From Polar Bears to No Bears: a 15,000 Year History

Presented by Larry Cornelis

Glencoe, ON. October 17, 2023. A good crowd, both in person and online, took in the first meeting of the fall for the Glencoe and District Historical Society on Tuesday evening, October 17. Guest speaker for the evening, Larry Cornelis, took guests on a journey from the time that this area was covered by an ice shield.

Over the centuries, after being a tundra, the area became part of a boreal forest. Some 4,000 to 6,000 years ago, deciduous forests and savannas developed. It was an open landscape, maintained by the First Nations population through fire and by the herbivores that roamed freely. Native land care influenced forest development until the Spaniards arrived in the 1490s-1500s, bringing disease that travelled rampantly across North America. At that point, there were an estimated 30-million people on the continent.

However, 90 per cent of the population was depleted by the time the French and English arrived, which resulted in forest and old growth cover. Pioneers settled in the early 1800s, by which time there was a deep dark forest which they assumed was always there.

By 1860, 65 per cent of local forests were gone and, by 1910, up to 90 per cent of forests were depleted. Cornelis lamented about the hardship to wildlife due to the loss of forest cover and habitat. Referring to the various blights which are defoliating trees, he noted that once we lose something, it’s very hard to get it back. He ended his presentation sharing his amazement and tips in regard to the Carolinian Forest zone.

Refreshments were served as Cornelis autographed copies of his book, “Trees, Forests and Nature in Southwestern Ontario.”

Report by Marie Williams

Larry was born in Sarnia Ontario but spent most of his years at the family farm north of Wallaceburg along the North Sydenham River where his love of nature developed. Larry is a certified Horticulturist, Conservationist and Naturalist. He has been involved with local nature and conservation organizations for 35 years including Lambton Wildlife, The Sydenham Field Naturalists, Ontario Nativescapes and Ontario Nature to name a few.