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Heritage of the Township
Leggett's Hill - A Legacy from the Ice Age

by Doug Bond

Leggett's Hill
Leggett's Hill
Every bend in a road has a story to tell. The bend at Crosby has many stories; of a bustling flea market on summer Saturdays; of a drive-in theatre that once featured "Ma and Pa Kettle" and "Carousel"; of Leeds China Painters and their fine artistry. Much can be learned from the land and the lives of this place once called Singleton's Corners; of the natural history of Sucker Creek that wends along a broad spillway once flooded by Ice Age melt water; of the human history of the clearing and cropping of fields that recently hosted a highly successful International Plowing Match; of a verdant maple bush that regularly produces medallion syrup; of winter mornings on a school bus spinning its wheels up the icy Crosby Road and of husky lads, students of physics and vectors who volunteered to push. And push we did, sideways into the ditch on Leggett's Hill.

Yes, Joan. Leggett's Hill is a fine example of a drumlin! It took form beneath the Laurentide Ice Sheet during the most recent Ice Age. The most recent, you may ask? Well, there have been several great advances and meltings of continental ice sheets over the past couple million years, a phase of geological time called the Pleistocene Epoch. Back when I wasn't pushing school buses into the ditch, I learned of four great continental glaciations here in North America. Early in Pleistocene time the Nebraskan glaciation bulldozed rocks of all sizes and kinds from the north as far south as Nebraska. Then came the Kansan, the Illinoisian and most recently the Wisconsin Ice Age. Between these spells of glacial ice were phases of warmer climate. Forests and grasslands nurtured rich soils and varied wildlife across the north. These interglacial phases were times and climes much like our present. Now some students of the Pleistocene suggest that there have been as many as ten great cycles of ice spawned from highland sources in northern Quebec, Keewatin and the Western Mountains. You can still see remnants of the most recent Age of Ice when you sail the Alaska Passages, drive the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper or fly over the High Arctic. But do it soon. It's fast disappearing!

Pleistocene landscapes of Northern Europe tell of a similar tempo. A range of hills called The Downs north of London, England mark the extent of the Wurm glaciation in Europe just as stony hills called moraines across the state of Wisconsin tell of the extent of the Wisconsin Ice Age here. South of the Equator, the high Andes of South America nurtured in harmony great mountain glaciers that now have largely melted away. Eucalypts (snow gums) thrive on the glaciated highlands of Australia's Snowy Mountains. In Africa, the "Snows of Kilimanjaro" oozed and ebbed, again and again. At lower elevations equatorial forests and deserts, tropical grasslands and alpine meadows came and went with the pendulum of time. The Great Rift Valley frequently shook with earthquakes. Very active volcanoes regularly made ashes of themselves. For our ancient ancestors the Pleistocene environ in eastern Africa was not a tranquil Garden of Eden. It was an anvil for evolution, a place to adapt or die, to go bipedal, to walk upright, to run on two feet; to make and tote tools with two hands, to make love and progeny face-to-face, senses to sensuality, to cross millennia and continents, to make cloak from fur and fiber, to make allies with fire and wolves, to domesticate yams and yaks, apples and alpacas.

Once upon a time, continental glaciers were the greatest of all movers of rocky material on our blue-green and variably white planet. A glacier carries with it enormous volumes of boulders, gravels, sands, even meteorites so lucky as to hit snow and ice. Mountain glaciers and continental ice sheets are not choosey of what they move; boulders as big as your house, microscopic clays and all sizes between. But in our interglacial time, you and I, Tackaberry and Sons and the rest of humanity now lead the pack as movers on our planet. We build cities, mine ores, deforest mountainsides and erode farmland. Until the next Ice Age? Will the next Laurentide Ice Sheet bring rusty hydro generators, hulks of SUV's and Shield boulders from central Quebec?

From global to local, it is hard to imagine any landform in Leeds that has not been sculpted or molded to some degree by ice sheets, by the weight of two or more kilometers of moving ice, by their meltings. As part of this motion picture of land in time, Leggett's Hill is one of a field of at least eight drumlins in the Forfar Swarm. From the air, drumlins look like bees on a honey comb. The Peterborough Swarm has about 5 000 drumlins. They are familiar features to Swedes and Finns. Folks in northern Britain call them whalebacks because drumlins look like whales swimming at the surface.

From boulders to clay, the tiny stuff seems to give glaciers the most challenge to move. Clay platelets stick together. Just try getting wet clay off your boots. At the centers of most drumlins are cores of clay, possibly bulldozed from lake beds that pre-dated the Ice Age. It seems the ice sheet pushed and streamlined giant wads of clay into teardrop shapes, possibly with the help of some hydraulic action by water along its sole. These tear-shaped cores of clay always have their steep ends toward the direction from which the ice sheet came. All the drumlins of the Forfar Swarm have their steep ends toward the north-east, their tapered ends to the south-west.

The most recent ice sheet stagnated, thinned and melted away from Rideau country about 10 millennia ago. Over the drumlin cores it left a thick veneer of bouldery gravel. As you drive over Youngs Hill on your way to Forfar, you can see part of the clay core of this drumlin. Some of its gravelly veneer was excavated in the 1950s to rebuild a section of Highway #15. But when Hanna Construction dug into gooey clay, they had to look elsewhere for road-building gravel. Youngs Hill is the biggest bee of the Forfar Swarm. As with many drumlins, it has a smaller twin that nurtures the Croskery woodlot. There a wide range of broad-leafed trees thrive on its stony, mineral-rich and well-drained soil, especially sugar maples. Its pathways provided wonderful excursions for visitors during the International Plowing Match.

After stopping at Forfar Dairy or Bakers, head south along Highway #42. Turn right onto Lockwood Lane and drive up the blunt head of another local whaleback. As you drive along its crest, you can see several other local drumlins. To your left (south), one hill supports a farmstead - high and dry. Another is home to a deciduous forest. Look for the Gordon mailbox and farmstead on a third. To your right (north), you can see the Welch drumlin, cleared for pasture and with a small gravel pit dug down to its clay core.

Or travel Highway #15. Beside the Crosby Cemetery turn onto Crosby Road. Cross the bridge over Sucker Creek and travel along the northerly flank of Leggett's drumlin. Cleared of its original forest you may now see cattle grazing on pasture peppered with erratics. Not erotics! Erratics are hard and rounded boulders that were carried south from the Canadian Shield by the ice sheet. They dot the countryside here in Rideau country. With much sweat and probably some swearing, generations of farmers have moved numerous erratics from field to fence lines and rock piles. The baneful can become beautiful. With a few swings of the sledge, erratics can be split into colourful and varied fieldstones to mason into fireplaces and "des maisons Canadiennes". On the southern flank of the Leggett whaleback a bountiful apple orchard once thrived; sheltered from cold north winds by the whale's back. In simple theory, each degree of slope toward south and sun was akin to moving the Leggett orchard a degree of latitude southward toward to Pennsylvania.

Yes, every bend in the road has its story to tell. In the case of Crosby there are many stories, of past Ice Ages, of recent pioneers. But keep both hands on the wheel, both eyes on the road. The Crosby intersection also has narrative of tragedy. So park your car and ask about that eternal light that glows night and day, summer and winter in the cemetery. What is the legend behind the cemetery bell? What fish tales have been spawned from the bridge over Sucker Creek on Crosby Road? Who tends the beautiful flowers that decorate this bridge each summer? What story might be told by the two rough ashlars of sandstone that sentinel the Leggett laneway? Who built the fine century homestead to face the rising sun? What is the story behind the rare quadrangle barnstead. Yes, stories abound around Crosby's corner. "Experiences to be Remembered".

Geology/Natural History tours are sponsored annually by the Bastard and S. Burgess Heritage Society on the third Sunday afternoon of September (subject to weather) when we look at some of the sites of significance in our local and very rich natural history.

For more information contact Doug Bond

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