The roots of the Simcoe County Forest were celebrated Saturday with a special event at the Simcoe County Museum.
The free community event, which was in commemoration of National Forest Week in Canada, offered visitors a chance to celebrate the history of area forests, enjoy a guided walk through the Museum Tract, along with a range of forestry-themed activities — and free barbecue.
It also included a formal opening of the forestry education area and the unveiling of new interactive displays.
Donna Lacey, a representative with the Canadian Institute of Forestry (CIF), the oldest forestry society in Canada, attended the event, which also served as a culmination of a year of celebrations of the county being named the Forest Capital of Canada for 2022.
The Forest Capital of Canada award has been given out annually to a community or region since 1979, Lacey said, noting the recognition focuses on the valuable role forests play in the socioeconomic and environmental health of communities — past, present and future — while also recognizing and celebrating the rich forest heritage and commitment to sustainable forest-management practices across Canada.
“The CIF was very impressed with the County of Simcoe’s robust and detailed proposal highlighting the rich history of the Simcoe County Forest and the county’s continued commitment to forestry stewardship and conservation,” she said. “Recognizing the tremendous value of Ontario’s largest and oldest municipally managed forest network ... the CIF was pleased to select the County of Simcoe as the 2022 Forest Capital of Canada.”
This designation was especially significant as it marks the second time the county has received it — the first time being in 1982.
“The county was very deserving of this award and we are very inspired by their array of ongoing celebrations and activities throughout the past year showcasing their connectivity to the forest,” Lacey said.
The County of Simcoe was the first jurisdiction in Ontario to enter into the Agreement Forest program in 1922 and has invested in tree planting, management practices and property acquisitions to have what has become the province’s largest municipally owned forest.
The prestigious national award has helped the county recognize this milestone in its history, said Warden George Cornell.
“Established in 1922, Simcoe County Forest is a testament to the foresight of early pioneer foresters, elected officials and residents who saw the potential of this region and acted to not only protect, but also invest in and expand, our green space,” he said. “Now, more than 100 years later, the Simcoe County Forest spans approximately 33,000 acres across more than 150 properties, making it the largest — and one of the most productive — municipal forest networks in Ontario. From recreation to tourism, environmental benefits, economic contributions and educational pursuits to natural habitat, this self-sustaining working forest continues to flourish. Throughout this year, we’ve paid tribute to those who planted the seeds of our forest.”
Craig Drury attended the event with his family. He said they felt “privileged” to be there to witness something his great-grandfather, Ernest Charles Drury — who was premier of Ontario from 1919 to 1923 — had helped set in motion a century ago.
“This was all sand dunes. He recognized, along with the help of some others … and developed the forestry program and started the nursery over here, and that’s when all this started. It wasn’t just in Simcoe County … it was in different spots across the province. What the county did was they took that and just really ran with it.”
The area, explained county forester Graeme Davis, has come a long way in the past century.
“If we were gathered in this spot 100 years ago, we’d be looking at a very different landscape,” he said. “Very few trees, let alone forests, were as far as you could see from this location…. I really want to thank past and current councils for their foresight in investing in our efforts to reforest, and build what we have today, as our county forests. (That) we are 100 years into a municipal program with continued commitment is pretty impressive.”
Seeing how far the initiative has come since his great-grandfather helped set the wheels in motion left Drury a bit emotional.
“For sure, it’s a legacy. There was an idea back then and an initiative, but there were so many people who have kept this going. In our own families, we have some woodlots that we are managing as well … and most of our family still has a part of the county forest that we are managing actively. It’s continual learning, too,” he said. “We keep learning, as the weather and environmental conditions change, it’s just such a dynamic to keep going. It’s been great to be a part of that.”