The Forest History Society of Ontario hosted a forestry tour through our watershed and that of our neighbouring Conservation Authority, Ganaraska, on a damp, cool day in October. Our hosts are the keepers of our forest history; the leaders of this day have dedicated their lives to careers in planting, prescribing, growing and tending forests in our jurisdictions.
This tour was a repeat of one that was conducted 80 years ago with forest historians. The highlights included visits to the Ganaraska Forest, the Northumberland Forests, the former Orono Nursery and many other features along the way. But what excited those of us from Central Lake Ontario Conservation was that we were found to have one of the oldest Zavitz plantations right here in our watershed!
What’s a Zavitz you ask? Well, it’s not a what, but a who. Edmund John Zavitz (1875 to 1968) is considered the ‘Father of Reforestation’. In 1908 he expressed a keen interest in the first reforestation and conservation vision for the Ganaraska and Oak Ridges Moraine areas. This is documented in his report entitled Reforestation of Wastelands in Southern Ontario. In this report he identified that these lands, completely void of vegetation due to the deforestation that was mandated by Britain for settlers to establish farmland to sustain them in the ‘new country’, was completely “unfit for successful farming.” His vision was for protecting these lands for recreation; for healthy, functioning ecosystems, and economic investment for the Province of Ontario.
He became the Chief Forester and a significant influence on the government from 1912 to 1949, to establish a reforestation program. He travelled the province, engaging the community in a movement that would see this barren landscape evolve to host species at risk, protect headwater streams for Brook Trout and contribute to our drinking water supply.
The forest that Zavitz planted in our watershed was his first experimental conifer planting. The cultivated field was planted with Norway Spruce (non-native) and White Pine (Native). The owner at the time, John’s uncle, collected a bushel and a half of red oak acorns, which were planted where soil conditions were better suited.
The land was furrowed, providing a line to plant the trees and give the planting spot a better moisture content. We still use this technique today, which helps to reduce competition from grasses and weeds, and the depressions collect leaves and other drifting materials to create a mulch layer for the plants.
The planting was all done by hand, using spades and dibbers—a dibber is a pointed wooden stick for making holes in the ground for seeds and seedlings. Many people still use these for gardening, especially for planting spring bulbs. What is also interesting is that a young boy was responsible for covering the seedlings once they were place in the ground. He carried a bucket of muddy water in which the roots of the plants were submerged. There was teamwork even back then.
Each acre of land received about 1,700 plants—a ratio foresters still use today when they prepare reforestation prescriptions. The boy was planting an acre a day of acorns, using that dibber to make the hole in which to drop in the acorn.
Today, some very mature white pines grace the forest, along with a diverse upper story of deciduous trees including some very large red oaks with an understory of regenerating deciduous trees and shrubs. The current landowners know what they have and, as stewards, will continue to look after this piece of our history for many years to come. One has to wonder what the participants on the tour 80 years from now will see on the landscape…
To find out more about the legacy of Edmund Zavitz and how Southern Ontario was reforested, check out the book Two Billion Trees and Counting, by John Bacher, published by Dundurn Press, July 13, 2011. (You may read an excerpt here.)
Thank you to Ed Borczon, Registered Professional Forester for sharing Edmund’s legacy on the Rewards of Planting Trees hosted by the Forest History Society of Ontario Tour, October 3, 2019.