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Reforestation in Simcoe County

​Blog originally posted ​November 20, 2018
Expanded May 22, 2020

​​​​​​​The Beginning of Reforestation in Simcoe County

As the holiday season has begun and people are starting to put up their Christmas trees, staff at the Simcoe County Archives are reminded of the history of reforestation that allowed us to have these beautiful trees so close to home. 

Settlers of 19th century Ontario generally saw the forest as a threat to their difficult efforts to establish viable homesteads and often cut down all the trees on their property, whether or not they stood on good soil or marginal. Lumberman harvested valuable timber using methods that left little standing. By the late 19th century, most of the forest cover of southwest Ontario had been removed. Reduced tree cover caused lowered water tables, unpredictable flooding and massive erosion, all of which caused large portions of Ontario and Simcoe County to become sandy wastelands.  

Sandy, deforested land

2008-132     Deforested land, unknown location. Date unknown.    Copyright: Unknown

Efforts to combat this deforestation begin as early as 1870, when the Ontario Fruit Growers' Association convinced the provincial government to establish a small nursery and an ineffective fund to support the planting of trees along highways. Despite these early efforts, it wasn't until first half of the 20th century that reforestation became a priority.

In Simcoe County, it was a difficult start for reforestation as many councillors were not convinced that it was an important issue to tackle in the early 1900s. However, W.J. Holden, Reeve of Collingwood, believed reforestation was a problem that shouldn't be ignored. 

First Load of Christmas Trees, Shipped by rail from Barr Tract in Craighurst in 1944

​980-24     First Load of Christmas Trees, Shipped by rail from Barr Tract, Craighurst, 1944    Copyright: Public Domain​

The First Proposal

One of the first to propose reforestation was Reeve W.J. Holden (Council Minutes 1919, Jan. p.32). In the January session of Council in 1919, Holden urged the Warden to create a committee of Reforestation (Council Minutes 1919, Jan. p.13); on day 3 the committee was created with Holden taking the lead (Council Minutes 1919, Jan. p.19). On the afternoon of January 31, 1919, Holden gave a speech on the advantages of reforestation (Council Minutes 1919, Jan. p.32), stating that reforestation would provide substantial money for Simcoe County as well as providing returning soldiers with jobs (Reforestation Before Co. Council).

After his compelling speech, the Reforestation Committee read a report with the following ideas:

  1. The committee, with the Warden, would purchase 200 acres of land for reforestation
  2. Council would make a $5,000 grant to the Reforestation Committee to carry out the plan
  3. The Provincial Government would be encouraged to make a special grant for reforestation in Simcoe County
  4. A special grant would be created and issued to rural schools that will reforest land (Reforestation Before Co. Council)

 However, despite Holden's best efforts, Council decided that the building of roads should take precedence over reforestation. Reforestation would be reconsidered at the June session (Council Minutes 1919, March 17 p.40). Many members of the community were outraged by this decision. One person took to the comment section of the Barrie Examiner, “Some members of the County Council seemed to regard the report of the reforestry committee as a joke. In assuming such an attitude, these members do themselves no credit. Because they know nothing of a subject is no reason why they should make light of it" (Comments of the Week, February 6).

The Second Attempt

When the Council reconvened in June, its attitude had changed slightly. The Finance Committee in one of its reports included a clause that recommended that the Council approve a policy of reforestation and that a committee be appointed to ascertain the cost of purchasing 200 acres for reforestation and the cost of buying and planting trees. The clause was approved after a vote of 25-8 (Buy Shelter For Children’s Aid, p.2). 

W.J. Holden

W.J. Holden, Jan 1, 1920, Collingwood Bulletin p.1, Simcoe County Archives      
Copyright: Public Domain​

The Third Attempt

When Council reconvened in November, 1919, the issue of reforestation was once again brought up by Councillor Holden. In a 10-page report including the research completed by the Reforestation Committee from last session, Holden requested that a small expenditure of $5600 over 5 years be put towards reforestation (Comment of the Week, Dec.4). Like previous council sessions, many council members treated this matter as a joke (Holden’s Report is Voted Down) and voted it down 30-7 (Council Minutes 1919, Nov. p.8).The importance of reforestation was not yet seen by council members. This again upset the community, one person took to the paper to write, “The County Council’s treatment of the report on reforestation was not what might be expected of a responsible body of men when dealing with a subject of such importance” (Comment of the Week, Dec. 4). 

Comment of the Week December 4, 1919

Comment of the Week, Dec. 4, 1919, The Barrie Examiner p.4, Simcoe County Archives Copyright:  Public Domain

Final Steps to Reforestation in Simcoe County

In January of 1920, W.J. Holden went on to be the Mayor of Collingwood. During his time as Reeve, Holden made a large impact on reforestation in Simcoe County (Many Changes in Co. Council – Several Prominent Members Fail to Secure Re-election for 1920). In December of 1919, it was said that “Some of the councillors who opposed reforestation when it was first introduced are now enthusiastic supporters” (Holden’s Report is Voted Down). 1920 was a turning point for reforestation. By June of 1920, progressive policy on reforestation was being developed and the County began to look into obtaining land (Council Minutes 1920, June p.50). Between 1920 and 1922, Simcoe County purchased approximately 1000 acres in Vespra Township (now Springwater) dedicated to reforestation (Council Minutes, June 1922 p.57). This land came to be known as the Hendrie Forest, which is located just northwest of Barrie (Fifty Years of Reforestation in Ontario Part 2, p.11). The Hendrie Tract derives its name from the previous name of Anten Mills: Hendrie. Hendrie was the surname of a contractor who built a section of the railway that passes through the village (The Origin of the Name of the Post Offices of Simcoe County, p.6)​.

First Planting at Hendrie Forest May 8, 1922
981-35     First Planting at Hendrie Forest May 8, 1922, Fred Grant Collection      Copyright: Public Domain

Recently Cleared Farmland around 1925
2008-133     Early Simcoe County Forestry - Recently Cleared Farmland, ca. 1925     Copyright: Public Domain

Field of Young Pine Trees around 19302008-133     Field of Young Pine Trees, ca. 1930     Copyright: Public Domain

The Hendrie Forest and other forest tracts can be viewed on the Simcoe County Geographical Information Systems (GIS) map​.

View of Hendrie Forest from our Geographical Information System View of Hendrie Forest from our Geographical Information System (GIS) map at 
Simcoe County, November 14, 2018     
Copyright: Public Domain​

Today, Simcoe County Forest is the largest municipally-owned forest in Southern Ontario (County of Simcoe Forestry, Forest History). Between 1927 and 1948, Simcoe County purchased tracts of Orr Lake, Waverly, Tosorontio, Drury, Barr and Wildman for further reforestation. The forests continue to provide environmental, social and economic benefits to the County residents (County of Simcoe Forestry, Forest History).

To learn more about reforestation and its history in the Simcoe County, visit the Simcoe County Archives Monday to Friday between 8:30 AM - 4:00 PM. 

Post by Student Archives Assistant Patricia Nagle
Post expanded by County Archivist Matthew Fells


Works consulted

  • Kuhlberg, Mark. "Ontario's nascent environmentalists: Seeing the foresters for the trees in southern Ontario, 1919-1929", The Forestry Chronicle ​74 No. 4 (1998): 533.​
  • Buy Shelter For Children's Aid – H.E. Jory's Residence Taken at $5750 – County War Memorial – Reforestation, The Barrie Examiner, June 26, 1919 p.1,2,& 4, Simcoe County Archives
  • Comment of the Week, The Barrie Examiner, February 6, 1919 p.2, Simcoe County Archives 
  • Comment of the Week, The Barrie Examiner, December 4, 1919 p.4, Simcoe County Archives
  • County of Simcoe Forestry – About the Simcoe County Forest https://www.simcoe.ca/dpt/fbl/about#ui-id-1
  • Simcoe County Council Minutes, 1919, Simcoe County Archives
  • Simcoe County Council Minutes, 1920, Simcoe County Archives
  • Simcoe County Council Minutes, 1921, Simcoe County Archives
  • Simcoe County Council Minutes, 1922, Simcoe County Archives
  • Early Simcoe County Forestry – Recently Cleared Farmland between 1900-1920, 2008-133,       Simcoe County Archives
  • Fifty Years of Reforestation in Ontario by E.J. Zavitz, Simcoe County Archives
  • Holden's Report is Voted Down – County Council Declares Against Reforestation - $2,500 for Navy League, The Barrie Examiner, December 4, 1919 p.4, Simcoe County Archives
  • Many Changes in Co. Council – Several Prominent Members Fail to Secure Re-election for 1920, The Barrie Examiner Jan 8, 1920 p.1, Simcoe County Archives
  • Photo of Field of Young Pine Trees, 2008-133, Simcoe County Archives
  • Photo of First Load of Christmas Trees, Shipped By Rail From Barr Tract, Craighurst 1944, 980-24, Simcoe County Archives
  • Photo of First Planting at Hendrie Forest, May 8, 1922, Simcoe County Archives
  • Photo of Hendrie Main on the GIS, Nov.14,2018, Simcoe County Archives
  • Photo of W.J. Holden, Collingwood Bulletin, Jan 1 1920 p.1, Simcoe County Archives
  • Photo of deforested lands, Simcoe County Archives
  • Reforestation Before Co. Council – Important Recommendations of Counc. Holden's Committee Laid Over, The Barrie Examiner, Feb 6, 1919 p.1, Simcoe County Archives​
  • The Origin of the Name of the Post Offices of Simcoe County by David Williams​