Like a Chinese painting, the vista from Young's Hill near Forfar reveals remarkable landscapes through its background, middle ground and foreground. From this vantage point during leafless times of autumn and spring, you can see to the right (north) the sparkling blue water of Murphy Bay on the Big Rideau and Newboro Lake to the left (south-west). But even more, this vista tells of a billion years of geological events, tens of thousands of years of Ice Ages, millennia of Native home and centuries of European habitat. Young's Hill provides a vista in both space and time.
Look along the horizon to the notch or gap just above Chantland's machinery barn in the foreground. There on a day when clear sky meets earth, you can see the spire of St. Edward's Church in Westport. To the right of the Westport gap is the skyline of Westport Mountain. This is just one of several local plutons of pink granite formed a billion years ago deep within the volcanic roots of the ancient Grenville Mountains. Only beneath kilometers of mountains could Mother Nature's “shake and bake” form the vast array of minerals we can now find in the Canadian Shield beyond Westport; a greater diversity of minerals than just about anywhere else on our planet. Mica, apatite, iron and others were once mined. Sorry, no diamonds. A little gold though!
Follow the horizon to the right and it follows the Rideau Lakes Fault. No worries! Unlike the fault line under San Francisco, the Rideau Fault is inactive, we think. But it does define the cliffed north shores of the Rideau as well as Westport Sand Lake and Wolfe Lake. This is the leading edge of the great Canadian or Laurentian Shield, ancient core and anchor of our continent. The Shield defines landscape and life beyond Westport northward beyond Hudson Bay, even to the Arctic.
Follow the horizon to the left of Westport and you see the Frontenac Axis, a branch of the Canadian Shield. There you can explore the rugged landscape and beautiful lakes of the Axis at places Chaffey's, Jones Falls, Morton, Lyndhurst and Gananoque. Or you can cruise among its Thousand Islands, the “Garden of the Great Spirit” to our First Nations. This extension of the Canadian Shield reaches into the United States as the Adirondack Mountains. Lake Placid, New York and Westport, Ontario have had a “rocky relationship” for one-quarter of our planet's history. As with the Shield beyond Westport, the Frontenac Axis landscape proved a nightmare for those poor families who tried to eke a living from its shallow stony soils a mere century or two ago. Now, UNESCO has deemed both the Rideau Canal and the Thousand Islands worthy of world recognition. The Frontenac Arch, like the Rideau Corridor manifests amazing environments of diversity, scenery and heritage.
2008 Excursion at the Crest of Young's Hill photo by: Dave Ferreira
The middle of this vista from Young's Hill tells of times when seas advanced and ebbed along the ever-changing coasts of our continent. New and distant mountains like the Appalachians and the Rockies were heaved up as North America grew toward its present shape. In the middle ground of this scene you see fertile fields and the forests and farms beyond. They rest on the flatter and younger rock of the St. Lawrence Lowlands. Here layers of fine silica sands were shaped by wave and wind into beaches and dunes along the shores of Paleozoic seas, then hardened into fine Nepean sandstone through 500 million years of geological time. Just a second ago in geological time, strata of this same pure sandstone were shaped in the 1800's A.D. by the builders of the Rideau Canal into ashlars for locks and dams at Jones Falls, Davis, Chaffey's and Newboro. Fine farm houses of stone were masoned from this beautiful legacy from Cambrian times. You can see these stately homes as you travel the “Stone Road” (Hwy. #42), “Mast Road” (County Rd. #12) and elsewhere in the Township of Rideau Lakes, part of “An Experience to Remember”.
During the Pleistocene Ice Age of the past million years, great ice sheets grew from polar and high lands, then melted away. The most recent continental glacier bulldozed its way from Labrador and Keewatin as far south as New York City and Wisconsin. Then the Wisconsin Ice Sheet melted back toward its sources between 12 000 to 8 000 years ago. Indeed glaciers around the world are still melting back. Millennia of snow and ice thawed under a warming and/or drying climate. Sediment-laden melt water roared southward. Wide summer floodways and turquoise lakes dotted the freshly exposed countryside. One such floodway poured from what is now Murphy Bay on the Big Rideau into Newboro Lake and beyond. Sands settled to its bed through many turbulent summers. A thin layer of clay settled to its bed under each icy winter. Unlike the salt-water clays left by the Champlain Sea over the lower Ottawa Valley, these stable fresh-water clays chronicled in layers like tree rings the hundreds of years of local melting of the Wisconsin Ice Sheet.
Mosses, grasses and trees slowly made their home on the fresh and drying landscape. Native People came, hunted, gathered and fished the bounty of forests and lakes. European settlers came and cleared. Rich forests became prosperous farmland. Almost 2 centuries ago, some speculated that the floodway you can see before you might serve as a link across the isthmus between the Rideau and the Cataraqui. Instead, Colonel By and his engineers opted to cut a shorter channel where Newboro now stands. There a ridge of ancient Shield granite challenged their design. But for that decision in the 1820's, we might now see yachts and bass boats traversing this floodway by canal and tying up at Crosby. Instead, in September 2007 these fertile fields hosted almost 100 000 visitors to a highly successful International Plowing Match. In other Septembers, its varve clay soil produces bountiful crops of corn, grains and soybeans.
And now, let's look at the foreground. Young's Hill is the largest of a number of local Ice Age landforms called drumlins or whalebacks. Leggett's Hill near Crosby is another. A swarm of several thousand drumlins dot the Peterborough area. Our local drumlins are composed of boulders and gravels that the Wisconsin Ice Sheet gouged from bedrock as far away as central Quebec and Labrador. The continental glacier then dragged and carried southward its burden of rocks of diverse sources and sizes. Hence, Young's Hill is a great place for students, young and old to round out their rock collections. In its mighty mix of rocks big and small, you might find one or two with traces of le cuivre (copper) from Chibougamau or l'or (gold) from Noranda. Beneath the weight and flow of the ice sheet, Young's Hill was given its streamlined whaleback shape over a core of clay. As the ice sheet thawed away, melt-water flushed and sorted its stony veneer and shaped a terrace around its flanks. In the 1950's, some of this stony cover was trucked away to rebuild Highway #15. Young's Hill drumlin provides poor cropland. But the maple trees of Croskery's woodlot love its stony, mineral-rich soil. And the abandoned gravel pit offers Chantland's modern machinery barn some protection from storms.
Background, middle ground, foreground; to the inquiring eye each ‘ground' has its story to tell. Young's Hill near Forfar is just one of a number of places in our “Keystone of the Rideau” where you might marvel at our amazing legacies of rock and landform, of flora and fauna, of culture and heritage; marvels that Alexander Graham Bell's National Geographic deems a must-see “Destination”.
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.