Ferguson Forest Centre, Limerick Forest
North Grenville is blessed to have so much green space for residents and visitors to enjoy. Right in the centre of Kemptville lies the Ferguson Forest Centre [FFC], named after one of the area’s most famous sons, Premier G. Howard Ferguson. When the Ontario Government bought land at the north end of Oxford-on-Rideau Township in 1945, it marked the beginning of the FFC. For fifty years, the Province ran a tree nursery, and when it was closed in 1995, and then bought by the Township to operate as it does today, the people of North Grenville were given a priceless gift, a large green space of trees, trails, river and beauty to enjoy as their common inheritance.
The FFC is eastern Ontario’s largest supplier of high-quality tree seedlings and nursery stock to foresters, landscapers, landowners, nurseries and conservation-minded people. It includes a seasonal nursery outlet, seedling production and research areas, and over 300 hectares (741 acres) of forested Crown land with numerous walking trails. Operated and maintained since 2000 by the Ferguson Forest Centre Corporation, a non-profit corporation, the Forest is a popular spot with walkers, bikers and other explorers year-round. The trail system has a choice of seven routes, including the Management Trail, a self-guided walking trail designed to further your understanding of forestry in Eastern Ontario, and the Kinderwood, a short trail, introducing children to the forest inhabitants. Explore them with the help of trail guides and maps.
The Limerick Forest is located at the south end of the municipality and also has a trail network on 1,235 acres of forest and wetlands, featuring interpretive signs, a short boardwalk, a wildlife-viewing platform and the ruins of one of the original homesteads in the area. Looking around the Forest now, it is hard to believe that just sixty years ago, this was abandoned farmland, subject to blowing sand and desolate.
The United Counties of Leeds and Grenville appointed a Committee in 1939 to report on having a Counties Forest established in Oxford and Augusta Townships. The land owners who were seriously in arrears on taxes, or who had actually abandoned their farms, had their land confiscated, and the United Counties decided to use these lots as the basis for the new forest, and so the Limerick Forest started in 1940.
The process of tree planting went on for decades. In 1965-66, for example, 177,800 trees were planted, by hand, by twenty-eight workers. In all, nearly nine million trees were planted in Limerick Forest on land that so many settlers had painstakingly cleared in the late nineteenth century, thereby destroying the land they were trying to cultivate. In 1995, the Province ceased their management of the Forest and it was left undisturbed until the United Counties took over management in 2001.
Friends of Limerick will welcome visitors at the Interpretive Centre, made of red pine logs harvested from one of the original Limerick plantations. The Centre is on the site of one of the earliest one-room schools in Oxford-on-Rideau Township. Limerick Forest has many stories to tell. Bring your camera!