Standing Stoned

Naom-Ghrian has passed through
the Spring door,
what remains of it,
five thousand and ninety-three times
as I linger here
tied to my belief in stone.

Much of that time was quiet
and in peace
with none coming to the forgotten
Hanging Clach
but lately
they come to the remains
strangely garbed
and with stranger ideas.

Many defile the Spring rite.

I absorb moments of their odd lives
and am shocked that they think
we were druidic
or archers
and other things
from places that didn’t exist
when I breathed–
but I keep my secrets to myself
and watch the years
waiting for the rock
finally wear down
and release me.


Canadian Railroad Travesty

I’ve enjoyed the “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” by Gordon Lightfoot during much of my life. It spoke to me in many ways about my youth and that of our vast country. About the great effort it took to unify a land that not only necessitated the invention of time zones but actually has six of them. I worked in the woods for three plus summers and can attest to the hard work that takes. Still, now that I’m older and possibly wiser, I find myself thinking of these lyrics in different ways. But before I start in on that I want it to be clear that I am a Lightfoot fan: though it took me weeks and I never did it well I learned “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” on a guitar with a green arborite top as a youth (the guitar worked well as a cheese cutter though). And I think that songs such as “Sundown”, “Carefree Highway”, “Rainy Day People” and “If You Could Read My Mind” are some of the best songs written anywhere and anywhen.

So background. Well you can read that for yourself but it seems that the song itself was commissioned for a CBC “special broadcast on January 1, 1967, to start Canada’s Centennial year”. Interesting: I’ll get back to that. So, I’ll quote from the lyrics below but they’re easy to find on the net if you to look at them yourself.

I would object that the mountains or dark forests were alone or too silent long before the white man or the wheel. Was the wheel tossed in there as a nod to our aboriginal brothers and sisters? There is evidence that they also invented the wheel around 1500 BC on these two continents so I don’t get it. What does ‘too silent to be real’ mean anyhow? A beautiful and useful idea to paint with words but that has nothing to do with what’s real. It’s so anthropomorphic to think of forests, or mountains for that matter, not to have sound just because no human or ‘white’ human is there. Until ‘they’ came to this verdant country. Back to knocking Canada’s aboriginal heritage. And verdant? That really means ‘green grass’: sounds more like modern day Ireland to me.

What about time having no beginnings? It has tons of beginnings. And middles and ends. All that, like history having no bounds, is all purely a matter of context.

Gord goes on to say ‘they built the mines the mills and the factories for the good of us all’. I don’t buy that. ‘They’ built those for their own European economic self interest and certainly not for us all. Ask those who had to work in those mills about how good they were to work in. The ‘young growin’ land’ is all about colonization once again.

I agree with the part about ‘tear up the trails open ‘er heart let the life blood flow’. That’s a fitting way to talk about the colonial western European impact on North America nature. Of course, if it hadn’t been done then I wouldn’t be here, or most of me anyhow; the way I figure it I’m 12.5% native. That’s approximately my head and one of my legs. The rest is, I tink, français, eh?

Anyway. I still like the song: I just don’t think it represents Canada very well. Maybe that’s why it was a centennial thing which is also a colonial thing. So perhaps it should be the Colonial Railroad Trilogy instead. Remember where the word ‘Canada’ came from. The Huron-Iroquois ‘kanata’ which was supposed to mean ‘village’ or ‘settlement’ was first introduced to the white man in 1535 by the two Aboriginal youths talking to French explorer Jacques Cartier. To them it meant the village of Stadacona where the City of Québec now stands. In my opinion, Bruce Cockburn’s “Stolen Land” is a more realistic representation of our country’s history though they both share very catchy tunes.

Up on the Heights

I walk in other steps
along the top
of the cliff
above the Niagara River
my wife at my side

Isaac Brock and Thomas Moore
strolled on the McFarland farm
long ago now
but before turning hero
and famed poet.

These are gentler times
now, with
overpriced food,
and buses loaded with them
from one wine tasting to another.

We walk
look at the trees
and try to imagine
what it was like
before we have to get back
to reality.

The Professor’s Daughter

The Professor’s Daughter published in 1997 by First Second (New York, NY) was drawn by Emmanuel Guibert and written by Joann Sfar. I didn’t find it delighted me as much as Gene Luen Yang’s books from the same publisher. This is a more whimsical topic, of course, and I did enjoy the drawings and water colouring. But I found the story too disjointed: it hopped from point to point with little to connect it or to motivate the reader to care about the urbane protagonists Imhotep IV and Lillian Bowell. Even the very beginning was rushed into from my perspective as reader.
Although very pretty I find this work too frustrating to recommend to anyone but those who appreciate comic drawing and don’t overly care for story.

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

    Sainte Marie among the Wendat

    I’ve been to the Sainte-Marie among the Hurons historical site three times (once in the seventies as a child, 2 years ago and this past week) and enjoyed it very much each time. What was a fun family trip when I was a kid has become more to me as an adult as more is understood about this 10-year period of history. The Historical Interpreters at the site do an excellent job of showing the complex differences between the traditional and Christian Wendat (the natives who lived in the area), the well-meaning Blackrobes (Jesuit Missionaries) and the lay people who volunteered to help them.
    On this last trip I was especially impressed by one of the Interpreters named Brian. He sat down in the Christian Wendat Longhouse and explained the complex position of the Wendat in the 17th century. Through a series of trading alliances, they were a powerful native people. Disease, starvation and the attacks upon them by the Iroquois in the winter of 1648-49 caused a dispersal of the Wendat south to Sioux country and east to Quebec.
    I wonder if the Jesuit attempts to Christianize the natives led to the Wendat decimation and disperal. I don’t know. Certainly the existence of a fortified Sainte-Marie symbolizing a union with the French and the Wendat must have been threatening to their enemies. Certainly diseases brought by the white man weakened them.
    What the Iroquois and their confederacy did was brutal from our comfortable 21st century perspective but they were reacting not only to the encroaching Europeans but also to the fact that they were surrounded by hostile native peoples as well. From their perspective they needed to defeat the enemies at their backs before they could provide a unified front and bargain politically with the technologically advanced French, English and Dutch. The Iroquois were virtually alone in that part of North America in their desire to retain their own culture instead of being changed by the European tide. It is certainly arguable that the Iroquois way allowed them to survive better than did the Wendat and many other native nations.
    I’ve certainly been inspired to do some more reading on the topic. I’ve put some Bruce Trigger and other books on hold at the library.
    I would like to attend the First Light event in early December too.