Ontario ‘colonization’ turned to clay – by Tom Villemaire (St. Catharines Standard – February 28, 2016)


Tom Villemaire is a writer based in Toronto and the Bruce Peninsula.

At the start of the 20th century (seems so long ago), southern Ontario felt like it was all filled up.

To attract attention to northern Ontario, the clever minds at Queen’s Park did a little marketing. They coined the term “New Ontario.” And they cranked out pamphlets that said things like: “There is no place in Ontario where bigger crops of hay, roots, barley, peas, oats and wheat can be grown.”

And only about 60 years after Ontario failed miserably at settling the central part of the province by building colonization roads, it decided to try its luck farther north. So in 1912, Ontario passed the Northern and Northwestern Ontario Development Act.

It wasn’t as daft as it seemed. The glaciers had left deposits of till, rich in nutrients, along a swath of land about 120 kilometres south of James Bay. It was about 1,000 kilometres long and 350 kilometres wide, half of it in Ontario. It was called the Great Clay Belt, which they hoped would become the Great Food Belt.

During the First World War, the call came to feed not only our armed forces overseas, but the countries at war as well.

“I want. . . our agriculturalists in every part and section of the Province to increase their output,” premier William Hearst was quoted in the Globe on April 7, 1916.

Only two weeks after that article, the government changed the Northern and Northwestern Ontario Development Act to offer a $25-an-acre loan for clearing land and to help with getting seed and livestock.

Meanwhile, the province had bought 1,280 acres of land west of Kapuskasing in 1914 to build an experimental farm on the clay belt. But war turned the nascent farm into an internment camp for prisoners of war and illegal immigrants, who turned out to be very efficient. Over the next six years, thousands of internees cleared hundreds of acres of land and built a hospital, barracks, a canteen, a YMCA, a post office and a supply depot.

For the rest of this article, click here: http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2016/02/28/ontario-colonization-turned-to-clay

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