Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Apples in the Valley

Originally farms in the Beaver Valley were traditional mixed farms, and in the upper valley, raising beef cattle is still the main way of farming.  But in the lower valley close to Georgian Bay, apple orchards have spread in response to the unique soil and climate conditions of the area, making this the top apple production area in Ontario.

The main apple orchards are clustered around the area south of Thornbury, quite close to Georgian Bay.  The bay itself is a big reason why the orchards are here, and the soil conditions there are the other.

The large body of water in Georgian Bay (and other Great Lakes) changes temperature quite slowly, staying cool in the spring while the land warms up, and staying warmer in the fall when the land cools down.  This 'buffering' helps prevent apple trees blooming too early in the spring when there's still a risk of frost, and extends the growing season a little in the fall.

This is enhanced by the slopes of the Niagara Escarpment further south in the valley, as these slopes tend to hold the moderated air temperatures in place, creating a confined micro-climate that is good for the apples.

The other factor is soil, because apples trees don't like to have wet feet.  In a huge semi-circle south of Thornbury are ancient glacial beaches, from the post-Ice Age Lake Algonquin, when water levels were higher.  These well drained gravels provide ideal soil for apple trees.

So it's the combination of soil and micro-climate that make this crop so important to the valley.  This is how the orchards look as of a few weeks ago!  Pruning is obviously a big part of managing the orchards.

And though I can still hardly believe it, one major vineyard has been established, using cold-hardy grape varieties, taking advantage of the same micro-climatic patterns that favour apples.  Here they're covered with plastic mesh left over from protecting last fall's harvest.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Mills and Mill Ponds in the Valley

There's quite a number of other features around the Beaver Valley that I'd like to point out, among them the old mills and mill ponds that seem to be found in every town and village.  As I chase these down and investigate, I realize that almost every settlement of any size in the valley grew up around one or more mills, mostly saw and grist mills.

This is the old mill in the small village of Kimberley, right in the middle of the valley near us.  As you can see, it's been repurposed and restored and is now in use as a winery - this is a 'make your own wine' operation.  Behind this sign is another indicating the grist mill is from 1877.

It's easy to see that it's been restored; it's in good shape.  The winery is in the basement, and upstairs it's a residence.  This is the most easily visible remaining mill and mill pond in the entire valley.  I need to read some more local history to understand how important these mills were in determining today's settlement pattern, but I think they were very important.

Just behind the mill and the adjacent community centre is the small mill pond, located on a small tributary of the Beaver River that flows down from springs up on the escarpment just south of the Old Baldy cliffs.

This is the old mill in Flesherton, with the mill dam just out of sight among the trees on the right, and the mill pond immediately upstream.  This mill has been repurposed as an interesting residence.

The mill pond here is much bigger than the one in Kimberley, running a larger combination grist and sawmill.  You can see the water tumbling down over the dam in the upper right, crossed by a road into several houses.

And this is the larger mill pond, with the intake for the mill race still visible here under the water.  This is on the Boyne River which joins the Beaver deep in the narrow part of the valley below Eugenia Falls.  All these pictures were taken 10 days ago; the ice on the ponds is steadily melting.

Though I don't have good pictures, I could take you to several other old mills, in the village of Feversham, in Thornbury where the Beaver River enters Georgian Bay, and elsewhere.  I've become quite interested in these bits of evidence of earlier history; they're an important part of the landscape of the watershed.

Blustery wind and fresh snow here; the world is still white outside.  Hope spring comes soon!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Lower Beaver Valley

A short distance north of us, the Beaver Valley broadens out into a wider landscape, beyond the scenic narrow valley here.  There are still steep slopes around the outer edges, but the valley itself becomes much wider, there is less forest and woodland, and more farmland.  And of course at the end there is Georgian Bay.

In the lower watershed, the valley is simply wider, with brief views you glimpse as you drive, of rolling fields, forests and fencerows in the distance.

Almost the same view, but actually not, a concession further north.  Here you can see the wide flat Silver Maple swamp down in the valley bottom.

That swamp is impenetrable except by canoe, and the Beaver River flows right through the middle.  Now it's a wide meandering river, quite different from the smaller torrent that bounced over the boulders (or fell over waterfalls) in the upper part of the valley.

The swamp floods high enough that you could paddle right in among the trees during the spring, as in this shot with the leaves just coming out.

And a little later in the season, the winding river makes a popular canoe route.

Soon after this the viewpoints give you a look at Blue Mountain in the distance, which marks the eastern boundary of the watershed.

And if the angle and season are right (here in early spring), you get a glimpse of the brilliant blue waters of Georgian Bay too.  The building in the lower right is the old Epping church, closed and boarded up for many years.

As you head toward Georgian Bay, you start seeing the apple orchards.  This part of the valley is known for its orchards, being the top producing area in all of Ontario.

It's the unique combination of soil and climate here that help the apple trees survive, and bear apples so productively.  I think I'll write a separate post on the details.

Finally you get to Thornbury, where the river empties into Georgian Bay and the Beaver watershed ends.  This is a very popular fishing spot especially for Rainbow Trout.

And today the river hitting Georgian Bay looked like this.  The river is open but Georgian Bay is still frozen.  The ice at the edge looked like crunched up mini-icebergs or 'bergie-bits'.

The small group of Mute Swans that has been staying around all winter here seem to be pretty tame, almost coming to beg for food.  And they bring you to the end of your introductory tour down the river.  Tomorrow I'll start on some of the other interesting features of the valley around us.


Still quite cold here in the mornings, and very windy outside tonight, with a brief blizzard of snow swirling around us at the moment!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

'The Valley'

The central section of the Beaver Valley is the part I know as 'The Valley'.  It's closest to home, it's the most scenic, and it's full of wonderful places to explore.  There are waterfalls, the Bruce Trail, karst sinkholes and springs, and viewpoints over the valley.  It's especially beautiful in the fall.  This is the third in a series of posts describing the entire Beaver watershed.

The upper part of the valley in this area is the narrowest, here pictured from the top of the Beaver Valley Ski Club.  and far up at the end on the right, the Boyne, a tributary of the Beaver drops over Hogg's Falls and joins the Beaver.

Ironically, the Boyne, here pictured just above Hogg's Falls - a bit of the old broken dam shows up on the left - is larger than the Beaver, because much of the flow of the main river, dammed to form Lake Eugenia, now goes through the flumes to the power plant.

You can see the two flumes leading to the power plant in this picture, the two towers on the far side of the valley being the pressure relief valves or 'stand pipes' for the flumes.  I'll include a post about it soon.

The centre of the valley here is dominated by the two ski clubs, the Talisman hills now closed.  There are numerous ski chalets scattered over the slopes and around the two clubs.  Only a few open fields remain on that far slope, but I've seen pictures from 50 years ago showing mostly open fields!

From the top of Old Baldy you get a view encompassing the former Talisman ski runs just a mile or two further north. As well you can see some of the houses in the village of Kimberley among the trees on the left, plunked right down in the middle of the valley.

Looking north from the cliffs you see the valley gradually widening as we reach the end of this central section of the watershed.

And from the opposite side of the valley, at the top of those old Talisman ski slopes, you see where the valley starts widening out to form the lower valley that I'll describe in tomorrow's post.

There are so many interesting things to see in this central scenic part of the valley.  By the time I'm finished you'll be getting tired of pictures of Old Baldy, here taken when driving past last fall.

And here taken on a walk into the viewpoint from the cliffs.  Those are the slopes of the Beaver Valley Ski Club in the distance, and our home is above the edge of the escarpment, beyond those slopes.  Did you spot the rock climber?

Here he is, hanging in the middle of space on that cliff!  Sure surprised me, but just a few minutes later he was clambering over the top edge.

There are so many streams dropping over large and small waterfalls along the sides of the valley here that a large section of the Bruce Trail is locally known as the 'Falling Water Trail'.

The lower slopes used to be farms, though never very prosperous ones I expect.  No farm in this part of the valley has sold to a farmer for a long time though; they all go to rural residents who just let the fields grow up in trees.  Given the steep slopes, probably a good idea.  It's not unusual to come across old fencelines like this one far back in the middle of the forest.

Few roads go down the slopes and across the valley here; this is one of only two.  Most either end abruptly at the top of the valley edge, or follow a long old dog's leg that a horse and buggy once managed, but a car certainly could not!

And there are karst sinkholes like this one, where the water above the valley drains directly into cracks in the limestone, emerging part way down the slope as a spring.  This is one of the valley stories that I find the most fascinating, and there will be a seperate post on that soon too.


In case you're wondering, the tooth (or the gap where it used to be) is fine.  But it was minus 20 here this morning, so winter's not leaving yet!  Don't know where those Robins we saw a few days ago are hiding!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Tooth Pulled!

Had a tooth pulled today; you'll have to wait a day or two for the next post!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Upper Beaver Watershed

This is quite a mixture of winter and summer pictures, but it will give you an impression of the upper watershed, where the Beaver River originates and flows west through rolling countryside.  If you check yesterday's map, you'll see that this is almost half the length of the river.

This is rural farm country, mostly of beef cattle as on this farm, or else farms that have been purchased by non-farmers who want to live in the country and let the land revert to forest.  This was an interesting combination barn, one half with a gambrel roofline, and the other half a simple bank barn.

I was surprised when I took these pictures earlier this winter to see these cattle following a track across the field on a bitterly cold winter's day.  Turns out they were joining the rest of the herd down in a corner of the cedar forest where it was quite sheltered.

You see the river at a lot of road crossings like this.  The river emerges in springs and swamps upstream and gradually builds in size heading west.

With no urban land use, and only a few scattered farms, the river is very clear, and mostly it's flowing through forest or wetland.

About halfway along we come to the village of Feversham, site of an old mill pond - looking somewhat silted up in this picture, but with an old mill building beside the dam in the distance.

I was lucky to spot a Great Blue Heron who hadn't flown away yet when I went down to get photographs two years ago.

Surprisingly, just below the village, the Beaver River flows through a short stretch of deep limestone gorge.  It's been protected as a conservation area, and is known for its ferns.  But it is quite a challenge trying to explore down in the gorge, with a tangle of fallen cedar trees in all directions.

A few concessions below the gorge, the river flows into Lake Eugenia, an artificial lake created by a hydro dam build 100 years ago.  They let the water level down in the winter, so all the old stumps are showing in this picture taken just a few weeks ago.

And just below the lake, the Beaver River flows over Eugenia Falls, into Cuckoo Valley and thence down into the main part of the Beaver Valley.  The escarpment here represents the end of the upper watershed.  Tomorrow the middle valley; check out this series which started yesterday.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Exploring 'The Valley'

Over the next couple of weeks I'm going to present you with a series of posts that aim to describe 'the valley' - that's the Beaver Valley, here where I do most of my exploring and photography.  I'm always fascinated to learn about the communities where other bloggers live, and I hope you'll be interested in reading a bit more coherent description of this place, while I wait for more signs of spring to appear here.  I'll be drawing on photos from all seasons over the past four years.

This is the valley as I think of it, the view looking south from the top of the cliffs at Old Baldy, a popular lookout along the Bruce Trail, and the most prominent cliffs in the area.  It's a classic 'U-shaped' glacial valley, relatively narrow, with steep slopes, making it one of the most scenic valleys along the entire Niagara Escarpment.

But when I think about describing the valley, it is much bigger than the narrow, scenic part where I live.  Moving north toward Georgian Bay (looking white in the distance), the valley opens out into a broader shallow valley with much gentler slopes, and a large flat forested swamp in the centre.  The Beaver River flows downstream through the middle of that swamp (a popular canoe route), and eventually empties into Georgian Bay about in the centre of this picture, taken 3 weeks ago from the top of the former Talisman Ski Resort.

And Georgian Bay is a story of its own once you get there.  Often described as the '6th Great Lake', it's known for its crystal clear blue water, beautiful scenery, and lots of recreational communities around the hundreds of miles of shoreline.  Where the Beaver River empties into the bay in Thornbury is a very popular fishing spot.

But if I'm going to describe the valley, I really need to include the upper watershed too.  Above the waterfalls that I've often posted pictures of, above the Niagara Escarpment slopes, the valley is much shallower, the creek running through rolling rural countryside.  Here the stream gets much narrower until it eventually peters out in various swamps and springs where it originates.

There are a lot interesting features here in the valley that attract my interest, and provide great places to explore.  The single most obvious feature of the Niagara Escarpment is the outcropping of cliff towering over the village of Kimberley, known as Old Baldy or Kimberley Rocks.  The Bruce Trail goes right along the top, providing spectacular views of the valley.

As you know if you've read this blog much, I'm personally intrigued with all the waterfalls - here Webwood Falls. And as you can tell from both pictures, the geology is an important part of the valley.  There are three medium size waterfalls, and numerous smaller ones, all of which mark the boundary between the watershed above and below the Niagara Escarpment.

But because the top layer of that geology is limestone, there are many streams which do not flow over the escarpment at all, but disappear into sinkholes, reappearing as springs part way down the hill.  This is Kimberley Springs, on Wodehouse Creek, with one of the most interesting karst sinkhole complexes in the entire province.

There's a lot I could say about the human use of the landscape in the valley too, including the downhill skiing that it's known for - here the Beaver Valley Ski Club.  I'll touch on both recreation and agriculture over the next few days.

Being a geographer, I can't do this without including a map, so here is the Beaver Valley, or more correctly the Beaver River Watershed.  I've outlined the entire area drained by the Beaver River system in lighter blue, and the Beaver River itself in a narrower dark blue line.  The dashed dark blue lines are major tributaries of the river.

As you can see, the river actually drains westward first, passes through Lake Eugenia just northeast of Flesherton, and drops over Eugenia Falls.  Then we're in the narrow scenic part of the valley heading north, past the Ski Club, through the big swamp, and eventually reaching Georgian Bay at Thornbury.  The light purple lines are my version of dividing the valley into three regions - the upper watershed, the middlemost scenic part of the valley where we live, and the lower valley to the north.  Tomorrow I'll start taking a closer look at each of these three parts of the valley.