9. St Williams Forestry Interpretive Centre

If one wanted to start a journey of restoration accomplishments in Ontario, the Forest Interpretive Centre near St. Williams would be a perfect starting place. It is here where three men came together to deal with an environmental problem that is now history. In Norfolk County and other places in the Province during the late 19th century land was being cleared of timber as a requirement for settlement. The exposed sandy soils proved incapable of sustained agricultural use and during recurring dust storms eroded away, covering the fertile lands nearby. Also furniture quality timber had become scarce. A St. Williams furniture manufacturer and saw miller Walter McCall had started a small nursery to help replenish some of the local woods and he sought the advice of a friend, professionally trained forester Edmund Zavitz. The latter had started a small nursery at the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph to demonstrate his lectures there to farmers and farmer’s sons. Zavitz and McCall called on Colonel Arthur Pratt, the local member of Provincial Parliament who together negotiated the establishment of a provincial forestry station which was to make available small seedlings at no charge to those who needed them to reforest the “wastelands of Ontario” Also the station was to serve as an example of “good forest management practices”.

The station began operations in 1908 and later with six more stations changed the landscape of Ontario: Young forests began to re-appear, some small streams started to flow again and wildlife returned to the protected areas. Over time the new forests started to yield products, many ecological benefits and work opportunities. Now a hundred years later many former blow sand areas can hardly be recognized as such.

The exhibits at the Interpretive Centre which has been designated as a historic building,  illustrate the conditions in 1908 and show some of the accomplishments of the first effective land recovery efforts in Ontario. There is a guided walking trail through a more than 100 year old white pine stand, planted on blow sand.

From Victoria Weekend to Labour Day Weekend the building is open with an interpreter from 12:00 am to 5:00 pm except on Tuesdays. Admission is by donation. There are picnic tables and washrooms available. The inscription on the grave of Colonel Pratt who is buried on the grounds reads: “My Memorial, look around you”; a truly inspirational message in the present setting. There also is a cairn dedicating the surrounding forests of what is now the St. Williams Conservation Reserve to the “Father of Reforestation in Ontario”: Dr. Edmund J.Zavitz. 


885 Hwy. 24 at Foresrty Farm Road, St Williams, ON

519-875-3350 or 519-856-7175
Additional information: 

For group tours please call 519 875 3350 or 519 856 7175

There is no fee; only a donation is appreciated.    

You can walk the grounds at any time.

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