by Lynn Ovenden

On January 8, 2021, we shared our personal memories of things in nature that we once knew, but they aren’t the same any more. A few members who couldn’t attend the zoom meeting submitted written stories in advance that were read aloud. Twelve people spoke. We recalled animals, landscapes, and sounds of 20-60 years ago. Some of them have disappeared and we miss them. Some have been replaced, sometimes for the better. We value all these memories:

  • Summer days in the 1990s, near a road with wooden barns and telephone lines crowded with swallows and their constant chattering overhead. The barns and swallows are gone now, except for a pair of tree swallows in a neighbour’s bird box.
  • From the window, watching a Barred Owl atop a pine tree at dawn in the snow-filled backyard of a new suburb of Barrie.
  • As a kid at the cottage in the Laurentians, seeing so many little fish and tadpoles, plus bullfrogs, bats, and whip-poor-will in the evening. They are mostly gone now. We have beaver, geese, and no-see-ums instead.
  • Father’s efforts to build nature appreciation by making Norfolk County’s rural landscape accessible to people. He started a trail with a grant, stiles across fences and bluebird boxes. We often walked there, it wasn’t busy, saw few birds, never saw a bluebird. The trail, public support, and birds grew. Now the Lynn Valley Trail, from Simcoe to Dover, has lots of bluebirds.
  • Walking to school across dry dull land near the edge of a city, my favourite part was a gully with water, frogs, jackdaws, small birds, and tortoises that knocked their shells; the gully has probably been filled in and built over now.
  • Before the city raised the banks of the Rideau River, during spring floods, many streets along the Rideau flooded and parks such as Windsor, Brewer, Brantwood, and Brighton Beach were under water. As the water receded, large ponds with immense fish (muskies, etc.) were left behind. Also, generally in summer there were deafening frog choruses. Recall swimming all summer at Brighton Beach. On trips to the cottage, there were so many insects that car radiator grills became coated with them.
  • During the 1990s in Elmvale (southeastern Ottawa), house finches were common and cardinals were rare. It has been the reverse since the 2010s.
  • A few people recalled the fabulous abundance of wildlife in the American midwest of the 1800s as seen by George Caitlin, and relayed in Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature. George Catlin travelled between Florida (where he reported Indigenous settlements on white sand beaches) and Sault Ste Marie (where he noted tons of whitefish, which were part of the diet of the Indigenous peoples). Everywhere he went there was an Eden of wildlife, flowers, trees, fruit, and berries.
  • In Windsor Ontario, during the 1950s, the ditches were full of Tiger Lilies and Queen Anne’s Lace; now the ditches are covered over for sewer pipes. Along the Lake Erie shore, hordes of mayflies were so thick you had to sweep down cottage walls and screen doors, drive slowly on roads slippery with their bodies, enclose street lights in red tissue. Jack Miner was a local hero, known to every school kid, for his work 50 years earlier in building ponds for migrating geese and ducks and banding them, which led to the Migratory Bird Treaty of 1918.
  • Watching in amazement the rapid advance of suburban development and loss of nature, northward from Toronto, during drives to and from Owen Sound, from 1998-2008. The water level of the Great Lakes was much lower then.
  • My family always enjoyed feeding tame deer on the side of highway 60 in the 1960s during drives through Algonquin Park. We don’t see many deer on the roadside now. Part of the reason seems to be that there was more logging close to the highway years ago, which left open space for deer. There is still a lot of logging but the province keeps the logging away from the tourists to imply that Algonquin is still pristine!
  • Wildlife monitoring records for Hampton Park and Clyde Woods (Carlington) show that there are many more woodpeckers and dragonflies now than 50 years ago.
  • The mad symphony of lovelorn amphibians croaking every night in Manotick in the 1960s, the soothing sleep-inducing music as bullfrogs played bass against the high notes of smaller frogs; outrage when a neighbour captured a boatload of frogs for a family cookout in the 1970s; it was 2 years before we heard a single bullfrog again; the soundscape never returned to its previous volume.
  • Seeing American Eels in great abundance in the St. Lawrence River at Lancaster, during a visit in 1967; now they are endangered, unable to see them in Ottawa, but Ottawa Riverkeeper released 400 eels at Petrie Island last summer.
  • Growing up in the 1970s on a farm in the boreal zone of Saskatchewan near the prairie, lots of deer, moose, bear, beaver, mink, and muskrat were around; how cool to find the first raccoon to visit the farm. Now raccoons are abundant and fisher are present in the area; moose have extended their range to prairie fields in southern Saskatchewan.
  • Driving home late on foggy drizzly fall nights near Casselman in the 1990s, trying to avoid the frogs and toads all over the county road; those nights of carnage don’t happen anymore; a strong frog and toad chorus is no longer audible from my house in spring.