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A very personal history of the Holland Marsh

A new history of the Holland Marsh Drainage Scheme, available in time for Christmas
Art Janse with his publication, Documentation and History of the Holland Marsh Drainage Scheme, at a recent meeting on the Main Drain. Miriam King/Bradford Today

When Art Janse, former municipal politician, Drainage Commissioner and consultant on the Holland Marsh, decided to write a history of the marsh drainage scheme, his first edition was nearly 300 pages long, chockful of colour illustrations, and came with a hefty price tag.

Janse has now revised his Documentation and History of the Holland Marsh Drainage Scheme – cutting approximately 100 pages of material, and bringing the cost down to a manageable $65 for the colour version, $32 for a black-and-white copy.

The book is indispensable to anyone interested in the development of the Holland Marsh Drainage Scheme. Janse brings insights and recollections from 28 years as Drainage Superintendent/Commissioner for the Holland Marsh, and another four years of experience as consultant to the Drainage Engineer, and delves deep into the historical records.

Those records include council minutes, from West Gwillimbury and King Townships, and the town of Bradford, legislation, petitions – and a whole collection of never-before-seen photographs.

The result is a fascinating look at the origins and history of Canada’s Vegetable Basket, with all of the battles, in the courts and before the drainage referee, the costs, and the challenges involved in transforming the “great swamp” into arable land – and preserving it from flooding.

Topics include the impact of Hurricane Hazel, a fascinating experiment to use dynamite as an alternative to dredging (which failed), the wide range of reports left to “collect dust on the shelf,” and the increasing death toll, as vehicles slid into the canals.

The language isn’t polished, but the memoire and the information – from technical details of drainage operations to the various lawsuits launched over the years – is fascinating.

One interesting point: the book details efforts to clean out the old river bed, using draglines and clamshell dredging, in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The condition of the old river bed – the original Schomberg/West Holland River, now known as the Main Drain in the drainage scheme – is once again under review, by the Holland Marsh Drainage Scheme Joint Municipal Services Board.  

They should read this book.

Copies are available from Janse himself, 905-853-2006 or [email protected].

Miriam King

About the Author: Miriam King

Miriam King is a journalist and photographer with Bradford Today, covering news and events in Bradford West Gwillimbury and Innisfil.
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