Landmarks of Garden Hill, Ontario

“My son, I admonish you to cherish the little waters, for these replenish the mighty rivers that nourish our thirsty land”. This quote by Samuel Woodstock, a fictitious character and alias used by Arthur Herbert Richardson.

The Establishment of Conservation Areas in Ontario:

Richardson was the first Chief Conservation Engineer in the Province of Ontario. Graduating from Harvard University with a degree in Silviculture (the growing, cultivation & managing trees) in the 1920’s. Later known as “Mr. Conservation”, he was hired as a forester for the Forestry Branch of the Department of Lands and Forests, now known as The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests.

In 1942, the Ganaraska watershed was selected as the initial test survey in Ontario for a reforestation project. The reasons for this survey: (1) The small size of this watershed (103 sq. miles) compared to most others in southern Ontario. (2) The quick elevation change of the Ganaraska River, it rises in hilly country and most streams drop very quickly in elevation for the first 3 or 4 miles. (3) The history of severe flooding, especially the town of Port Hope and the location of the Ganaraska River through the middle of town. (4) The devastated landscape from the exploitation of resources (trees). (5) The location of the Eldorado Uranium Refinery in Port Hope which was built (before Municipal by-laws) on a drained marsh flood plain. Coincidently, 1942 was the year the Federal Government acquired the refinery and thus had a vested interest in protecting it. (6) General Motors in Oshawa had switched to building military vehicles for the army. They needed somewhere to test their vehicles. The remote rugged terrain, hills and steep gullies attracted them to the forest. Local ATV owners still are.

This project led to the establishment of the 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.

Garden Hill Pond

With the passing of the Conservation Act in 1946, there was three authorities Ausable, Etobicoke and the Ganaraska. Five years later there were fifteen in Ontario. The conservation authorities in Ontario are world renowned. Other provinces, the U.S. & U.K. and other parts of the world have come here to  study it.  1947 saw the first trees planted in the 1580 acre Ganaraska Forest. By 1991 the GRCA had acquired over ten thousand acres of land, the largest forest in Southern Ontario. The forest covers parts of Northumberland, Peterborough, Victoria the Region of Durham. The CA’s of Ontario are among Canada’s largest landowners. Collectively, 355,800 acres of forests, wetlands and sites for flood and erosion control. The success of conservation areas has led to the formation of the largest green belt in the world. (Ontario Greenbelt, 2005).

The Garden Hill Conservation Area:   The Garden Hill pond and its fifty three acres was the first Conservation Area acquired by the Authority in 1956. This landmark pond started its life in 1861 as the power source for the Beamish Hat Manufacturer & after a fire rebuilt as a lumber and wooden shingle mill and later (1869) the James Dyer Woolen Mill. See post: Garden Hill, Ontario, Ghost Mill. This CA was once known for its great swimming and picnicking by many from miles around. With its sandy bottom and slow descent from warm shallow water into much deeper water, it was a hit. Picnic tables and modern change/washrooms were later installed. Overnight campers could be accommodated by a short scenic drive/walk to the south east end of the park. With declining water quality over time, the park was officially closed in the ‘70’s to swimming and camping, the end of an era for local recreation!

On a recent trip for some pictures for this post the Ranger was amazed by coming upon at least three dozen turtles. These guys were lined up sunbathing on a huge log lying in the middle of a small, secluded bay on the east side of the pond, an unexpected but great surprise!

Richardson’s Lookout Conservation Area:  This CA is located on the north side of Dean’s Hill on Northumberland County Road #9 west of Garden Hill, Ontario. Richardson was present for the official dedication on July 8, 1964. A platform atop Dean’s Hill on the 850 foot drumlin features a panoramic view of the headwaters of the Ganaraska River and Forest. The view from the viewing platform today has lost a lot of its ‘panoramic’ because of the success of tree planting at this site! Trees planted a couple of decades ago around the top rim of this breath-taking hilltop have gown well. Accept from a few small openings between these now very tall trees, it is nearly impossible to see the complete amazing panoramic view once so enjoyed by so many!


Blake’s Ardfree: The Old Wilson Pond property in the 9th Concession of Hope Township was purchased in 1926 by Verschoyle Benson Blake. This large pond located on the Oak Ridges Moraine is entirely spring fed. Blake was a respected conservationist, historian and writer. Mr. Blake began tree planting experiments on ‘the sandy desert of the north’ he named ‘Ardfree’. His small conservation project here was two decades before he & Richardson worked together on establishing the Ganaraska Forest we know today. Ardfree was often compared to Thoreau’s Walden Woods in Massachusetts, each place with a scenic pond surrounded by pine and oak trees where “the call of the Whip-poor-wills” could be heard. Ardfree is a variation of a place in Ireland, Blake’s homeland meaning “The Height of the Heather”. Blake’s own private lookout tower he erected in 1929 on a high hill north of and in view of what is now Richardson’s Lookout. It was a marvel of the time, with ‘knob & tube’ electrical wiring and a ‘ram’ water system. The three story concrete tower which resembled a modern day farm silo could be seen for miles around.

Note: because this landmark site is on private property, no pictures are available of Ardfree’s pond or its former lookout at this time.

Regards, Ranger.


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