Wandering through a Simcoe County forest surrounded by towering trees and thick leaf coverage, it’s hard to imagine 100 years ago the land could best be described as a barren desert.
“If you went back 100 years in this area you would have very, very little forest cover. It’s surprising to people that there was much less forest 100 years ago than we have today,” said county forester Graeme Davis.
The rich history of Simcoe County Forests will be told with stories and artifacts inside Simcoe County Museum’s new forestry interpretative building.
Construction will begin on the 1,000-square-foot EcoLog home this spring.
It will be located on the museum grounds in Minesing in a forested section on the edge of a small embankment.
“It’s going to be beautiful when it’s all finished,” said museum curator Kelley Swift-Jones.
Simcoe County Forests celebrates its 100th birthday in 2022.
These woods played an important role in our history, Davis said.
In the early 1800s when the first European settlers arrived, much of the county was covered with valuable forests of both softwood and hardwood species, including huge stands of natural white pine.
For 100 years, the forests fell to the lumberjack’s axe.
Timber barons harvested, milled and shipped the wood to England with little thought for the future.
“The thinking at the time was ‘My goodness, there is so much forest we could just cut forever,’” Davis said.
The remaining trees were seen as an impediment to farming and vast areas were cleared and burned.
By the early 1900s there was little timber left and the once abundant forested areas had become dry, sandy wastelands.
“They had to plow the roads in the summertime for the sand,” Davis said.
When E.C. Drury, a longtime resident and community leader of Simcoe County, became Premier of Ontario in 1919 he was instrumental in establishing the Agreement Forest program.
The County of Simcoe was the first to take advantage of this program and acquired the wasteland for marginal prices. It was then turned over to the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests for protection and forestry development.
The first trees were planted May 8, 1922, at the Hendrie tract in Vespra Township.
In the mid-1990s, management was turned over to the county.
Today, Simcoe County Forest is the largest and one of the most productive municipal forests in Ontario, totalling nearly 33,000 acres. Timber sold from the forests is reinvested to buy more land, Davis said.
Construction on the forestry interpretative centre should be complete by summer’s end.
Davis hopes the building makes people think about the future of our environment.
“It’s to get people to understand some of the poor decisions made in the past. It’s important to remember that stuff and recognize decisions on what we do with the broader landscape have implications. We don’t want to go back there again,” he said.
The building will host nature-based educational programming.
Donations are welcome. Contact the Simcoe County Museum at 705-728-3721.