Canada Day Events

Guelph has a very active Rotary club who put on many activities and, I presume, do a lot of charity work around town. But their website this year for their big Canada Day Activities event got me laughing yesterday. I wanted to find something that was fun for my kids so I went to their site. Here are the ‘activities’ you get:

  • Carousel Rides
  • Train Rides
  • Pony Rides
  • Petting Zoo filled with Goats, Lambs and Bunnies who await love and interactive feeding.
  • Mid Way has something for Everyone – Cotton Candy to Thrilling Rides!
  • Inflatable Bouncing Games for the Kiddies offer the Giraffe, Castle and Gigantic Slide.
  • Fireworks
  • Duck Races
  • Children’s Play Zone: Children 6 and under a variety of activities
  • Rotary Information Tent
  • ATM Machine

Again I applaud our Rotarians for what they do (although my kids were in that too old and not old enough range and so didn’t want to go the park with me this year… again) but still, it’s a sad thing when an ATM becomes an activity. Especially when the ‘machine’ is repeated. What’s with that anyway? ATM stands for Automated Teller Machine… why tack on another machine?

The End of Ann Street

What is the identity of a Street?
Ann Street (2 n’s and no e) was apparently named after Princess Ann daughter of Queen Elizabeth (which is weird since Queen Elizabeth I didn’t have children and Queen Elizabeth II‘s daughter was Anne with an e) in 1956. Its original name was Victoria Street (named after Queen Victoria) which it had from 1906. The reason for the renaming was likely that there was a Victoria Road that became more important as Guelph grew. It was named in 1911 and is much longer then our wee Ann Street. Perhaps Victoria, as a name, was thought ill used for such a short street. We can only have one Victoria and just a lane way won’t do.
Well. It’s the motion in the ocean baby… and not the size that matters.
But that’s alright. Ann works for me. In fact, if I take my postal code N1H 1L8 and use my wife’s creativity I can put them both together with devastating effect. Ann + N1H 1L8 = AnnNihileight = annihilate. Way cooler than with Victoria.
Also Small is Beautiful as E. F. Schumacher wrote. Ann Street is far nicer then Victoria Road is. More a shady refuge than a 4-lane through way dissecting the city.
So Yes, I prefer Ann. She doesn’t go to anywhere else. She’s what is called a dead end. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing: dead is one part of life after all.
If you’re in a car and you come to the end of Ann then it means turn around, you’ve gone too far. How many times have you wished someone had told you that?  Many times for me.
But if you’re on foot or on a bike you know different for Ann Street is known as one of those streets that ‘goes to the river’. Well it doesn’t actually go all the way to the Speed River. You have to go past a little hillock and down a path, over the railway tracks, down a wooded hill riddled with paths before you get to the river. But Ann Street can’t shake that impression of River access because people know it’s there. You can also follow the tracks northwest to Riverside Park or southeast to downtown.  The little path makes Ann Street accessible in ways that exclude a car:  that’s kind of nice.
The City of Guelph has decided to link up the separate parts of the spur of the Cross Canada trail that runs through the city. It’ll go beside the railway tracks for some strange reason that no-one seems to be able to explain. The proposed path would be much more usable and fun if it was down by the river side.  Down by the river side.  Down by the river side. But because of this proposal for a boring trail by the tracks, the people that run the railway want 1.5 metre fences protecting their rails. It’s all about liability, of course: “look out people, you’re too stupid to know how to deal with railway tracks, especially with trains that go by (at most) twice a day at blistering speeds that a drunk sloth could avoid”.
So this is going to be the new end of Ann Street. It will end in two fences. It’s that street that ends at the fence/railway/fence. It’s just another victim of our over-protective, antiseptic and walled off society.
Some people like gated communities.  I don’t.

White Water on the Mighty Speed

My son Justin and I went white water canoeing on the Speed River yesterday evening. Spring is really the only time you can do any canoeing of length on the river that bisects our glorious and royal city of Guelph (Ontario).
We were delivered to Monkey’s Bridge (on Victoria Rd) by my wife and had to walk several hundred metres up the bike and dog-walking trail until we could access the fast flowing river. In fact we had to canoe across a long strip of flooded land to get to the bank, disembark and then join the river proper.
The water was quite fast (perhaps it should be called the High Speed River in the Spring) and we had a few tense moments when forced near the left or right banks avoiding low hanging branches on trees tilted above the water (particularly Willow and Cedar). Luckily we were wearing bike helmets and minimized the scratching. At one point we had to haul clear across the river as a tree trunk was blocking almost the entire breadth. Breathtaking but fun.
The next near collision was at the Woodlawn Rd bridge whose central support is like a sharp knife edge. I asked Justin to pick left or right and he nearly took too long to decide!
Riverside Park has several obstacles to overcome. Mainly there is the large falls which is about 2 metres high normally but was probably bigger at this time of year. There is a sluice-way on the left side of this falls which is regulated by a guillotine-like water gate. Justin didn’t want to portage and suggested that we just shoot it but I told him again that we wouldn’t fit through the water gate. He said No. He wanted to shoot the falls. After portaging around I showed why we couldn’t do that particular ‘leap of faith’. Even in a kayak it would be difficult as it’s concrete below. But there are other little dams in the park and we did shoot the last three. The last one was about a 1 metre drop compared to about 0.5 metres from the other two. It was too late to avoid when I saw the huge standing wave at the bottom and so we got very wet. The canoe was about 1/6 full of water which we had to dump out while standing in the icy water.
We canoed down to just below where we live just past the Speedvale bridge and walked home. We were hoping to go further but the sky was getting dark and it did take a while to dump the rest of the water out of the canoe. Nope. Thoughts of a warm bath each won.

Jeremy’s Trickling Ghosts

My friend Jeremy Shute gave a fascinating talk entitled Ghost Rivers of Guelph at the Guelph Field Naturalists meeting last night. His laid back lecturing style and easy humour made for an enjoyable investigation of Guelph’s forgotten small waterways. It made me look at my topographical surroundings differently as I biked to and from work today. I was, after all, going over at least four buried waterways on the way. Little dips in the road and schools, oddly enough, are good signs, especially in Guelph, of the path of this stealth water.
Jeremy mentioned how he, as a child, had bravely penetrated 100 metres of the concrete tunnel that hosts the mouth of Pond Creek. This waterway originally went  from the Speed River to as far as Lourdes High School or Exhibition Park depending on the fork you take. And then told us that he had met others who have gone much further and that their discoveries could be found on the net. I take the liberty to provide a link to a delightfully written blog post from someone who did just that.
One melancholic thought that struck me as I listened to Jeremy and during my commute was how things have changed since I was young. I remember rafting on Bullfrog Pond when I was a kid and shudder to think how it has been replaced by the present Bullfrog Mall. There is a crime being perpetrated with the use of that name in my opinion. Likewise, my friend Pat and I enjoyed many hours on the pond that once existed in the marshy area between Bagot Street and Edinburgh Road. There are tall condos there now. They provide much housing I’m sure but I still can’t help but think of what has been lost. What my children won’t experience.
Of course the creeks are still there and will likely remain no matter how diverted or how much we otherwise try to tame them. Who knows? There may spring hope that an enlightenment will come to them in the future. When we aren’t so covetous of ‘our’ land.


What a powerful film on several levels! The theme is, of course, blindness… but the writers and director have a variety of ways of ‘seeing’ what that would mean.  To people who are suddenly become blind. To those who were blind before and find themselves surrounded by the suddenly blind. To the authorities.  To the one person who doesn’t go blind. The acting is top notch, with excellent performances by Danny Glover, Mark Ruffalo, Maury Chaykin and outstanding work by Julianne Moore. But this is not an easy film to watch and certainly not for young children. Beside the effects of nearly a whole world of humans going blind in the space of days (car crashes, airplanes crashing, panic, etc) it is interesting to think what would happen to society if this really happened. It’s hard to imagine a more definitive way of cutting us off from our technological props and begin counting the days until the food and water runs out.
I can’t recommend this one highly enough but I’d be careful who you watch it with. I would agree, with the review on IMDB, that you may want to watch it solo.
A little bonus I didn’t notice until I looked it up on IMDB: at least part of it was filled in Guelph. The next time I watch it I’m going to want to look for familiar landmarks!

Selected Perceptions of the Land by John Galt and Tiger Dunlop

The following is from pages 249-250, in the Notes section, of The Canada Company and the Huron Tract, 1826-1853: Personalities, Profits and Politics by Robert C. Lee. Published in 2004 by Natural Heritage / Natural History Inc., Toronto. This is an excellent book for those who want a good understanding of the people involved in the settling of the southwestern Ontario.

This British Fraser’s Magazine of November 1830 carried a description of the founding of Guelph “this second Rome or Babylon” based on a letter Galt had written to a friend on June 2, 1827: “The site chosen was on ‘a nameless stream’s untrodden banks,’ about eighteen miles in the forest from GALT …. Early on in the morning of St. George’s Day, I proceeded on foot towards the spot, having sent forward a band of woodsmen with axes on their shoulders to prepare a shanty for the night — a shed made of boughs and bark, with a great fire at the door. I was accompanied by my friend Dunlop, a large fat, facetious fellow of infinite jest and eccentricity, but he forgot his compass, and we lost our way in the forest. After wandering up and down like babes in the woods — the rain raining in jubilee — … we came to a hut of a Dutch settler .. We hired him for our guide.
It was almost sunset when we arrived at the rendezvous; my companion, being wet to the skin, unclothed and dressed himself in two blankets, one in the Celtic and the other in the Roman fashion — the kilt and the toga … “I kept my state” (as MacBeth says of his wife at the banquet) of dripping drapery. We then with surveyors and woodmen … proceeded to a superb maple tree, and I had the honour and glory of laying the axe to the root thereof, and is soon fell “beneath our sturdy strokes” with the noise of an avalanche. It was the genius of the forest unfurling its wings and departing forever. Being the king’s name-day, I called the town Guelph — the smaller fry of the office having monopolized every other I could think of; and my friend drawing a bottle of whiskey from his bosom, we drank prosperity to the unbuilt metropolis of the new world.” Robina and Kathleen Macfarlane Lizars, In the Days of the Canada Company 1825-1850 (Toronto: William Briggs, 1896) Appendix, 481-82.

And, from page 32 of The Canada Company by Thelma Coleman with supplement by James Anderson published in 1978 by the Perth County Historical Board, Stratford comes another description of the founding of Guelph:

“I took an axe from one of the woodmen and struck the first stroke, ” John Galt states. “To me at least, the moment was impressive, and the silence of the woods that echoed to the sound was as the sigh of the solemn genius of the woods departing for ever. The Doctor followed me, and then Mr. Pryor, and the woodmen finished the work. the tree fell with a crash of accumulated thunder, as if ancient nature were alarmed at the entrance of social man into her innocent solitudes with his sorrows, his follies and his crimes.”

John Galt was a writer and you can see that he was sensitive to the changes he was causing in his capacity as Superintendent of the Canada Company. It is too bad that he wasn’t forward thinking enough to set aside a small section, even a few acres, of forest as a reserve. The forest was everywhere, like passenger pigeons, and perhaps everyone thought there would always be some left.

And here’s another quote from Appendix D of Lee’s book. This is a quote from a verbatim description of the Huron Tract by Dr. William “Tiger” Dunlop, ‘Warden of the Company’s Woods and Forests in Upper Canada’, in 1841 as he was preparing to run in the election as representative in the new legislature of the united Canadas.

The land generally, is of a loamy description; sandy loam with limestone gravel on the verge of the lakes, and clay loam towards the interior, and everywhere covered with a considerable depth of vegetable mold…
The whole of the land is of excellent quality. There is an extensive cedar swamp, which commences in the township of Ellice, and running through Logan, Mackillop [and] terminates in Hullett. This, to be made available, would require to be drained, but that would be no difficult matter, as it is the summit level of the whole country, and from the springs in this swamp arise many of the rivers which fall into Lakes Erie, St. Clair and Huron. Once drained it will be the richest land in the country. …
The principal timber is maple, elm, beech and bass, and in lesser quantity cherry, hickory, ash, oak, hemlock, and pine, the latter however being very scarce. Black Walnut grows in the South part of the tract. The rivers and lake abound in fish, among which may be enumerated the sturgeon, river trout, pickerel, pike, muskellunge, mullet, carpe etc. …

Dunlop, for all his eccentricities (for more on this see Chapters XV and XVI of Volume I of Twenty-seven Years in Canada West or The Experience of an Early Settler by Samuel Strickland and Edited by Agnes Strickland. M. G. Hurtig Ltd., Edmonton. 1970 (Originally published in 1853). You may recognize this book as one I quoted from in an earlier blog posting), was considered a very capable man and

Historic Trees in the Guelph area – Part 3

Go to Part Two.

The decline of trees immediately after Pioneers arrived on their new Canada Company lands was precipitous. The following chart was taken from a table in a document mentioned in Part Two: Department of Planning and Development, Government of Ontario. 1953. Speed Valley Conservation Report 1953. A.H. Richardson, Chief Conservation Engineer, A.S.L. Barnes (B.Sc.F.), Assistant Director and Forestry, R.V. Brittain (B.Sc.F.), Forestry. Toronto. It is derived from Census of Canada figures. Out of a total 14877.66 hectares of occupied farmland, woodland cover went from 6540 ha (44%) in 1850 to 727 ha (5%) in 1940.

Woodland Cover in Guelph Township

Percent Woodland Cover in Guelph Township 1850 through 1950

The early Guelphites were largely not here for the aesthetics, they were hard working farmers and entrepreneurs who did their best to carve a new life for themselves out of the thick bush. It is easy for us to look back on and claim they went too far with the forest razing. I wonder if, in their economic situation and with their understanding about the environment, we could have done any better.

But there is good news. As the Guelph area became more affluent the value we put on trees changed. People wanted trees in their yards and in their parks. The very existence of places like the Guelph Arboretum attest to it. So it is likely that this and initiatives like Trees for Canada including the Rotary Forest near the Guelph Lake and efforts of groups like GUFF and the Plant an Old Growth Forest Project are swinging the pendulum the other way.

Historic Trees in the Guelph area – Part 2

Go to Part One

So according to the biologists who like to categorize broad ecosystems or biomes, Guelph is just in the Mixed Deciduous/Coniferous Association of the Deciduous Forest Zone. OK. But what do other sources tell us? I’ve begun gathering references from various sources.

My first source was:
Thompson, Robert. April 21, 1877. A Brief Sketch of the Early History of Guelph (by A First Year’s Settler). Mercury Steam Printing House, MacDonnell St., Guelph.

  • Description of the maple Galt and crew cut down to found Guelph on page 2:
  • “large bird’s eye or sugar maple, about two feet in diameter”

  • A Description of the firing of a ‘wooden cannon’, presumably made in Guelph, and then of the food at festivities after the first year on page 3:
  • “These were made of beech and maple logs about two feet in length and one-foot in diameter, with a two-inch bore, and bound with three strong iron bands, generally bursting after the first or second shot.”
    “Two pot-ash kettles of potatoes were by this time also ready for serving up, together with plenty of bread, hemlock tea, and whiskey.”

    Another source I found was a government document from 1953 looking at the past and present forest conditions in the Speed River Watershed:
    Department of Planning and Development, Government of Ontario. 1953. Speed Valley Conservation Report 1953. A.H. Richardson, Chief Conservation Engineer, A.S.L. Barnes (B.Sc.F.), Assistant Director and Forestry, R.V. Brittain (B.Sc.F.), Forestry. Toronto.

  • from Introduction to the Forestry Section, page 2:
  • “Mr. J. McDonald, who surveyed the Township of Guelph in 1827, described most of the dry land sites as covered in beech, maple, elm and basswood. Where the survey line of the south-east boundary line of Guelph Township crossed the Speed River at the south boundary of Divisions E and G, the forest cover is described as cedar, black ash, beech, maple, basswood, with large cedar timber and here and there a few large pine. Over the nine miles of this boundary the forests are generally described as beech, maple, elm and basswood stands.”

  • Chapter 3 in the Forestry Section describes Forest cover in 1953 and I quote liberally from this section below from un-numbered photographic plates and from the text (pages 7 through to 17):
  • “A large portion of the woodland area in the Speed Watershed is located in valleys… The tree cover is mostly white cedar and poplar, with smaller proportions of tamarack, balsam fir, white elm, soft maple and black ash.”
    “Type 4. Aspen: Aspen is a pioneer species which often follows clear-cutting, fire, or overgrazing. It is distributed throughout the meltwater channels and on the moraine it forms 25 per cent of the woodland in the watershed.”
    “Type 24. White Cedar: Cedar is the most abundant cover type on the watershed, comprising 26 per cent of the woodland area. It occurs on wet to swampy sites in the valleys and low areas and also to some extent on dry sites on the slopes of the moraine…. A total of 9,034 acres or 25.9 per cent was mapped. Although most of this type was mapped as pure white cedar, tamarack, yellow birch, paper birch, black ash, red maple, white elm, white pine and hemlock appear as associates.”
    “Type 57. Beech – Sugar Maple. This is regarded as the typical association of the climax with red maple, red oak, hemlock, white elm, basswood, shagbark hickory and black cherry. This type was undoubtedly the most extensive of any in the Speed Watershed but, because it occupies the more fertile land, its area has been further depleted… Originally most of the upland areas of the Speed Watershed were covered with beech-sugar maple. Much of it has been cleared for agriculture until now it comprises only 5.8 per cent of the remaining woodland.”

    This document also boasts a map which shows the entire Speed Watershed area. I’ve pinpointed my particular area of interest on it and there may be some mistake as it labels the forest cover there (immediately adjacent to the Speed River where Marden Creek runs into it) as being White Elm. It is possible that Elm existed there at one time and was, since, eradicated by Dutch Elm disease as it can grow in swampy areas but its preferred habitat in my experience is on drier land. But the best evidence of the mistake is that there are certainly many large cedars there now that must have been there in 1953.

    So I’m getting a better picture of what was likely the forest cover. To summarize: Sugar Maple, Beech, Basswood and Elm with associates (including Hemlock) on dry uplands and Cedar and Black Ash in the wetter areas. But I still have more material to go through.

    To be continued

    Historic Trees in the Guelph area – Part 1

    A common wish for many amateur and professional historians is to take that special trip back in time to see what was with their own eyes. But when they alight back in reality they have to do what everyone else does: find source material. That means slogging through records and books and microfilm/fiche and, if you’re not going back too far, interviewing those who were there. But everybody has a different version of the facts and that can make it difficult to pin anything down.

    I’m researching the types of trees that grew in the Guelph area before colonization by Europeans. The City of Guelph dates back to April 23rd, 1827 when John Galt, Tiger Dunlop, Charles Pryor and several woodsmen chopped down the famous sugar maple in the rain. The site was beside the Speed River just upriver from where the tributary Eramosa River joins it. Of course, being the confluence of two rivers that flow year round, the future location of Guelph would likely have hosted many before the maple was cut down. Among surveyors, explorers, missionaries and millennia of native peoples, there had to have been a great deal of impact by humankind on the forestkind of Guelph. But forests, through most of human history, have been tough to completely eradicate. Then, in the last 200 years, we invented technologies and have really tried our leveling best. And that did the trick and to a nearly self-destructive degree. So here I am, on the midst of the end of that insanity wondering what it was that we lost.

    Guelph is in the Deciduous Forest Region but within that it is close to the border (probably a little north of it) of the two northernmost associations: the Maple-Beech and the Hemlock-White Pine-Northern Hardwoods. The latter zone is considered by many to be a transition between the conifers of the Boreal Region to the north and the Deciduous Region.

    Maple-Beech Association


    • Sugar Maple – Acer saccharum
    • American Beech – Fagus grandifolia
    • Other species (varied in numbers depending on location)

    • American Basswood – Tilia americana
    • Ashes - Fraxinus spp.
    • Red Maple – Acer rubrum
    • Elms – Ulmus spp. (prior to the disease, of course)
    • Oaks – Quercus spp.
    • Hickories – Carya spp.

    Hemlock-White Pine-Northern Hardwoods Association

      Deciduous Stand Dominants

    • Sugar Maple – Acer saccharum
    • American Beech – Fagus grandifolia
    • American Basswood – Tilia americana
    • Paper Birch – Betula papyrifera
    • Yellow Birch – Betula lutea
    • Trembling Aspen – Populus tremuloides
    • Coniferous Stand Dominants on Dry Sites

    • White Pine – Pinus strobus
    • Red Pine – Pinus resinosa
    • Jack Pine – Pinus banksiana
    • Red Spruce Picea rubens
    • Mixed Stand Dominants

    • The Deciduous Stand Dominants above plus
    • White Pine – Pinus strobus
    • Eastern Hemlock – Tsuga canadensis
    • Other species (varied in numbers depending on location)

    • White Spruce – Picea glauca
    • Black Spruce – Picea mariana
    • Tamarack – Larix laricina
    • Eastern White Cedar – Thuja occidentalis

    My sources:

    1. Vankat, J. L. 1979. The Natural Vegetation of North America. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 261 pp.
    2. BioImages Website
    3. Wikipedia:

    4. Biomes
    5. Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests

    Continued in Part Two

    The proud father

    I was very proud of my daughter as I watched her perform tonight as a member of the chorus in The Mikado being put on by Royal City Musical Productions. I’ve always loved the word play and music of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and this one is a favourite. Em did particularly well in the intricate dancing and singing involved. This is quite difficult on a small stage (Co-operator’s Hall, The River Run) and under the hot lights with a constrictive kimono, huge makeup and heavy hair.
    But the music. It’s so great. This wasn’t the best technical performance of this musical I’ve seen but it was so delightful to see my daughter perform in it made it all shine for me. My wife and I were very happy and gladly participated in the standing ovation.