Interpretive theme for 2021: The Environment

This year, the Trust will explore the importance of the environment both in terms of the context of our history as Ontarians (including that of the Indigenous peoples of Ontario) and in terms of the biophysical features and natural heritage that give Ontario its unique attributes (like the Niagara Escarpment) and provide us with such rich resources like clean water and fertile soils.

The landscape in Ontario is dominated by wilderness comprising vast forests, lakes and wetlands – many of which are protected by a system of parks, conservation areas and managed forests. The Trust conserves and protects hundreds of natural heritage properties that include habitat for species at risk, provincially significant wetlands and sensitive and rare features such as old-growth forests. This work is done in close partnership with conservation authorities, Ontario Parks, local land trusts, other environmental non-profits and private citizens across the province. This work is part of the Trust’s core mandate to protect Ontario’s unique and diverse natural heritage, but it is also an increasingly important part of the fight to address global challenges such as climate change and the loss of biodiversity. The importance of Ontario’s natural heritage and how we protect it at the Trust – through ownership and easements, but also actively through research and restoration initiatives – will be a key concept woven through our exploration of the theme this year.

We will explore how the distinct geography of Ontario – such as the Canadian Shield, the Niagara Escarpment and the Oak Ridges Moraine – have been critical in defining our cultural identity. The iconic images from the Group of Seven – of the windblown white pine and the rocky outcropping of the Canadian Shield, for example – play into the Canadian identity of life within the wilderness. Our river systems, like the Ottawa and the Humber rivers, tell stories of Indigenous trade routes and European settlement patterns that shaped our early history and the foundation of Ontario’s major cities and towns. Areas of spiritual and cultural significance to Indigenous people exist throughout the province, and we work in partnership with First Nations to protect and honour those areas when we can.

Some protected properties are, by design, not accessible to the public and are preserved in a relatively undisturbed state. They contain provincially significant features, however, that are suitable for interpretation through online educational content. Developing interpretive or education materials about these features provides an opportunity to educate the public and raise awareness about these sensitive areas and why they matter, while restricting and/or limiting public access to the properties themselves. This will also be a part of our work over the next year.

Many of the Trust’s properties include portions of the Bruce Trail and other publicly accessible trail systems. The Bruce Trail and its side trails are found on over 125 Trust-owned properties. Ontario’s public spaces, parks and trail systems provide us with opportunities to be active, improve our physical and mental health, and experience the rich natural and cultural heritage of the province. Trail systems can also boost local economies through attracting visitors to a region. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased the interest in, and visitation to, our publicly accessible natural areas and trail systems. It is clear that Ontarians place high value in being able to access and explore Ontario’s rich cultural and natural heritage.