• Protecting Water and Farmland in Simcoe County

E.C. Drury praised Beeton for safeguarding water through “judicious reforestation”

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In Agencies
Mar 3rd, 2015
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Drury on Angus Plains 1906
Drury on Angus Plains in 1906 -Photo by E.J. Zavitz
Drury on Angus Plains in 1906 – Photo by E.J. Zavitz

Forest bylaws like Simcoe’s normally protect large-sized forests

By John Bacher AWARE News Network
Today a 35 acre forest in Beeton is threatened to be removed for agricultural conversion through a “special permit” to the Simcoe County forest protection by-law. This by-law normally protects such large-sized forests from clear cutting. 
In defending the Beeton forest, it is important to know how tree by-laws, which protect the community’s forests came about. They are a legacy of efforts to protect Simcoe County from the spreading sands of desertification, which were set in motion by the removal of forests.
In 1905 a visionary forester, Edmund Zavitz, cycled from Guelph to the Crown Hill farm of Ernest Drury, north of Barrie. Drury, who was then  a prominent leader in Ontario’s farming community, went out with Zavitz to tour the spreading deserts  of Simcoe County. In a horse and buggy the two toured the sand dunes and devised a plan to roll them back by planting trees.
Drury in 1919 became Premier and embarked on a reforestation program. While many new forests were created, the removal of existing ones meant that deserts continued to advance and flooding intensified. The result was the massive Thames Flood of 1937, which innudated a fifth of London, Ontario, making thousands homeless.
To campaign  for laws to prevent clear cutting on private lands, the Ontario Conservation and Reforestation Association (OCRA)  was formed. It was launched at a banquet by E.C. Drury in Barrie.
Drury spoke like a thundering prophet at the OCRA’s founding in 1937. He used Biblical examples of the travails of the Israelites in the wilderness to describe the devastation of the dust bowls of the depression. He observed how, “In our own time, the Grand and the Thames Rivers, through no-other reason than the over-clearing  of their watersheds, have become streams  that instead of being as they were at first, an inestimable benefit to the communities along their course, have become serious menaces, at one time being the source of destructive floods, at another time having so little water that they become polluted and stagnant.”
He warned that there was a danger of Simcoe County being buried by the spread of “Saharas on a small scale.”
During his cry of danger, Drury did cite one positive example of reforestation in Simcoe County, which he praised for protecting water. He found that, “In our own County, the Village of Beeton has increased its water supply by a bit of judicious reforestation.”
The OCRA’s campaigns succeeded since in 1946 the province brought in new legislation  called the Trees Act. This for the first time empowered municipalities to adopt by-laws to protect forests on private lands from clear cutting. Such by-laws are the same which are being  negated through the “special permit.”
It is important that the lessons of the past to protect forests are not forgotten. The way that Drury’s legacy is at peril is well illustrated by how I came to see a large photograph in his honour in the Simcoe County Courthouse. The caption below it has no mention of his role in protecting forests. I viewed it while attending a trial of Danny Beaton (Mohawk Six Nations), for defending the world’s purest water from a garbage dump. He had been imprisoned four days earlier, after refusing bail conditions, after asking “Who will speak for the water?”
Today, we must sadly ask, Who will speak for the forest, which protects the water?
John Bacher is a historian and author of Two Billion Trees and County: The Legacy of Edmund Zavitz, Dundurn Press, 2011. See pp. 129, 178, 179.

2 Responses to “E.C. Drury praised Beeton for safeguarding water through “judicious reforestation””

  1. Ann says:

    Developers have no regard for anything..just the bottom line!

    But it’s County staff and council who have failed to protect this valuable resource, because their main focus now is unrelenting mass development that will destroy our beautiful county as we know it!

  2. John Bacher says:

    It is a disgrace today that the landscape of southern Ontario, reforested through such heroic efforts by Edmund Zavitz and Ernest Drury is at risk today from schemes such as mowing them now for cash cropping. I hope we take to heart Danny’s Beaton’s words on his way to prison, and speak out for the forests that protect our water.

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