St Williams Forestry Interpretive Centre

“Ontario’s Garden” was an inconceivable name for Norfolk County a hundred years ago. Much of the farmland was being devastated by dust storms which blew dry exposed sandy soils onto still workable land. 

Outside the interpretive centre

Indiscriminate land clearing was the main cause. Walter McCall a furniture manufacturer in St. Williams started a small nursery to replenish some of the local woods but the problem was too great and it was occurring in many parts of Southern Ontario. He called for help from his friend, professionally trained forester Edmund Zavitz. With the help of their friend Colonel Arthur Pratt the local member of Provincial Government the three men negotiated the establishment of the first Provincial Forestry Station in Canada near St. Williams. It began producing seedlings to reverse the advance of the wastelands in 1908 which changed the landscape of Southern Ontario to become “Ontario’s Garden” today.

The Interpretive Centre, which is housed in a heritage building, traces the history of the forests from pre-historic times to the present and features many outstanding photographs illustrating the past environmental disasters and successes. There is a slab of a 270 year old historic white oak and a cairn, dedicating the surrounding forests of the St. Williams Conservation Reserve to Dr. E.J.Zavitz, the “Father of Reforestation of Ontario”, who later became Deputy Minister of the Department of Lands and Forests. The grave of Colonel McCall is also on the grounds, engraved: “My Memorial, Look around You”. The nursery itself is now operated privately by the “St. Williams Nursery and Ecology Centre”, still producing wholesale nursery stock for restoration of disturbed land.

Address: 

885 Highway 24, St Williams, ON

Contact Name: 
Anne and Dolf Wynia
Telephone: 
519-875-3350
Additional information: 

From Victoria Weekend to Labour Day Weekend the building is open with an interpreter from 12:00pm to 5:00pm except on Tuesdays. Admission is by donation.There are picnic tables and washrooms available. Group tours may be arranged at any time by calling Anne or Dolf Wynia at 519-875-3350 or Betty Chanyi at 519-586-7175.

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