History of the Altona Forest Area
20,000 years ago the last great Canadian ice sheet invaded Southern Ontario. As
the ice sheet retreated, a drumlinized till plain from the Oak Ridges Moraine
south to what is now the Lake Ontario shoreline was formed. The smooth drumlin
hills formed islands in ancient Lake Iroquois.
12,000 years ago, the waters of glacial Lake Iroquois cut a prominent fossil bluff
just north of the Altona Forest, a remnant shoreline of this ancient glacial lake
(1). The Oak Ridges Moraine is the source for a number of rivers which flow south
to Lake Ontario. One of these is Petticoat Creek which runs through a portion
of the west side of Altona Forest. One of Petticoat Creek’s small tributaries
is the Rosebank Tributary which courses along much of the east side of Altona
Forest but is sometimes dry to intermittent for part of the year. The meltwater
from the receding glaciers sorted and stratified the soils around Toronto, including
the Altona Forest area, into layers. These soils are underlain by more dense till
layers at an average depth of 0.6 metre. Many residents in the area are familiar
with these impermeable lower clay like layers which tend to retard deep percolation
of water and make for difficult digging. As a result, the water in Altona Forest
saturates the upper soil horizons and accumulates in depressions. The topography
varies from uniformly level to gently undulating, except where man made drainage
channels have been dug through the overburden (2).
one of the earliest maps of the region is this Joliet 1673 Map. This map is courtesy
of the City of Pickering Library. The Altona Forest is located just north of the
indian village of Ganatsekwyagon, which appears in yellow on this map.
the melting glaciers were roaming First Nations hunters. Six thousand to seven
thousand years ago, these hunters were roving around much of Ontario. The tribes
living in these parts were the Huron, Cree, Neutral, Petuns, Ojibwa and the Tribes
of the Iroquois Confederacy; the Seneca. The Iroquois dominated 1650, and had
settlements at Kanatsekwyagon near the mouth of the Rouge River, and another on
the Bay of Quinte. Stone spear points and other artifacts have been found in many
parts of Pickering including in Altona Forest. The earliest of these artifacts
has been dated to 2000 B.C.
100 B.C. some limited farming by Iroquoian Indians was carried out along many
of the rivers in the region. By 1100 A.D., First Nations people were hunting,
gathering and farming in various parts of what is now Pickering. These tribes
constantly moved as the soil was depleted and game became scarce. Evidence of
villages have been found along Duffin’s Creek, around Frenchman’s Bay, on Concession
3 north-east of Pickering Village and on Kingston Road west of the Rouge Valley.
Although it is unlikely that any early inhabitants farmed Altona Forest, because
of the poor soil, they did travel up Petticoat Creek and along Rosebank Tributary
into Alton Forest in search of game.
archeology dig was performed in the spring of 2000 to find out more about the
original habitants of the area. Evidence of pioneers and First Nations people
map of the area. Notice Ensign Gainfort has lots 32 and 33 from the lake north
to what is now Finch on the northern boundary of the Altona Forest.
1877 map shows that Lot 32 is divided into three sections. Notice the locations
of the houses. The railroad tracks in the south west of this map belong to the
1791, Engineer Augustus Jones started surveying all of Pickering in preparation
for settlers. Altona Forest is located in Concession 1, Lot 32. The small river
running through the area already had a French name – Petite Côte, which quickly
became Petticoat. On May 25th 1796, Governor Simcoe ordered that Whitby, Pickering
and ten other townships be declared open to settlers. Enormous land grants were
made to government officials and members of their families and friends (3). Soon
after a number of military grants were made. In the mid 1790s, the first settlers
began arriving. Many of these were United Empire Loyalists. Map #1, which seems
to be the first map of settlement, has only three land owners in the Pickering
area; Major Smith in the region of Pickering Village, Doctor William Holmes in
Lots 26 and 27 and Ensign Gainfort in Lots 32 (Altona Forest) and 33. In the official
land records for Lots 32, Con. 1, lists the following:
the official records show the original official government grant of “All” 200
acres of Concession 1, Lot 32, was granted to Dr. Wm Holmes not Ensign Gainfort!
The official records show that the land stayed in Dr. Holmes’ possession until
Dec. 24, 1832 when he sold a portion to Henry Corran for £300. He, in turn, in
1840, sold the southern ½ for £50 to John Corran, who was probably his son. In
1849, Henry Carron sold the northern ½ to William Taylor for £300. A small portion
of the northern part of Lot 32 and some of the southern part near Petticoat Creek,
are more suitable for farming than most of the middle section. This may be one
reason for the frequent sale of the property and its use for grazing animals rather
than extensive farming.
1868 the Corporation of Pickering acquired a strip of land for a road allowance.
By 1877, Lot 32 was divided up between Leng Est.(100 acres in the south), J. McIntosh
(50 acres) and Samuel Hollinger (50 acres). Refer to Map #2.
In 1961, Canadian National Railways acquired property near the southern edge for
a railroad right of way. The CN track are there today.
Altona Forest is a critical component in the Rouge-Duffins Wildlife Corridor which
joins the Rouge, Petticoat and Duffins watersheds. In turn, these watersheds provide
linkages to a large network for wildlife movement to the Oak Ridges Moraine, Lake
Simcoe and Lake Ontario. The Altona Forest and the larger Rouge-Duffins Wildlife
Corridor provide vital habitat, contribute to wildlife movement and enhance the
health and biodiversity of plants and animals east of Toronto (1). The Altona
Forest consists of mature forest with old growth characteristics and numerous
early to mid successional growth areas, such as old fields and wet meadows. A
person who walks all the trails of Altona Forest will experience all of these
diverse vegetation communities.
Forest is a unique urban forest. Less than half of one percent of the wooded habitat
remaining in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) provides mature interior forest habitat
that has a core area at least 300 metres from the forest edge. Altona Forest is
one of the few large areas remaining, adjacent to Lake Ontario, where migrating
birds have the protection of forest cover for resting and feeding during migration
the 1950s and 60s, land developers started purchasing property in Pickering in
hopes of development. Bramalea Consolidated Development Ltd. purchased much of
Lot 32 from a holding company in 1972. The official price of $2, indicates that
the holding company was probably a part of the Bramalea group of companies. In
preparation for building houses, they attempted to drain the wet lands within
the forest and did much damage to the natural habit in doing so. See the Trail
Guide for more on this.
to a group, Friends of Altona Forest, who lobbied the government and made numerous
presentations about the importance of this area, a portion of the projected housing
area was set aside while most of the forest was designated for development. During
the 1990s, the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority acquired
the Altona Forest 50-hectare preserve with the help of an $11 million provincial
grant. Other properties where purchased by the MTRCA and were added to Altona
Forest. In 1996, Dr. John Murray Speirs donated a large portion of his property
to Altona Forest on condition that it would remain a natural preserve. A portion
of the southern part of Altona Forest is the J. Murray Speirs Ecological Reserve
and is not open to the public. Today, Altona Forest is run by the Toronto and
Region Conservation Authority in conjunction with the Altona Forest Stewardship
Altona Forest is the home to a great variety of plant and animal life including
a large number of migratory and nesting birds. Altona Forest is the one of the
last urban forests in southern Ontario, and home to white-tailed deer, red foxes,
coyotes, wood duck, ruffed grouse, great-horned owl, pileated woodpecker and fascinating
pond creatures such as fairy shrimp and wood frogs. The trees offer a rich diversity:
tall hemlocks, dense cedar, oaks, aspen, hornbeams, blue beech (sometimes called
muscle trees), ironwood, white birch and even some old apple trees. The flowers
of the upper woodland areas are particularly remarkable for a woods surrounded
by urban development. They include large patches of trilliums, pink and mauve
hepaticas, wild ginger, wood violets, pink spring beauty, waxy white Mayapples,
yellow trout lilies and showy pink and white ladyslipper orchids. A quiet leisurely
walk in the forest affords a person the opportunity to see and hear the wonders
of nature without traveling great distances.
Altona Forest Environmental Management Plan, The Metropolitan Toronto and
Region Conservation Authority, March 29, 1996, page 1
ibid (3) Noonan, Larry & Munhall, George, St. Francis de Sales
- 125 Years of Witness to History, LNP Inc. 1996