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Forest History

Events Leading to Ontario's Former 'Agreement Forest' Program

European settlement in Upper Canada in the early 1800's was originally driven by the exploitation of vast quantities of timber followed by unfettered clearing for agriculture. The removal of this extensive forest cover brought prosperity and settlement, but it also resulted in unforeseen problems. As early as the 1870's some farmers were recognizing the impacts including soil loss, headwater streams drying up, and unwelcome changes to the micro-climate.

 Sand Dunes.jpgSand dunes near Simcoe / Dufferin border early 1900's

Areas of sandy soil which had once supported productive forests could not sustain the agricultural practices of the day. As soil nutrients became depleted and winds increased without tree protection, desertification began to take hold and vast areas identified as 'wastelands' were documented. Simcoe County was home to some of the most extensive 'wastelands' in Ontario, particularly in the Angus and Orr Lake 'sand plains' and the Anten Mills area. 

E.C. Drury on Angus Plains 1906.jpgE.C. Drury on Angus Plains 1906

The First County Forest in Ontario Was Born

Due primarily to the severity of the problem combined with political will, Simcoe County became the first municipality in Ontario to sign onto the 'Agreement Forest' program in 1920, whereby the County purchased land and the Provincial Department of Lands & Forests was responsible for tree planting and forest management.

The first trees were planted in May of 1922 in the Hendrie Tract in Vespra Township.jpgThe first trees were planted in May of 1922 in the Hendrie Tract in Vespra Township

Over the subsequent 3 decades the most devastated areas were the focus and much of the larger tracts were established including Hendrie, Waverley, Orr Lake, Tosorontio, Drury, Barr and Wildman.

By the 1950's, although the most extensive areas of wastelands had been addressed, acquisitions continued at a similar pace. Additions were typically 50 to 100 acres and more widely distributed with the focus still on forest restoration and expanding the land base. With a growing need to manage the established plantations, wood supply and economic viability became a more significant provincial objective.

Sidney Cox, Caretaker of Hendrie Forest until 1955.jpgSidney Cox, Caretaker of Hendrie Forest until 1955

With escalating land values, provincial grants became available in 1961 to encourage continued growth of the managed forest primarily to ensure a stable supply of fibre for industry. The 1970's saw a shift in focus to include more properties which included some natural forest cover.

In 1980, after 6 decades of investment in land acquisition, reforestation and forest management, revenues exceeded expenses for the first time. This encouraged some continued purchases by County Council. Provincial grants for land purchases were discontinued in 1991. In 1994, the total revenues from the sale of forest products exceeded the debt owed to the province.

1996 was a pivotal year for the Simcoe County Forest. Significant changes to the resources and mandate of the Ministry of Natural Resources culminated in a new agreement, whereby the County assumed full management responsibility. Policy was adopted which established the first Land Acquisition Principles and Reforestation Reserve Fund, which ensured that funds were available for continued management and additional land purchases. This formed the foundation, along with a very long-term commitment to science-based forest management practices, which has resulted in continued growth and success.


DecadeLand PurchasedAverage PriceTrees Planted
1920 - 19295751,42016.406.642,014,200
1930 - 19391,5393,80015.616.324,079,855
1940 - 19492,1525,31420.438.275,050,270
1950 - 19591,9924,91959.6024.133,686,450
1960 - 19691,9444,80096.3839.023,191,245
1970 - 19791,3013,213312.50126.521,715,240
1980 - 19892085141,217.41492.88406,350
1990 - 19994881,2571,537.08622.3049,400
2000 - 20091,0762,6608,236.173,332.9647,600
2010 - 20198592,1238,333.513,372.80555,625

 * The realignment of Simcoe County in 1974 resulted in the incorporation of forest tracts from the former 'Ontario County' in Ramara Township.

Provincial Perspective

In 1982, 60 years following the inception of Ontario's Agreement Forest Program, it had grown to include:

  • 19 Counties
  • 6 Regional Municipalities
  • 10 Townships
  • 22 Conservation Authorities
  • 1 Federal Government Agency
  • 1 Corporation

Collectively these agreements totaled​ 107,000 hectares (272,000 acres), resulting in one of Canada's most successful forest restoration programs. Of all 59 agreements at this time, Simcoe County was the largest at 10,588 hectares (26,163 acres).

Simcoe County Forest Today

Today, at 13,646 hectares (33,726 acres) and still growing, Simcoe County has significantly outpaced all former agreement holders in continued reinvestment and growth. With properties distributed across this vast County, the SCF is an excellent example of the benefits of sound forest management and long-term planning, providing tremendous environmental, social and economic benefits.

 In 2022, Simcoe County celebrated one century of commitment and success, and was recognized as the National Forest Capital of Canada by the Canadian Institute of Forestry.