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Part 1


The following is Copyright © 2016-2020 by Clayton Barker, all rights reserved. It was published on the editorial page of The Burford Times, May 5th, 2016, in Burford, Ontario, Canada.



Whiteman’s Creek and Art Cadman’s Lion’s Park in the autumn: This very old oak tree in the foreground clings to its ever-changing world. It is possibly a remnant of what was a nearby oak opening, or oak savannah, about 200 years ago, a leftover from the days of the early settlers to this Township (Photo by Clayton Barker).


Continuing from where my “Tenants of The Land” columns left off, from earlier this year, I will now take a step back a bit, to fill in some background information about the natural formation of our landscape here in the geographic township of Burford. Also, in light of the recent “Community Tree Plant,” hosted by Paris District High Schools’ CELP students and The Burford Lions Club and Earth Day, this past week, I will also briefly outline the evolution of the real first occupants of this land – the trees. However, I must start with the ground beneath them first.


In high school, geography class was the next best thing to a local history lesson for me when one of my favourite teachers, the late Harry Southam, was teaching it. He seemed very enthusiastic, especially when describing the formation and evolution of the various physiographic features of our local landscape here in Brant County. He even took the class on field trips to see these different land formations up close. 


For an aspiring young local historian, this subject further stimulated my interest in contour maps and old survey maps and cartography in general. It may have also inspired me in the selection of my present career in Urban Design and Civil Engineering. I can still picture Mr Southam at the front of the classroom, talking about glaciers and pointing to a large-scaled L.J. Chapman and D.F. Putnam map of the physiographic regions of Ontario. I probably wouldn’t have been so interested in Harry’s class, had he not shown me how the outline of Burford Township could easily be transposed onto that geomorphological map. Therefore, according to Chapman and Putnam and the late Mr Southam, the history of the forest, here in the geographic Township of Burford, begins on bare ground (or at least barren glacier-tilled land).  


Imagine the landscape void of all trees, with only small shrubs, lichens and mosses over barren tundra - this is how it looked here some 11,000 years ago, at the end of the last glacier episode, known as the Wisconsinan glaciation (between 85,000 and 11,000 years ago in North America). As the glacier receded north, the land scarified and the rock and granular materials pulverized and sorted, then deposited by meltwater streams and rivers. It has been estimated that these glaciers were approximately 1km to 3km in thickness.


Apparently, this tundra stage, in the evolution of the forest, did not last as long as you would think. The ground warmed, and the growing season lengthened rapidly when the permafrost was gone from the earth. The various land formations (till moraines and eskers etc.) which are the hills and valleys around us today are composed of glacial till, which is an un-stratified mixture of clay, silt, sand, gravel, stones and boulders. 


The Wisconsin glacial episode reached its maximum extent about 25,000 to 21,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene epoch, in the Quaternary period, of the Cenozoic era, in the Phanerozoic aeon, according to geologists. This day and age, in which we live, is actually within what is known as the Holocene epoch. Between these significant glacial periods, there are sometimes lengthy warming periods, which are what is called an “interglacial.” We are in one right now, and this glacial period is not over yet, as there are still glaciers on nearly every continent on earth (except Australia). Therefore, even though the trend seems to be towards the earth warming up - when it comes to glaciers, I’d say we are not out of the woods yet!



For this series of columns, information has been gleaned from the following: “The Physiographic Regions of Southern Ontario, Third Edition,” (1984) by L.J. Chapman and D.F. Putnam;; “Historical Atlas of Canada,” by R. Cole Harris, editor and illustrated by Geoffrey J. Matthews, cartographer.



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From a Twig to a Mighty Oak, PART 2


From a Twig to a Mighty Oak, PART 3