Arthur Richardson 1890-1971
Ganaraska Watershed Report Cover

History of the Ganaraska Forest (1800 to 1997)

Early European colonization and settlement changed the natural landscape and the flow of water in significant ways, and much of the changes was due to the principal source of revenue in the area being distilleries and the lumber trade. Many villages along the Ganaraska River and elsewhere had developed specific industries that relied on waterpower from local rivers such as saw mills, grist mills, cider mills, woolen mills, carriage factories and chair factories.

The era of environmental and community decline was significantly felt in the 1880s through to the 1900s. The loss of the big timber trade in the lower Ganaraska River had occurred by the 1880s and the upper reaches by the 1890s. The blow to the local timber industry was the effects of the McKinley Tariff of 1890 which saw a tariff of almost 50% applied to almost all commodities exported from Canada to the United States. At this point, much of the land within the GRCA, especially along the Oak Ridges Moraine was severely deforested, and turning into wastelands.

In 1944, the Ganaraska Watershed: A study in land use with recommendations for the rehabilitation of the area in the post war period was published and outlined a set of watershed management recommendations. One of the recommendations was the reforestation of 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres) in the northern section of the Ganaraska River watershed.

At the first meeting of the Ganaraska River Conservation Authority in 1946, a draft of a new Forestry Agreement between the Authority and the then Department of Lands and Forests was submitted and subsequently approved. This approval allowed for the purchase of nine parcels of land totaling 460 hectares (1,150 acre), and on May 141947, the first tree was planted, which began Ontario’s first Authority forest.

Reforestation was accomplished through the hard work and dedication of the local community, including veterans who returned from WWII. The land on which the reforestation occurred was acquired from local property owners by the GRCA, and lands transferred from local municipalities. By 1991 the total amount of land acquired by GRCA was 4,200 hectares (10,400 acres). Reforestation was necessary on fifty per cent of this land. In April of 1997, the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority became completely responsible for the management of the Ganaraska Forest, which up to that point was carried out by the Province of Ontario.