Our “Always protectedThe series shares why each and every park belongs to Ontario Parks. In today’s post, Discovery Program’s Lisa Roach tells us the story of Bon Echo.
A favorite for generations of people, Bon Echo offers incredible scenery, relaxation and a place for families and friends to reconnect. Indigenous people, artists, and early recreationists were attracted to the Bon Echo area.
So why was Bon Echo chosen to become a park?
It all started with a donation of land.
Merrill Denison, Canadian author and playwright, once owned land in the Bon Echo area. He said: “Bon Echo was one of Ontario’s most spectacular places of natural beauty, a place where people from near and far flocked to feast their eyes in awe of its majestic mass and find spiritual refreshment in communion with nature.” .
As a forward thinker, he thought it would be a shame if the Bon Echo area were divided into real estate parcels and sold off piecemeal for summer lots. So in 1959, he donated 1,000 acres to the province of Ontario for people to enjoy.
More land was later added until the park grew to its current size of 8,294 ha.
Representative Bon Echo ecosystems
Bon Echo is designated as a Natural Environment class park, protecting a portion of the southern Canadian Shield landscape. An important geological feature of the park is the prominent Mazinaw Rock cliff.
Formed over a billion years ago along a fault (fracture between two blocks of rock), the fracture allowed two blocks of rock to move relative to each other with one side rising above the other.
Melting glaciers filled the fault and created Lake Mazinaw. The east side (Mazinaw Rock) rises 100 m above Mazinaw Lake and continues downward for another 100 m.
Did you know that this lake is 145 m deep?
Mazinaw Rock has a unique ecosystem with exposed bedrock and a thin layer of soil. This ecosystem is known as the cliff moors.
Eastern White Cedar
Plants and wildlife survive here by adapting to the harsh, dry environment, created by the relentless sun that burns the soil. Wild Columbine, Red Oak, Juniper and Low Sweet Blueberry dominate the cliff top.
Did you know that the cliff supports an ancient forest?
In 1990 and 1991, scientists found ancient eastern white cedar trees living on the cliff. These trees grow very slowly due to the harsh environment and tend to be smaller than the eastern white cedars you may be familiar with.
Trees anchor themselves in cracks and depressions in shallow soils. Some of these cedars are more than 300 and 400 years old. One was 941 years old!
Representative species of Bon Echo
At-risk species such as peregrine falcons and five-lined skinks inhabit the park and can be seen in or around Mazinaw Rock.
Every spring, staff and visitors look forward to the return of the peregrine falcons (the world’s fastest animal) and hope to see an adult pair with one or two of their chicks.
These birds breed in open landscapes and often nest on the ledges of high, steep cliffs such as Mazinaw Rock. An adult couple has raised their young here for many years.
The peregrine falcon population declined significantly in the 1950s and 1960s due to the toxic effects of a pesticide called DDT. Fortunately, their numbers have increased since then; However, this bird remains a species of special concern on the Species at Risk list in Ontario.
Like the hawks, you may see Ontario’s only lizard, the five-lined skink on the bluff (or in Lake Joeperry).
They like to sunbathe in sunny spots on cliffs and disappear into crevices to cool off or escape predators.
It is easy to distinguish young skinks from an adult. Juveniles are black with five cream-colored stripes on their back and a bright blue tail, while the five stripes of adults fade over time.
Bon Echo’s representative heritage
Mazinaw Rock and the surrounding area are sacred places to indigenous people.
263 pictographs (cave paintings) testify to the power of the place and the spirits that live here. The pictographs are reddish to reddish orange and are found a few feet above the waterline.
They are believed to be records of visions or dreams, and images of canoes, turtles, thunderbirds and spirits such as Mishibizhiw and Nanaboozhoo can be seen.
The symbolism of other images remains a mystery, only known to the painters themselves.
Later, artists, including members of the Group of Seven such as Franklin Carmichael, AJ Casson, and Arthur Lismer, were inspired by Mazinaw Rock and the surrounding area.
Some members of the Group of Seven made several visits in the 1920s and 1930s at the invitation of Merrill Denison. He knew them from the Arts and Letters Club at the University of Toronto.
Ask Discovery staff to learn more about their jobs!
Next time you’re in Bon Echo, think about Mazinaw Rock and some of the species that live there.
Like Merrill, we must continue to protect this southern part of the Canadian Shield for ourselves and future visitors to enjoy.