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Oldest tree plantation in Ontario discovered in Perth County

Terry Schwan, a forestry consultant from Rockwood, Ont., did research into the oldest tree plantation in Ontario and discovered it continues to thrive on a farm south of Stratford.

‘Knowing that this is here is important,’ forestry consultant Terry Schwan says

Forestry experts toured a rediscovered woodlot that is the oldest tree plantation in Ontario. The lot is located on a farm south of Stratford. (Kate Bueckert/CBC News)

A test plot of conifer trees on an eroded hill on a farm in Perth County continues to thrive more than 100 years after it was initially planted.

The woodlot south of Stratford near Harmony is now full of maple, pine, spruce, ash and cherry trees. The property, known as the Monteith farm, was the site of a pilot project and the woodlot was recently rediscovered by forestry consultant Terry Schwan of Rockwood, Ont.
Terry Schwan, a forestry consultant from Rockwood, Ont., rediscovered Ontario's oldest tree plantation on a farm in Perth County. (Kate Bueckert/CBC News)

He determined it is the oldest tree plantation in Ontario with the help of historical records. 

"Knowing that this is here is important," he said during a tour of the woodlot Tuesday. "There aren't too many of these around."

Birthplace of reforestation in province

Schwan said he had done some research into two plantations that were conducted by Edmund Zavitz, who was a researcher at the University of Guelph's Ontario Agricultural College at the time. The first was on property owned by Nelson Monteith in Perth County, the second was near Bowmanville.
When it was planted in 1905, the woodlot was filled with conifer trees grown at the University of Guelph's Ontario Agricultural College. Today, the woodlot is full of many different trees including maple, pine, spruce, ash and cherry. (Kate Bueckert/CBC News)
Zavitz was friends with then premier E.C. Drury and the two convinced John Dryden, the minister of agriculture, to start a tree nursery at the school in 1903. In 1905, Monteith himself became the minister of agriculture and he was keenly interested in the idea of reforestation, so he offered up his property as one of the sites for a test plot. 
The Upper Thames River Conservation Authority says this woodlot was the birthplace of reforestation in the province. (Kate Bueckert/CBC News)

Monteith was instrumental in the development of Upper Thames River Conservation Authority, said John Enright, a forester with the authority.

"This was the birth of reforestation," Enright said, standing in the woodlot with towering trees blocking out the bright blue sky. "One of the first plantings ever in Ontario was actually in our watershed, I think that's pretty neat."

'Sort of in awe'

Alex and Reta McKay own the property, which has been passed down through generations. Monteith was Alex McKay's grandfather.

He said he knew the woodlot had been planted, but did not understand the historical significance until he met Schwan.

For him, he enjoys getting outside and chopping wood.

"I like coming back to the bush," he said.
Alex and Reta McKay own the farm where the woodlot is located. Alex's great-grandfather was the original owner and his grandfather, Nelson Monteith, was a provincial minister of agriculture in 1905. Monteith volunteered his land for the test plot, hoping planting a hillside with trees could help with erosion. (Kate Bueckert/CBC News)

Schwan said when he realized the woodlot was the original plantation, he knocked on the McKays' door and he and Alex took a drive back on the tractor. The woodlot is located on Trout Creek and the Avon Trail skirts around the edge of it.

To anyone else, it looks like any other woodlot in southwestern Ontario.

But Schwan knew different.

"We walked around and looked and admired and [were] sort of in awe. It was unique," he said. 

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