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Hard to imagine, I know: A desert of a place where floods were common, farmland turned to blowing sand and forest fires were nearly a daily occurrence. Growing food on much of this land was more than a challenge, it was downright unproductive. Many natural disasters were accepted as “part of the price” paid for living in a progressive land where the hand of man was free to take trees without thought or consideration to the long-term effects. This was our beloved Ontario about a century ago and, frankly, there really was no plan.
When this land was “opened up,” a settler and his family was required by the Crown to clear the trees off of it, reserving the very best wood (the giant virgin white pines and sycamores) for the government to haul off to Great Britain, where they were valued for use as ship masts and planks. Naïvely, it was thought that this single-minded approach was a good idea. Land was cleared most everywhere, except in the hardest to reach places.
Between 1790 and the early 1900s, Ontario was denuded of all of its existing forests through the efforts of lumbermen and farmers. The results were devastating. Wildlife disappeared, streams and rivers dried up, and sand and top soil blew away.
In 1904, an ambitious professor from the University of Toronto in forestry proposed to province that it would be a good idea to establish an aggressive replanting program in the marginally productive areas of the province. In fact, he wanted to more than triple the existing tree cover in Southern Ontario. It was an audacious idea and he had a lot of nerve. His name was Edmund Zavitz and his story is worth repeating as, I fear, much of what he did (which was plenty!) is at risk of being forgotten.
A New Currency
In the early days of his work, Zavitz photographed the results of the denudation of the land. Blow sand in Norfolk County and on the Oak Ridges Moraine provided evidence that the absence of giant white and red pines, sycamores, and dense hardwood bush often created desert-like conditions. The prevailing westerly winds exposed the deep roots of the old tree stumps and left them standing like skeletons in the sand with their roots exposed two metres tall.
In one photo, a church stands with its foundation exposed and an adjacent graveyard on a hillside clings to razor-thin top soil, with tumbled-down headstones and caskets all but exposed. As it would turn out, the photographic evidence provided by Zavitz in his early days helped to prove his point that much had to be done to overcome the shortcomings of previous generations, whose activity provided his generation with massive tracts of land that were Sahara-like.
When Zavitz launched his ambitious plan as the newly minted “Chief Forester” to replant up to 30 per cent of the land mass in Southern Ontario, he produced black and white slides from his extensive collection and used them to illustrate his point. He travelled around the province on a public speaking circuit, preaching the merits of reforestation to anyone who would listen.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.yourhome.ca/homes/outdoorliving/gardeningandlandscaping/article/1281006–mark-cullen-edmund-zavitz-planted-the-idea-for-2-billion-trees