History 1919 - 1948
In the early 1800's, much of Simcoe County was covered with valuable forests of both softwood and hardwood species. The first timber barons saw the forest as a nearly inexhaustible supply of timber, while the early settlers saw the forests as an impediment to farming and vast areas were cleared and burned. For a hundred years the forests of Simcoe County fell to the lumberjack's axe with no thought of conservation for tomorrow. The slash from logging was left to burn and re-burn, destroying the soil until nothing was left but barren plain. "I can remember the night skies red with such fires - at Midhurst and Anten Mills and Orr Lake," said E. C. Drury, a long-time resident and community leader of Simcoe County. By the early 1900's there was little timber left to cut in Simcoe County and the once richly forested areas had become virtual wastelands.
When he became Premier of Ontario in 1919, Drury was instrumental in establishing the "Agreement Forest" program. Local governments purchased lands and turned them over to the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests for protection and forestry development. Appropriately, Simcoe County was the first to take advantage of this program. On May 8, 1922 the first trees were planted at the "Hendrie" tract in Vespra township. From 1922 to 1927 a total of 1,344,600 trees were planted at Hendrie and today it remains a lasting testimonial to the foresight of those early pioneers in forestry.
In the next 20 years the Simcoe County Forest (SCF) were expanded with the purchase of similar "barren lands". The Tracts of Orr Lake, Waverley, Tosorontio, Drury, Barr and Wildman were reforested with the planting of another 10,000,000 trees. Most of these lands had been so devastated by fire, drought and wind that they were virtually deserts. As the new forest grew they stabilized the blowing sand and started the process of rehabilitation.
By 1948, a short 26 years after the first tree planting, most of the barren lands had been reforested with healthy pine and spruce plantations. The first thinning of these forest plantations were done at Hendrie and Orr Lake to relieve overcrowding, and as a result the Simcoe County Forest even began to generate some revenue.
History 1949 - 2012
In the 1950s land prices tripled from previous decades to almost $25 per acre but the effort of buying and planting new forest continued. Even though the urgency to stabilize the barren lands had abated, the County Forest were seen as a valuable asset with numerous benefits to the County and Ontario:
To restore waste lands and abandoned farm lands to productive use
To prevent soil erosion and restore and conserve water resources
To manage the County Forest in a scientific manner to produce the best growth
To preserve, conserve and improve wildlife habitat
To provide educational opportunities and encourage scientific research
To encourage private landowners in their reforestation efforts
To make the County Forest available for public recreation
In 1960 the Province recognized the continued increase in land prices and began to make grants to municipalities to assist in buying land for forestry purposes. Through the 1960s and 1970s the County continued to buy land, but rather than exclusively purchasing barren land, the majority of purchases included naturally forested lands. Today, over ½ of the County Forest is made up of natural forests rather than plantations.
The 1960s were also a time of forestry expansion on private lands. A few member municipalities along with the Department of Lands and Forests were the first to encourage land owners to plant trees in a trial program that led to the introduction of the "Woodlands Improvement Act". Over a 25 year period starting in 1966 over 40,000,000 trees were planted on privately owned land in Simcoe County because of financial assistance from the Province and a growing resident awareness of the value and beauty of trees as exemplified by the County Forest. In 1967, Canada's centennial year, over 20,000 trees were planted by school children all over the County.
In 1974, the townships of Rama and Mara became part of Simcoe County and with them another 3,525 acres of the former Ontario County Forest were added to the Simcoe County Forest.
After 1982, the grants from the Ministry of Natural Resources (formerly the Department of Lands and Forests) to buy land began to decline and in 1991 grants were stopped. In the 1980s only 514 acres of land were purchased but the forest had matured to the point that revenue from the sale of forest products was exceeding expenses and by 1994 the debt to the Province was fully paid. In 1996 the County signed a new management agreement with the Ministry of Natural Resources and established its own forestry department.
Simcoe County Forest ia now entering a new era. The "barren lands" of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s are now healthy forests providing homes for wildlife, wood for the forest industry, recreation to hikers, hunters, naturalists and many more.
Seventy-five years is a moment in time in the life of a forest. It is everyone's responsibility to protect the forest of Simcoe County so that in years to come there will still be places to experience the natural beauty and the wondrous sounds and silence of a forest. As Premier Drury stated after having a Simcoe County Forest tract dedicated to him, "I would rather have this for a monument than a statue in Queen's Park."
The Simcoe County Forest celebrated its 90th
anniversary of "excellence in forestry in 2012." A short film details the history of the Simcoe County Forest.
County Forest Today
At over 33,000 acres and still growing, the Simcoe County Forest is now the largest municipally-owned forest in Southern Ontario. SCF properties range in size from 7 to over 3,500 acres and are distributed throughout the County.
The most common coniferous species include red and white pine, white spruce, hemlock, balsam fir and white cedar. Common deciduous species include sugar maple, red oak, trembling and large toothed aspen, American beech, white ash and black cherry.
Only about 50% of the SCF are coniferous plantations with the remainder naturally regenerated forest of mixed species. Trees vary in age from newly germinated and planted seedlings to over 300 year old specimens of hemlock and white cedar.
The SCF is an excellent example of the benefits of good forest management, providing tremendous environmental, social and economic benefits to County residents. The SCF is completely self-funded through the strategic reinvestment of revenues.