservation authority movement in Ontario resulting from this work would become world renown:

"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)

With the passing of the Conservation Authorities Act in 1946, the first conservation authorities the same year (Ausable, Etobicoke and Ganaraska). Within five years, there were fifteen conservation authorities in Ontario.

The Conservation Authorities were to perform two essential services: control of water quantity-flood control and protection of natural resources on an ecosystem basis. One power given to conservation authorities under the Conservation Authorities Act (CAA) was:

"For the purposes of carrying out a scheme 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).

The implied power of this Act "in connection with a scheme" allowed the Conservation Authorities to acquire significant conservation lands which today form Ganaraska Forest, Rouge National Urban Park, etc.  Even more significantly, large areas of conservation land, including the Ganaraska and Rouge, form a major part of Ontario's Greenbelt - the world's largest greenbelt.

Richardson’s Lookout

"Richardson’s Lookout" on Ganaraska Road 9 is dedicated to A.H. Richardson with an observation platform built on top of an 850 feet drumlin overlooking Ganaraska Forest and areas east.

The panoramic hilltop view just west of Garden Hill exemplifies the far-reaching vision of Dr. Richardson who was present on July 8, 1964 for the official dedication.


Following Dr. Richardson’s retirement in 1961, the Toronto Telegram published the following account:

"Mr. Conservation Retires and Leaves… 19,718 Square Miles of Parkland… Mr. Conservation is Arthur Herbert Richardson who retired after 41 years’ service with the Provincial Government… Monuments to his public service are spread throughout the province in the form of parks, playgrounds, swimming areas, flood control and reforestation projects, pioneer villages, and land use demonstrations... He is the man responsible for the province’s 31 conservation authorities which he hand a hand in forming… (while) he humbly maintained that he just helped implement a ‘people’s movement’ in conservation."

Toronto Telegram - February 14, 1962

Soon after his retirement because of his in-depth first hand knowledge, Dr. Richardson was asked to write a book about the history of the conservation movement in Ontario. It would be his last important work.

The manuscript was completed just before his passing on December 27, 1971. According to his daughter, Cathy Richardson:

"The completion of the book seemed to be a signal that
he had finished what he wanted to do in this life."

Herbert Richardson by Paul Masterson , 1992

Conservation by the People by A. H. Richardson was published in 1974 posthumously. In this book’s Introduction, Dr. G. Ross Lord (Richardson’s successor as Chairman of the MTRCA) wrote:

"It has been said that we are passing through the present into the future so quickly that we tend to forget the past… The work of conservation will never end. Perhaps most conservationists are men of whom the prophet Joel wrote ‘Your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions."

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

A. H. Richardson had a vision and conservation became his life. His strong convictions probably came as a result of "a deeply religious, quiet and humble man who had almost become a Minister". (Telephone interview with Cathy Richardson in December, 2003).

According to his daughter, Cathy, Dr. Richardson embraced the City of Toronto, where he was born and where he lived, yet "he always felt the need to get back into the reality of nature."  He often felt there were too few parks accessible to families.

"A few years after my father passed away, I was consulting a book he wrote called "Trees We Should Know" (by A.H. Richardson and Alexander W. Galbraith, 1946). At the front there was an inscription to me, but of greater interest were the words written at the back of the book. "Toward the end of the ultimate journey only this is necessary: The memory of love." Although my father was a "city boy", he loved nature and was never happier than when he was out walking, canoeing, gardening or just relaxing in the shade of a tree. It truly rejuvenated him. I think he intuitively recognized that unless we learned to live in harmony with nature and to take care of our natural resources; the lakes, rivers, and forests would not be available for the use and enjoyment of future generations. He wanted to preserve the nature he loved so much for those coming after."

Cathy Richardson - January 27, 2004

Sayings of

"My son, I admonish you to cherish the little waters, for these
replenish the mighty rivers that nourish our thirsty land."

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"River valley development is the wise use of all the natural
resources of a river valley for all the people… for all time."

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"I am convinced that these swamps, bogs and marshes
were ordained in the beginning in the divine order of things
to be left as natural reservoirs, and much heart-searching
and thought should be exercised before
they are discarded for some other use."

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"It is well for man to rest from his labours and partake of
the fruits of this bountiful land, let us give thanks,
for they are the gift of God.  Amen."

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"As I contemplate the teaming thousands who will come
to our fair province in the years that lie ahead,
and realize the paucity of open spaces for their
healthful recreation, I fear that we who call ourselves
conservationists today will be grouped with those
who condemned the great Socrates, whose names
are now forgotten but are remembered
for their dullness of apprehension."

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"Conservation with its abundance of good things,
is rooted in the future."

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*Samuel Woodstock (S.W.) was a fictitious character and alias used by A. H. Richardson.

These thought provoking sayings were first published in "Our Valley" by MTRCA during the 1950’s, and later in A.H. Richardson’s book "Conservation by the People: The History of The Conservation Movement in Ontario to 1970" (1974)


Researcher:  M. Martin