Have you ever been hiking and come across a strangely-shaped tree? One that has a distinct elbow-shaped bend in it, so that the trunk grows up a short ways, then across and up? If so, there is a chance that First Nations people may have purposely shaped the tree long ago, in order to point the way towards a natural spring or safe river crossing. I read a very interesting article last week about trail marker trees. The article interviewed botanist Paul O'Hara, who recently found four trees like this in Oakville. Ancestors of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation likely created these particular markers.
Paul has been exploring the woods of Southern Ontario all his life, and studying the plants and trees there for over 20 years. For the past three years, he has been researching trail markers, and has written an article for Field Botanists of Ontario. You can read it here: Download Markers-P.O'Hara.
I contacted Paul and asked him if any of these marker trees might still exist in Toronto's ravines. Here is his response:
O'Hara: "No, haven't found any marker trees in Toronto ravines. There could be, but the woods in the city are of such low-quality and most of the development runs right up to the ravine edges that it would be hard to see any remaining. Maybe there might be a couple remaining on the upper reaches of the Humber, Don or Rouge? There certainly would have been some in the city historically."
Paul told me that marker trees in Toronto may have guided travellers along the Carrying Place Trail, a route that connected Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe and other lakes farther north. Trees also likely served as natural signposts along what is now Davenport Road.
O'Hara: "The east west pathway along Davenport Road (the ancient Lake Iroquois shoreline trail) is the same pathway that intersects where I found those markers in the article. The ancient trail ran on the level ground below the hill where some protection from the elements could be found."
Just imagine: 8,000-10,000 years ago, the space where this library sits and everything up to Davenport would have been submerged beneath icy glacial waters!
Sugar maple markers, Burlington, Ontario. Photo © P. O'Hara, 2012
Here are some books for further reading and exploring:
Nature hikes: near-Toronto trails and adventures, by Janet Eagleson (2009)
Great country walks around Toronto: with reach by public transit, by Elliott Katz (2006)
Walking into Wilderness: The Toronto Carrying Place and Nine Mile Portage, by Heather Robertson (2010)