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'Where we are': How European settlement affected Ontario ecology

Paul LaPorte gave a presentation called 'Organizing the Chaos of Nature'

Paul LaPorte was the guest speaker at the Innisfil Garden Club annual general meeting at the Churchill Community Centre on Sunday.

LaPorte is the current chair of the Ontario Native Plant Growers Association. He is the owner of Ephemeral Ark Nursery (specializing in native woodland species) and a consultant on ecological gardening and design.

He works collecting seeds and sharing knowledge with other Ontario native plant growers. He said, “We kind of interconnect to make sure that we're preserving local genetics and really collecting seed from Ontario to grow. We work with Carolinian Canada and World Wildlife Canada on getting more of that availability to the public. It's reaching a very high popularity.”

His background is as a computer animator. He said, “When I moved away from Toronto it became about getting off the computer, so gardening became a thing to do and being the natural world.”

He learned a lot and focused on native plants, becoming the president of North America Native Plant Society for a period. He started presenting on the topic, and “it was really starting to grow in popularity, so the question then became: What is a native plant?"

He said, “It is a very broad subject and a native plant from Michigan is not the same as what we would call it here in Innisfil.”

On Sunday, LaPorte gave a presentation called Organizing the Chaos of Nature. He led the club through a history lesson on the impact of European settlement on Ontario’s ecology during the 19th century. As Europeans began to travel the world, largely led by the market for whale oil, they brought plant species with them either inadvertently, or with the intention to bring the comforts and beauties of home to new European settlements. Humans’ pursuit of energy dovetails with the introduction of new species to new lands.

Whale oil burns clearly and was in big demand at one time for light and heat. It also helped grease machines through the industrial revolution. Chasing whales brought people to discover the wider world.

LaPorte has done hundreds of presentations to various groups. He said, “I don't think people really talk very much today in terms of how we got to where we are. With these discussions the hope is that we can start considering solutions and righting the wrongs. And maybe once again looking at our environment in a way where we're helping to sustain it and taking better care of it.”

The club elected a new executive at the meeting and gave out awards in various categories. The club has 88 adult members and three junior members. Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin attended and thanked the club for contributing over 800 hours of community service in maintaining and planting gardens in the past year.

A long-time member, Nancy Elder, described the group as very social and welcoming. She got involved in the club initially while bringing her mother.

“I really enjoyed the speakers," she said. "As a new gardener I learned a lot about planting and different types of plants. When I retired, I got into doing the entries for the flower show and that motivated me to come to each meeting.”

The club, also known as the Gilford and District Horticultural Society, meets on the second Monday of each month from March to November. Visitors are welcome. Meetings begin at 7:15 p.m. at the Churchill Community Centre (6322 Yonge St.).

Rosaleen Egan is a freelance journalist, storyteller, and playwright. She blogs on her website