Atlas of the Environmental History of South Central Ontario

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reha-regionThe focus of this project is on South-Central Ontario: defined as an area extending from Lake Ontario in the south to Haliburton in the north, and from Oshawa in the west to Belleville in the east. This region, encompassing several counties and the Trent River watershed, is centered on Peterborough and Trent University, the home of the project. The region also encompasses several key themes in Canadian environmental history, including the expansion of agricultural and urban settlement in relation to natural and cultural features such as watercourses, railways, and roads; and, more generally, the evolution of land uses and economic activities, including resource extraction (logging and mining), agriculture, conservation (including reforestation), industrialization, and tourism. This evolution has occurred in the context of a diverse array of landscapes, from fertile fields and forests near Lake Ontario to the northern Shield country. The region is small enough to support the ultimate goal (beyond the period of this proposal) of assembling a reasonably comprehensive collection of knowledge of its environmental history. This region is also of an appropriate size to enable affordable collaboration among the small but diverse group of individuals (environmental historians, historical geographers, local historians, conservationists, and others) that are interested in its environmental history.

The Atlas is intended to provide several kinds of resources for environmental historians. One resource is access to existing information about the region’s environmental history, through georeferencing and mapping of this knowledge. For example, an extensive effort has focused on locating and mapping the sites of over 300 mills in the Peterborough region. The resulting GIS layers can be useful in understanding settlement patterns in the region. In another aspect of the project, township histories have been reviewed, and information relevant to local environmental history has been extracted, located, and mapped.

The Atlas is also intended to provide access to resources for research. We are currently seeking to make available georeferenced historic topographical maps and historic aerial photos. Arranged as overlays, these resources can be used to study evolving patterns of land use and settlement.

This project is a work in progress, the initial results of which were presented in June 2010 at the Canadian Historical Association Annual Meeting in Montreal. Several partners have also been involved. In particular, the Maps, Data and Government Information Centre of Bata Library, Trent University, has contributed considerable time and expertise to the project.

Update June 2014. A more detailed description of this project and its derivative, the Regional Environmental History Atlas Project, is available as a free downloadable chapter:

Stephen Bocking and Barbara Znamirowski, “Stories of People, Land, and Water: Using Spatial Technologies to Explore Regional Environmental History,” in Jennifer Bonnell and Marcel Fortin eds., Historical GIS Research in Canada (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2014).

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