Managing for wildlife and people
(Feature photo: Cedar Waxwing on the Long Point peninsula)
By Karen Rodriguez
Long Point, Ontario has a fascinating history dating back to the Revolutionary War. United Empire Loyalists settled the Long Point region after patriot rebels from the 13 American colonies drove neighbors and kinsmen who sided with the British—the Loyalists—first to the sparsely settled British settlements in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Caribbean. An estimated 50,000 people fled when their homes and property were confiscated and violence, including tar and feathering and hanging, were inflicted on those who remained loyal to King George III. From New Brunswick, Loyalists eventually proceeded to “Upper Canada”, the wilderness region encompassing the Great Lakes basin and what are now the entire states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio and much of the Province of Ontario, including Long Point. But it wasn’t wilderness for long; settlement changed the natural landscape quickly.
Between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, more than 3,000 people settled in the Upper Canada region of Norfolk County on Lake Erie as a result of Governor Simcoe’s offer of free land to Loyalists. The Long Point peninsula is the part of the county that juts east into Lake Erie for 40 kilometers. Comprised of Carolinian (eastern deciduous) forest, marshes, islands and a sand spit that is vulnerable to Lake Erie’s water level changes and storms, the peninsula was quickly populated with small settlements, hunting cabins and a succession of lighthouses.
Lawrence Herman Tasker, writing in 1900 about the history of the Loyalist settlement, describes the natural resources of the region in glowing terms:
“A century ago the gentle undulations were covered with vast forests of beech, white pine, walnut and oak, of which a good deal remains…Nearly every kind of fruit found in the temperate zone flourishes here—apple, peach, pear, plum, quince, cherry, grape, apricot and berries of all kinds. The woods are well stocked with quail, partridge, rabbits, hares and black squirrels, and the marshes abound in waterfowl, especially at Turkey Point and at Long Point, which is now a game preserve and owned by a private corporation. The creeks and streams are well stocked with fish, speckled trout predominating.”*
“As to meat, the creeks and lake supplied fish of several kinds—black and rock bass, perch, carp, mackerel, pickerel, pike and white fish, and above all speckled trout, the marshes—wild fowl, turkeys, ducks and geese, the woods—pigeons, partridge, quail, squirrels, rabbits, hares and deer. As to other animals in the woods, there were many (too many) wolves, bears, lynx, wildcats, beavers, foxes, martins, minks and weasels. Bustards and cranes also were found by the streams.”**
The settlers cleared the forest for crops and orchards, pastured their cattle in the marshes, and hunted abundant waterfowl. And, by the mid-1800s, “Long Point was indeed endangered—by licentious pleasure-seekers, by over-eager lumbermen, and by market hunters.”*** Land was denuded, swamps drained, and professional trappers and hunters slaughtered ruffed grouse, passenger pigeons, wild turkeys and quails to the point of extirpation. Large mammals were eradicated. After a storm washed out the marsh separating the bay from Lake Erie, the peninsula was separated from the mainland. Called Old Cut, the resulting channel was deepened to accommodate ships, a far safer route than navigating the treacherous tip of Long Point.
By the mid-1800s, market hunters—professional trappers and hunters—were depleting waterfowl and other animals without regard to resource preservation. At the same time, the land was being denuded of trees. It was Crown land but the government didn’t know how to prevent further damage. The solution was to sell it. A group of wealthy sports hunters from St. Catharines and Hamilton incorporated as the Long Point Company and began buying parcels eventually totaling more than 6,000 hectares (15,000 acres).
It wasn’t easy transforming from a lawless hunting ground into a respectable hunting club. Even shareholders in the Company disagreed so field rules were established: shooting was limited to shareholders and guests; hunting was limited seasonally and daily; choice hunting field positions were determined by ballot; and, members were required to record what and how many waterfowl were shot. The Company cleared out the poachers, hired stewards and gamekeepers, restricted trapping and hunting, and fostered maintenance of a landscape supportive of wildlife. Within a few years the peninsula was again teaming with wildlife. Hunting, trapping and fishing (fishing was reserved by the Crown but the company sold and managed licenses) continued with tight regulation by the Company.
The Long Point Company still owns a large piece of the peninsula and access is strictly controlled. Environmental groups and the government applaud the Company’s role in wildlife and natural area protection.
It wasn’t until the early part of the 20th century that Environment Canada and the Province of Ontario moved to protect the peninsula. After recognizing its value as a migratory bird corridor and recreational magnet, Long Point (est. 1980; 3284 hectares, 8114 acres) and Big Creek (est. 1978; 771 hectares, 1905 acres) National Wildlife Areas (Canadian Wildlife Service) were established to protect and provide opportunities for viewing the peninsula’s wildlife. Long Point Provincial Park (est. 1921; 150 hectares, 370 acres) sits between the Long Point Company on the east and the Old Cut lighthouse and channel on the west. Today the park is open for camping, fishing, birding, swimming and other recreational uses. Large areas of coastal marsh have been protected by the federal and provincial agencies.
The Long Point office of Bird Studies Canada sits just off the peninsula on the mainland. This non-governmental organization conducts research and promotes bird conservation throughout Canada. The organization’s Long Point Bird Observatory oversees bird banding at three locations on the peninsula during migration seasons. Visitors are welcome to visit the bird banding station at Old Cut for a close up view of scientists and volunteers measuring, examining, banding, and then releasing birds caught in mist nets. More than 300 species of birds have been recorded migrating through the peninsula.
Bird Studies Canada also has an interest in Great Lakes coastal wetlands. Since 1995, a program called the Marsh Monitoring Program has trained volunteer citizen scientists from all over the Great Lakes to monitor the presence and health of marsh birds and amphibians. The enormous amount of data collected is now being incorporated into the Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands Monitoring Program, coordinated by Central Michigan University. Bird Studies Canada’s role is appropriate given that Long Point’s important coastal wetlands have stellar designations: Ramsar wetland of international significance, Long Point Biosphere Reserve of Canada, World Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO), Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ON Ministry of Natural Resources), important Bird Area (Bird Life International).
In spite of attention focused on protecting Long Point, problems remain. Phragmites australis, an invasive plant, has inundated coastal wetland areas. Thanks to numerous governmental and non-governmental agencies and organizations—Point Region Conservation Authority, Environment and Climate Change Canada, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ontario Parks, and Long Point Waterfowl to name a few—extensive wetland restoration is underway. Even though Long Point peninsula’s first several hundred years of history is one of overuse and disregard for the conservation of precious resources, it now has many protectors.
*The United Empire Loyalist Settlement at Long Point, Lake Erie. Page 36.
**The United Empire Loyalist Settlement at Long Point, Lake Erie. Page 55.
***Lore and Legends of Long Point. Page 143.
***Barrett, Harry B. Lore and Legends of Long Point. Canada: Patterson’s Creek Press. 2000. Barrett has sifted through historical documents to write a book filled with descriptive stories about the people who settled Long Point.
Newman, Peter C. Hostages to Fortune, the United Empire Loyalists and the Making of Canada. Toronto, Ontario: Simon and Schuster Canada. 2016. A detailed description of the Loyalists including their migration from the 13 colonies after the Revolutionary War and their settlement in the wilds of the future country of Canada.
*/**Tasker, Lawrence Hermon. The United Empire Loyalist Settlement at Long Point, Lake Erie. Toronto: William Briggs. 1900. (Papers and Records, Volume 2, Ontario Historical Society). A history of the loyalists that includes the reasons for the migration north, settlement conditions, and stories of particular families trials and tribulations during this time.
Wallace, W. Stewart. The United Empire Loyalists, Chronicle of the Great Migration. Lexington, KY: BiblioBazaar. 2008. (Chronicles of Canada Volume 13). A brief history of those in the 13 American colonies loyal to King George III and their migration to what was to become Canada after the Revolutionary War.
Long Point peninsula is part of Norfolk County, Ontario, on Lake Erie
Content and photos copyright 2017 Karen Rodriguez