History

The history of Norfolk County and the Long Point area is rich in many aspects including the natural processes that helped to shape the land, and the people that took to the land and now call it home.

Glacial Period

The last glaciers present in the area melted between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago. These glaciers were the last remnants of the most recent ice age. These glaciers receded and advanced four separate times before they finally receded from the Lake Erie area. Even though these glaciers receded over 10,000 years ago, it took about 6,000 years for the land to rebound from the weight of the glacier and form the watersheds that we see today.

It is because of the way in which the glaciers receded and pushed about limestone and shale, turning it to sandstone and eventually sand, that the area has fertile soil for farmland and sand beaches lining the shores.

Early Inhabitants

The first inhabitants in the area were believed to have roamed the Long Point area as early as 1000 A.D. These early native peoples were hunter/gatherers and mostly nomadic, though they may have participated in some very primitive forms of farming.

These first tribes gave way to a more aggressive and intelligent group of tribes in the 1300s from south of the Great Lakes who built permanent villages in the area. They were known as the Middle Woodland tribes. These tribes lived in harmony with the environment and the surrounding Huron and Iroquois tribes from some 300 years until the first introduction of white men to the area. The tribes were struck with cholera and smallpox and were virtually annihilated. After this no permanent settlement of tribes was established in the Long Point area for over 50 years. At this point, the area began to be used by different tribes on a first-come, first-served basis in terms of hunting and trapping and some smaller wars were fought between various tribes for the rights to the area.

European Settlement

The area was largely unknown to the white man until 1669 when explorers and trappers began to filter into the area; though it remained largely unoccupied for another one hundred years. The first settler in the area, John Troyer built a small cabin for himself and his family and began cultivating a small plot of land, as well as hunting the abundance of wildlife in the area.

One species that was particularly abundant in the area was the Wild Turkey; hence the name of the town Turkey Point. But these new settlers did not know how to properly manage wildlife populations and they decimated the turkey population through hunting (both for food and sport) and the conversion of land from native forest cover to fields for agriculture.  Wild turkeys were extirpated from the area by 1909. The government began a re-introduction program in the 1980s to re-establish populations of wild turkey throughout Ontario. The trapping and transfer of over 4,400 wild turkeys from various locations in the northeastern United States occurred from 1986-1987 and these turkeys were released at over 275 different locations across Ontario, one of them being Turkey Point. The bird has had such a successful recovery that a turkey hunt has been re-established to keep the bird in check; there are now over 70,000 wild turkeys in southern Ontario.

More people began to settle in the area when Governor John Graves Simcoe issued a new settlement policy that would grant large tracts of land to loyalists. His settlement policy was very successful as over 3,000 immigrants moved to the area in the fifteen years leading up to the War of 1812.

When the war was over in the area, much destruction had occurred and those that had settled in the area had to start anew. They were joined by many other hopeful immigrants because of the settlement policy; many of these newcomers were previously farmers and easily took to the land. This began a period of deforestation, for both agricultural purposes and for timber logging. The first forestry station in Canada was established in St. Williams as a provincial tree nursery in 1908. It supplied seedlings to companies for reforesting their land, along with providing seedlings to counties and municipalities who were looking to turn their ‘wastelands’ back into productive land. At the turn of the century, southern Ontario had gone through a lot of changes. When settlers arrived, they cleared vast areas of land for settlements and agriculture. Within 50 years of development, much of Norfolk County was desert; the topsoil had all blown away without the cover of plants or forests. This forestry station was a huge success under the leadership of Frank Newman and it became the model reforestation and tree seedling production site in Ontario. It also houses a teaching facility and a 4,000 acre demonstration forest. After this issue with farming, agriculture and soil erosion took place, the Ontario Department of Land and Forests took steps to ensure this would not happen again. They wanted to aid land owners in managing their properties but did not know how to go about it, so they began to acquire lands termed ‘wastelands’ themselves to reforest and manage these areas.  The government reforestation projects were the main reason for an increase in forest cover since the 1900s. However, this increase was not to last, as the expansion of towns and cities has taken up not only agricultural areas but also formerly forested areas. The forestry station remained under the province’s jurisdiction, supplying tree seedlings for reforestation purposes until 1998 when it was privatized. ForestCare now runs the facility, carrying on with the production of tree seedlings for the forestry industry.

The Long Point Company

Prior to the 1860s, the majority of Long Point was publicly owned Crown Land. The area was rampant with over-hunting, poaching and over-fishing. The depletion of tree cover and wildlife was becoming of special concern to the government as complaints reached their ears of the plundering of the area by professional market hunters and other poachers. The government’s attempts to police the area were fruitless and they made the only other choice they saw fit; they decided to sell Long Point. The first time the land went up for auction, no one bid on it; the same thing happened the second time. It wasn’t until 1860, when a group of prominent Canadian businessmen from Hamilton and St. Catharines took an interest in the area. The area was officially sold to them on May 4, 1866; the men bought 14,936 acres for $8,540. After the group purchased the property, they petitioned the government for a charter of incorporation as ‘The Long Point Company.’ After their initial incorporation, a meeting was held to make certain appointments and to lay down rules for management. These management rules are what made the Long Point Company the successful conservation managers that they are today. Thought they are often accused of being a rich man’s exclusive club that keeps the public from enjoying nature’s beauty in this unique area, without the actions of this group, the natural beauty of Long Point would have undoubtedly been destroyed long ago. 

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