Ontario War Memorials visits and reports on the Vespra Boys cenotaph

November 26, 2013

This memorial is one small obstacle in the future development of these sacred lands, one which will be removed if the current political agenda is allowed to continue. Hopefully the will of the citizens of Springwater can win out over the tax-seeking, developer endorsed politicians of Ontario. 

Excerpt from OntarioWarMemorials.blogspot.ca:

Midhurst (Vespra Township)
Saturday, 2 November 2013


Location: Simcoe County N 44 26.393 W 079 45.723
Located inside Springwater Provincial Park. Follow the signs from Highway 26, park at the front gate and follow the path to the right, for 300 metres.


This historic memorial represents a story which is much more involved than meets the eye. The area where the memorial was erected is an area of conservation, of remembrance, and currently of conflict.

This area been used as traditional lands of the Native people who have lived here successfully for over 10,000 years, the rich hardwood forests supplying them with the means to survive and thrive. During the years of settlement, the Natives where eventually replaced by settlers and their farms. The land soon became barren, due to the sandy soil which could not support the toils of farming, and turned to a windblown wasteland of desert. Along came one of Ontario’s most prominent conservationists, Dr. Edmund Zavitz, Ontario’s first Chief Forester, who developed the idea of planting pine trees to stabilize the soil and thus helped to save the landscape across southern Ontario. Dr. Zavitz, along with future Premier Hon. E.C. Drury (1919-1922) established Ontario’s first demonstration forest right here, near Midhurst, in an area which had eroded to the point of no return and also contained several life-giving springs to sustain and grow his beloved pines. The springs are an important headwaters for the Minesing Wetlands, an internationally important, RAMSAR Convention wetlands. The Minesing Wetlands is the last, largest continuous wetlands in southern Ontario. For years this area was used by “Zavitz’s Boys” as a training ground for conservation and forestry. Over one million pines were planted in the Midhurst Forest Station, and eight to ten million seedlings were distributed across the province

With the outbreak of war in 1914, many of the local boys headed off to Europe to further serve their country and fight for freedom. Many never came back, and eighteen men from Vespra Township(now Springwater Township) lost their lives in the conflict. Dr. Zavitz arranged to pay tribute to these brave souls by erecting a monument in this forest, among the pines and natural springs, to pay tribute to the Vespra Boys. A stone cenotaph was hand-built in 1929 by local men Robert Mills and Harvey Spence under the direction of Methven A. Adamson, Superintendent of the Forest Station 1929 – 1956, The Vespra Boys cenotaph was the central focus of the Vespra Legion Branch 149 which started in 1929, had over 120 members at its height and was de-commissioned in 1974 because its membership fell below the minimum allowable. Two engraved plaques of limestone where embedded on the stone cairn. The inscription on the white marble front piece is Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori – Latin from Horace meaning: It is sweet and right to die for your country. In 1913, Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori was inscribed on the wall of the chapel of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, UK the British Army officer initial training centre. The phrase can be found at the front entrance to the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater at the Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, USA. On the back of the cairn, originally was a fountain of spring water, the essential element of life, along with a suitable plaque. In front of the memorial was once a small pond and fountain, a symbol of eternal life, now filled in and removed.

After the Second World War, a “V” for Victory was created across the bank of a small stream behind the memorial. The original configuration was made of Yew trees, and later changed to a stone V-shaped garden, which can still be seen today.

The area was designated a Provincial Park in 1958, and continued to grow, not only as a recreation area for the people of this region, but also as an area of continued conservation and appreciation of nature. Springwater Provincial Park is a tremendous asset to the people of Springwater Township and visitors alike.

The current provincial government, in its wisdom decided to close Springwater Park in October of 2012, along with nine other Provincial Parks. With encroaching development from Barrie, and the value of this land as a prospective tax base, the future of this beautiful park is under a severe threat. Shortly after the announcement of the closure of the park, the area was occupied by several Native people, destined to save this historic and unique forest from development. The Natives still occupy the park today, but allow visitors to enjoy the forest and roam freely under the tall pines.

The memorial itself is also under threat of being removed, with a group called Springwater Park Citizens Coalition trying their best to protect not only the park, but also to protect the memorial and keep it here in its chosen location, rather than have it moved to another location and possibly being damaged in the process. Recently the memorial was subjected to a severe sand-blasting of the stonework and several of the adjacent flowerpots and decorations were damaged in the process. The work done to the memorial has vastly changed the look, destroying the attractive patina acquired from years of weathering, and also caused cracks in the mortar, which will be destructive once the cold weather and ice wreaks its havoc. Why the Ministry of Natural Resources used such a destructive method is scandalous, although they claim they are trying to restore and preserve the cairn, they seem to have caused more damage than good. This memorial is one small obstacle in the future development of these sacred lands, one which will be removed if the current political agenda is allowed to continue. Hopefully the will of the citizens of Springwater can win out over the tax-seeking, developer endorsed politicians of Ontario.

This year on November 11th, a traditional Remembrance Day ceremony is scheduled to take place, despite the current situation, which will also include a tribute of the Native contribution to our nation in times of conflict. In the past, the MNR had placed a wreath at the cenotaph, but there had never been a proper ceremony. Now with the closing of the park, the local people are taking it upon themselves to do what is right.


The names of the eighteen Vespra Boys lost in the Great War:

· Arthur Bell
· Frederick Benson
· Ernest Cloughley
· Lewis Cole
· Ernest A. Finlay
· Wilson Greaves
· Wilfred Higgins
· Herbert Roy Hodgson
· George Hodgson
· Arthur Jacobs
· Wallace Key
· William Lang
· Garnet Maw
· John Muir
· William Parker
· James Henry (Harry) Priest
· Stanley Reynolds
· George Selkirk


Marker text:








*Special thanks to from Mr. Les Stewart MBA, of the Springwater Park Citizens Coalition, for providing a guided tour of the site and for his never-ending quest to save Springwater Park. His notes and knowledge helped greatly with this posting.

Mr. Tim Laye was invited to document the war memorial at Springwater Park in the summer and the visit happened on October 18, 2013, one week after the sandblasting happened. Words and pictures: Tim Laye


Canadian Forestry Corps: for each fighting soldier, 5 trees needed to be sacrificed for us to be free.

November 7, 2013

A crisis in wood production is met by experienced Canadian forestry professionals.

Canadian Forestry Corps1

A very interesting look into a little known branch of the Canadian military. some excerpts and images from a Bob Briggs article:

Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC)
In both World War I and World War II the Canadian government formed the Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC), in answer to the British government’s request for overseas woodsmen to cover a workforce shortage in Britain. In WWII, the CFC consisted of around 30 companies that were sent to work, mainly in Scotland, but also elsewhere in Europe. Although a military unit, the CFC’s main task was to cut down trees, not fight. They focused on recruiting men who were already experienced in forestry; few had military experience. As the unit did not exist as part of the pre-war army it had to be recruited from scratch; a soldier’s rank therefore often depended on his previous status in the forestry industry


The war created a crisis in wood supply for the United Kingdom. Pre-war domestic production covered only a small fraction of the timber needed to support the war effort. In addition to civilian requirements, it was estimated that every soldier needed five trees: one for living quarters, messing, and recreation; one for crates to ship food, ammunition, tanks, and so on; and three for explosives, gun stocks, coffins, ships, factories, and direct or indirect support for the fighting line.

Wikipedia: Canadian Forestry Corps


CFC map1

Source ‘The Sawdust Fusiliers’ book by William C Wonders. Map shows the city where each of the first twenty companies of the CFC were mobilized from, plus a chart that indicates the percentage of soldiers each province provided.

The Commonwealth looks to Canada for expertise in forestry practices with Ontario supplying almost 40 per cent of these “overseas woodsmen”:

Once again the British Government turned to Overseas Woodsman to assist in the war effort. Given their impressive record in World War One it was natural that they looked to Canada to provide forestry units once again. In May 1940 the Canadian Government decided to form a Canadian Forestry Corps. Twenty Companies were initially formed with ten more as the war progressed.

The financial agreement between the two Governments as similar to that in World War I. Canada would bear the cost of pay, allowances and pensions, all initial personal equipment, transport to and from the United Kingdom. The British Government paid for “all other services connected with equipment, work or maintenance” and certain others, including medical services. Canada covered the cost for Medical Officers and Britain paid for hospitalization.

The arrangement was unusual as it resulted in a Canadian Unit working for the British, who controlled the areas of work and disposal of the product, but Military operations of the C.F.C. was never surrendered by the Canadians and came under command of Canadian Military Headquarters in London. Even though the C.F.C. had to serve two masters, no serious problems ever resulted.

CFC cat1

Sir Charles Ross was one of the first people to use caterpillar tractors to harvest trees, as can be seen in this image from his estate. Later the CFC instigated the widespread use of this machinery in Scotland. © Tain & District Museum Trust. Licensor

The professionals from No. 14 Company go to Scotland to help:

Prior to the arrival of the Canadian lumberjacks there were various undertakings by the British Government to aid in the harvesting of limber for their own use. Such contributions were helpful, but on occasion the efforts of unskilled workers created problems for the professionals later.

The No. 14 Coy brought with them the most up-to-date logging equipment then available in Canada. They brought a standard medium type rotary mill with a capacity of 1500-2000 bd. ft. an hour or c. 8,000 cu. ft a week/3-5-4-7 cm an hour or 227 cm a week. (The British Forestry Commission also provided the company with a Scotch mill or bench, but these were not popular with the Canadians.) Power was supplied by 100-horsepowe Diesel generators. Logging equipment included TD9 caterpillar tractors, lorries, sulkies (pneumatic-tired arches), angle dozers for road making, and two and three drum winches for high-lead logging. They also were equipped with a variety of transportation vehicles, four tractors, two sulkies, one motorcycle, and originally six bicycles.

CFC truck1

Heavy CFC logging truck. Courtesy of the Private Charles Frederick Neale Collection

Canadian soldiers have always been welcomed in the Commonwealth and elsewhere for a very good reason…they’re community oriented:

The CFC was apparently well liked in the Scottish Highlands. The men became active participants in local functions, from fundraising to staging Christmas parties for the local children. Many times, scrap wood mysteriously fell from lorries beside homes in need of fuel. A notable tribute to the CFC was paid by Laura Lady Lovat when she stated, “you Canadians may be cutting the Scots firs of the Highlands, but in Highland hearts you are planting something far more lasting”.

CFC bridge1

Bridge building crew. Photo Courtesy of Mitchell Bell

Professional Canadian warriors know how to be good guests in a community:

Members of the CFC were seen in uniform regularly at local parades in support of varied wartime causes. In addition to their distinctive cap badges and shoulder patches, from Mar 1943 the CFC were identified by a green triangle below the ‘Canada’ flash on the upper arm of the battle dress.

Church parades also brought them to the public’s attention as the No. 9 Coy made use of the local church buildings as well as holding religious services in the camp.

CFC personnel went out of their way to make Christmas Day memorable for the local children, many of whom came from poor crofts and many of whose fathers were away in the service. No. 14 Company at Wilderness Camp also donated toys made by its members in their own time, for sale in Aviemore and Inverness on behalf of the Red Cross Fund. Personnel gave up their rations of candy so that the children might have them.

One such overseas woodsman was Major  Methven Alexander Adamson, No. 14 Company, Canadian Forestry Corps. He was the Midhurst Forest Station and Springwater Park superintendent from 1929 to 1956.

Through sacrifice


Springwater Park

  • Ike Merritt, I.C. 1922 – 1927
  • G. Richard Lane 1927 – 1929
  • Methven A. Adamson 1929 – 56
  • Cyril Jackson 1934 – 1975
  • William R. Wilson 1975 – 1996
  • Gordon Murphy 1996 – 1998
  • Bradley Warren 1998 – 2008
  • Thomas Wilson 2008 –
  • Scott Thomas 2013 – current

Midhurst Forest Station

  • Ike Merritt, I.C. 1922 – 1927
  • G. Richard. Lane 1927 – 1929
  • Methven A. Adamson 1929 – 1956
  • John M. Halpenny 1956 – 1969
  • C. Rid Groves 1969 – 1983
  • Kenneth Reese 1983 – 1993

To protect 193 ha. from development, is it really necessary for the ladies to freeze this winter?

September 6, 2013

“We all want to see this land taken care of.”

Kim Beth

Kim Rose left, and Elizabeth Brass Elson are working to help grow a native healing centre at Springwater Park Laurie Watt

There have been 153 days from April 1 to September 15, 2013.

  • 153 days to figure out a way to keep the 15 kms. of cross-country ski and snow shoe trails cleared, groomed and open this winter,
  • 153 days to renew the contract for snow removal on the roads in the park,
  • 153 days to winterize the cabin and deal with the mold, and
  • 153 days to have a place to change a diaper out of the cold (ie. open the comfort station for goodness sake).

Laurie Watt from the Barrie Advance asks an important question in today’s article, Aboriginal camp prepares for winter in Springwater: Is it necessary for the ladies to endure a full winter camping?

Brass Elson said she already feels the cool winds of fall and relit the fire in the cabin Tuesday. She plans to stay through the winter and continues to talk with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Parks Ontario.

“We all want to see this land be taken care of,” she added.

And what’s so special about Springwater Park – Camp Nibi?

Brass Elson, an initiate at the Midewan Three Fires Lodge, has brought in an elder to bless the land and the growing community that unites people of many aboriginal heritages.

“This is a place where there’s a lot of different First Nations, rich in history, because it’s such a beautiful, spiritual place,” said Brass Elson.

“The man who designed this (park) said it should be a template for forestry in Ontario. His energy is still here. He started the tree nursery and his vision lives. It’s a shame the Ministry (of Natural Resources) doesn’t want to sustain it. This land has lots of offer everybody.”

NOTE: The flag behind Kim and Beth is the only Canadian or Ontario flag at the park anymore.

The ladies hung them up last Saturday along with a few others at the main pavilion.

Flag 1These are the Anishinabe Nation,  United Nations and Haudenosaunee Nation flags (l to r).

Flag 3

Ontario deserves a stand-alone Forestry Museum in Midhurst.

August 9, 2013

And Springwater Park – Camp Nibi is the ideal spot to locate to commemorate two founding fathers of provincial environmentalism.

Drury zavitz a

Former Premier E.C. Drury (l., 1878-1968) and Dr. Edmund Zavitz (1875-1968) worked tirelessly over decade to create a process that resulted in 2 billion trees being planted in Ontario. Our province has an internationally-recognized natural and human resource of skilled foresters, country forests and tree “farmers”.

Mr. Gord Miller the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario says we need one more billion trees to get to the recommended 30 per cent tree coverage for southern Ontario.

Let’s recognize these early water protectors not just with two life-sized bronze statues but with a provincial Forestry Museum that will tell the story of material world redemption. British Columbia has one, btw.

At the same time, let’s also work re-establishing public assets such as the Midhurst Forest Station which produced 8 to 10 million seedlings annually. It’s never too late to correct a +20 year mistake when the tree nursery system was dismantled.

Image courtesy of Mr. Ed Borczon, RPF and Dr. Bacher, Two Billion Trees and Counting: The Legacy of Edmund Zavitz, 2011, p. 119.

Springwater Park – Camp Nibi started on the day the Ministry of Natural Resources abandoned Springwater Park after 90 years

May 2, 2013

The first night: April 1st, 2013

First night

Main pavilion.

First night 2

One of the cabins.

Nibi pavilion

Trying to explain through signs. That water flows into the Minesing Wetlands: an internationally important wetlands.

Nibi spring

nibi = “fresh water”.

Follow that spring uphill like Hon. E.C. Drury and Edmund Zavitz did in 1905 when they chose this site to found the Midhurst Tree Nursery. The MNR abandoned that land (the tree nursery) in 1993, after 71 years of service and millions of trees being grown. No more retirement parties (see my first post).

Signs taken down

The MNR really didn’t like this one. (Note the broken change machine, since removed.)

Flags gone

Non-operational. Abandoned.

The MNR lowered the Canadian and Ontario flags after 90 years.

The story of Springwater Provincial Park is a Faith-filled journey

February 13, 2013

From the February Midhurst Newsletter.

Midhurst Community Newsletter logo

The story of Springwater Provincial Park is a Faith-filled journey
Sanctuary, peace and redemption after The Great War
Les Stewart

The forests, lakes and streams of Simcoe County developed over millions of years but very nearly permanently destroyed within 50 years in the mid 1800s by reckless actions. The forests fell, triggering a profound changes and one environmental crisis after another. Land too infertile to farm was left to create dust storms to such an extent that in the 1920s, farmers in Ontario had to plow their lanes in the summer because of the sand drifts. Fires ran unchecked.

Two men, E.C. Drury of Crown Hill and Edmund Zavitz, Ontario’s first forester, were friends that devoted their lives to redeeming this error. Drury as a boy remembers the night sky glowing red at the fires from the Midhurst plains, the water being poisoned, the flash fires. His faith drove him to act. In 1905, Drury and Zavitz surveyed the Angus, Orr Lake and Midhurst areas for the sites of a future tree forest station. The Midhurst plains were chosen because of the abundant springs that have been a significant headwaters to the internationally recognized Minesing Wetlands.

In 1922, the Midhurst Forest Station started and, with it, Springwater Park. The park was proof of the value of reforestation to the municipalities in central Ontario and private landowners. The ponds were hand-dug during the Great Depression for the tree nursery and the Midhurst CPR station, performed by hundreds of local families and lead by practical men like Meth Adamson and Cyril Jackson. At its peak, 10 million trees per year were shipped from Midhurst. Drury and Zavitz put into place the systems where two billion trees were planted in Ontario.

Sanctuary for all creatures: The definition of a sanctuary is a sacred space, a refuge, some place that is safe from harm: an asylum. The Vespra Boys cenotaph stands as silent testimony to the human need for peace, reflection and rejuvenation. The horrors of the Great War found a place for the families of those that fought and died within a living 477 acre Eden. Almost immediately, unwanted animals were kept at Springwater, starting with pheasants, deer, raptors and even generations of wolves because those God-created creatures needed to be taken care of because of a faith heritage that has only recently diminished.

Challenge: The tree nursery closed in 1993, the CPR station is also gone. It seems all we know how to do is build homes without any jobs to go along with it but that’s not community-building: that’s another version of a clear-cutting mentality. Does the story of Springwater Park have to end or is there enough wisdom locally to re-kindle the idea that man as an obligation to care for the weakest in their society? And in that effort, have a chance to find their own redemption?

Springwater Park Citizens’ Coalition SPCC: The purpose of the Springwater Park Citizens’ Coalition is to support the sustainable operation of Springwater Park . We will provide a supporting role to the professional management of the park, water and forest and will assist where and when appropriate.

In co-operation with the Ministry of Natural Resources, municipal governments, public and private landowners, the Nottawasaga Conservation Authority, water experts, First Nations, CFB Borden, veterans’ groups, and the faith, business and development communities, we hope to help:

  • develop a multi-year strategic business plan,
  • document the story of the park, tree nursery and CPR station (Midhurst Plains),
  • encourage public participation through relationship building with existing community groups (service, faith, environmental, other),
  • retain, restore and renew the animal sanctuary and Vespra Boys cenotaph,
  • help promote the parklands and programs that may be developed,
  • establish a L’Arch community for Simcoe County,
  • promote the park as a version of Simcoe County’s “High Park”, and
  • establish a Springwater Park Auxiliary.

The SPCC looks forward to joining with our neighbours in the future realization of E.C. Drury’s faith-based dream of reconciliation and atonement; in this world and the next.

MNR News Release: Ontario Launches Pilot at Three Provincial Parks

January 16, 2013

So it looks like the MNR can find common ground with 3 (all NDP elected, btw) communities but our true blue leaders can’t save Springwater Park?

Hon. Michael Gravelle“I’m proud that we were able to work collaboratively with municipal partners to continue to offer camping at these three parks. We responded to the concerns we heard from northerners with a pilot that, I hope, will make these parks more economical and help guide future decision making for our fantastic parks system.”

Michael Gravelle
Minister of Natural Resources

Q: What about Kellie Leitch, MP Simcoe Grey?

A: If you ever, ever, ever find yourself in need of just information (no $, no effort  just a referral  about a nationally registered cenotaph, pray to God that this physician is off duty: 100% no response over 3.5 months.

From the Ontario Newsroom, today:

Ontario Launches Pilot at Three Provincial Parks
McGuinty Government Working to Increase Park Revenue and Visitation Rates

Ontario is working with the Town of Hearst, the Township of Moonbeam and the City of Timmins to keep visitor services at provincial parks in their areas.

Under a two-year pilot project, Ontario Parks will work with the respective municipalities to operate Fushimi Lake, René Brunelle and Ivanhoe Lake provincial parks, with the goal of increasing their revenue and visitation rates. Municipal partners will be responsible for covering any financial losses incurred during the pilot period.

In September 2012, the province announced it was changing these parks from operating to non-operating designation along with seven others because of low visitation and occupancy levels that resulted in financial losses.

Working collaboratively with municipalities is part of the McGuinty government’s plan to strengthen the economy and sustain jobs for families.

Simcoe County is a provincial political wasteland because it is so blue over the years.

Everyone blames the kitten-eater even in the face of:

  1. the Rae/NDPers destroying the tree nursery system (Midhurst Forest Station),
  2. the Harris government gutted 50% of what was left out of the MNR’s budget, and
  3. the Hudak crowd wanting to do 2. times 10 for their buddies (hello Walkerton, Ipperwash).

But go ahead: keep voting blue until there are no public goods and every forest has been clear-cut or paved over.

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