I had the opportunity this past weekend to visit two some familiar and some new places in northern Ontario. My destination was Earlton, Ontario, in the little clay belt agricultural area of northeastern Ontario.
The drive was quite enjoyable. I traveled east on Hwy 17, which was familiar territory until I headed north to take a bit of a shortcut to Hwy 11. The trip north on Hwy 11 takes one through an ancient mountain range featuring hills up to several hundred feet high interspersed with lakes and wetlands in the flat valleys. We have similar country in Algoma, but I had not driven through boreal mixed wood before. I’ve studied it, but I had not seen it first-hand. I didn’t take the opportunity to get out and hike around since I was on a time budget but it was still nice to see in-person what I had previously only seen in pictures and text. (I did see a moose on the trip, but that was actually down on Hwy 17.)
Eventually, the road dropped down out of the hills onto a wide plain, which is the little clay belt. I had not seen that area before.
It’s a bit farther north than I would have thought of as prime location for row crop agriculture. But the fertile soils and abundant moisture, and the long days, along with clever use of engineering, make for a rich agricultural area. It’s an impressive place. I can imagine a strong sense of place among the residents. The farms raise soybeans, wheat, corn, forage, oil crops, diary and more. The farmers are looking into dedicated energy crops (which was the reason for my visit).
Along the way, I passed through Sudbury. I’ve been to Sudbury several times and always enjoyed my visits. And each time I’ve come away wanting to think that we learned the right lesson from Sudbury. I’d like to think we’ve learned that it is possible to generate goods for some places without turning other places into an ecological disaster area, but that to do so takes a lot of work.
It’s not too difficult, especially in leaf-off season, to imagine the Sudbury area as it was a few decades ago (except it was probably worse than one would visualize.) Since the installation of the pollution management systems, the ecosystems around Sudbury are recovering, albeit slowly. Meanwhile, the mines continue to provide valuable resources and support the local economy. They didn’t need to be shut down. Nor did the installation of the pollution management technologies put the mines out of business. So I’d like to think people can be clever enough to extract resources without ruining a place. Too bad it had to be learned the hard way at Sudbury and too many other places.
Some despoiled places can be restored when there is the will and suitable technology to do so. That will and successful effort then becomes part of the sense of that place.
Sidebar – Another ecologically spoiled place:
Not too far west of Sault Sainte Marie is a natural memorial to ecological ruin – the Kingston Plains. The stump fields of the Kingston Plains are areas that have not recovered from cut and run harvesting and resultant fires of the big pine logging in the early 1900s. The landscape is dominated by a dense collection of large, 100 year-old white pine stumps in open fields. With enough work, all of the stump barrens might be able to be restored to forest (some has been successfully restored). But should part of that ecosystem be left as-is, as a strong example of a lesson that needs to be continually learned? Unlike the prior conditions at Sudbury, there is a plant ecosystem now in place in the stump barrens. It’s just that it’s not forest; it’s reindeer lichen, grasses and scrub shrub. I don’t think anyone recommended leaving the part of the ground bare around Sudbury as a testament to prior ecological damage. But in the case of the Kingston plains, due to the effort and expense that would be required to restore all of the stump barrens, it’s OK to leave some of it as-is. Some wildlife species prefer the open ground anyway. (I don’t think any wildlife species preferred the former barren hillsides of the Sudbury area). Another advantage of leaving at least part of the Kingston Plains as-is would be to study and learn other lessons from the very slow natural recovery.