Accessibility Tools

No module Published on Offcanvas position

Recorded Histories

First hand accounts of people involved in Ontario's forest history

What I learned on a forest history tour in Norfolk County by Jim Farrell

The smoke cleared; the weather cooperated; and, the bugs stayed scarce was a perfect day for a tour of the St Williams/Turkey Point area of Norfolk County.

With some 35 registrants and the competent leadership of Board member and local historian, Terry Schwan, the participants were treated to a guided tour of some very special local forest features. The group was very fortunate to have on hand experts like: Audrey Heagy, Project Coordinator of St Williams Conservation Community Council;  Adam Biddle, Supervisor, Forestry, Parks Operations Division, Norfolk County; Dolph Wynia, St Williams Forestry Station 1983-1990, FHO Board member and published historian; and,  Elizabeth Arango-Ruda, PhD student at McMaster University.

Terry provided a very detailed 23 pages tour guide complete with histories, pictures, diagrams, references and biographies which made for very helpful pre-reading as well valuable guidance throughout the tour. The entire document will be available in the fall and spring issues of Forestory.... watch for it. 

The route below offers an aerial view of the path followed and its remarkable to think how much history has passed in such a small area.


The St Williams Forest Station was established in 1908   to grow seedlings for reforestation and stop the encroaching blow sands on lands originally cleared for agriculture but quickly found unsuitable. The forest nursery went on to grow a huge diversity of species for southern Ontario and the area was to a great extent a testing ground for developing Ontario’s forest management chops. This effort had many involved in those early years but a pivotal role was played by Edmund J. Zavitz who shortly after became Ontario’s first Chief Forester in 1912. The picture below offers some idea of what much of the area looked like before the tree planting began.


This region, in general, originally supported a magnificent southern hardwood forest, unique in Canada which has since almost entirely made way for agriculture. This forest was composed of maple, elm, beech, oak, chestnut and hickory; with butternut, walnut, tulip magnolia, hackberry, sassafras, black gum, coffee tree, etc. as secondary species. Some of these species were evident on the tour however, nowhere near the abundance of those earlier years and in some cases (eg: chestnut) not at all.


Within 10 years of establishing St Williams, the infrastructure development was well advanced with the impressive looking building in the middle left being the nursery Superintendents house, the first one being Frank Newman who graduated from the University of Toronto in 1913, becoming the first Station permanent employee and superintendent the same year.


The group also got to see and receive very detailed descriptions of other local sights including: Backus Woods (now owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada); Turkey Point Provincial Park; Turkey Point forests and the remarkable, Turkey Point Picetum, containing 23 different species of spruce from all over the world. 

It was a very educational and social day with lots of exchanges among participants and wonderful stories and recollections. The next tour is being planned for the Grey/Bruce area of Ontario in mid-October. 


The tour would not have been possible without the very generous support of Norfolk County for which the FHO is very grateful.


Tour Agenda..June 9th, 2023


9:15     Meet at Turkey Point parking area.

9:30     Travel to Nursery Tract

9:45     Nursery Tract Headquarters and first plantations

·         Short talks about Zavitz and Newman and the forest types

·         Bus over to Pump house, Pond, dam and picnic area.

·         Bus around to Forestry Farm Road and around on Concession Road 6 and back on Forestry Farm Road with commentary at selected locations.

11:00   Backus Woods 4th Concession Road from County Road 59

12:30   Turkey Point Provincial Park Lunch at picnic shelter

  • J. H. White plaque and Arboretum
  • Presentation by on Turkey Point Provincial Park by Jeff Pickersgill, Park Superintendent and tour of some park features.

14:00   Turkey Point Tract

  • Picetum
  • Variable Density trial.
  • Black oak woodlands restoration. Walk in to area of black oak and on to the tower
  • Carbon flux tower.

15:30   Back to Parking




a plaque at the site of the St Williams Forestry Station


lunch  held at Turkey Point Provincial Park picnic shelter (the brief rain was timed perfectly to fall during lunch)


ffice at the forestry station designed and built in the style of the American Parks system originally built in 1930 (added to later) and Terry in the foreground presenting

st williams 2

Reese Forestry Family dynasty with 3 generations…Matthew (OMNR draft prospect?) , Kevin (RPF) and Ken (retired OMNR planting stock specialist) and Terry Schwan on the right

Note: all oral history files are copyrighted and cannot be copied or used without permission of Forest History Ontario and the Interviewee.