Exploring the Remarkable Shaw Woods
by Cheryl Morris
On March 17, 2016, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists will once again host a presentation describing a uniquely special place in our natural world. This will be the sixth event of the current season and will take place in the Social Hall of Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte Ontario at 7:30 pm.
The guest speaker for the evening will be Grant Dobson and his presentation is entitled “Shaw Woods: A Diverse Ecological Gem.” Grant is the Chair of Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre.
The Woods first opened to the public in the 1970′s. More recently, it has become a not-for-profit charitable organization involving local volunteers including Mr. Dobson. Together they have expanded the 13-kilometre trail network, built boardwalks over sensitive areas and developed a self-guided interpretive program. A lookout perches high above Shaw Pond along the Dore Scarp. In his own words Grant describes this exceptional venture thus: “The mandate of the Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre is to foster an ethic of responsible environmental stewardship and sustainable forestry management through experiential education aimed at school-age children and the public at large. . . Shaw Woods is indeed a ‘Special Place’. Within these woods you will find one of eastern Canada’s premier examples of an old-growth maple/beech/hemlock forest. It supports a wide variety of ecological communities and has been carefully protected for generations. In addition, the property features a variety of managed forests, plantations, and wetlands.” Some of the trees in the forest are over 200 years of age!
This magnificent forested area near Lake Dore is named for the Shaw family that has lived here for many years. It spans some 124 acres of old-growth forest as well as 395 acres of wetlands and mixed forests. In 1847, John Shaw, a Scottish miller, and his wife Barbara Thompson arrived with their 2-year old son, having canoed from Bytown (the former name for Ottawa). They built a dam on the Snake River and developed a three-story grist mill to serve the early settlers who would often walk up to 12 miles carrying a 66-pound bag of grain on their back. By nightfall they would be able to return home carrying a sack of flour. For thousands of years before that, people of the Algonquin nation inhabited the shores of Lake Dore and traveled along the Snake River to the Ottawa River watershed. They accessed the wetlands in search of food—animals that could be hunted and plants that could be gathered. Plants such as the American elder were also sources of vital medicine.
The presentation, featuring examples of Grant’s stunning photography, will examine the physical environment of Shaw Woods, from the Paleozoic era to the present, as well as the range of flora and fauna which has evolved there. The 240 hectare property includes a great diversity of biological communities and is the perfect outdoor classroom for inquiry-based learning programs developed on site. In his words, Grant will “highlight some of the recent drivers of change in the forest environment, a citizen science initiative developed to track some of these changes, and the importance of small steps when it comes to environmental stewardship.”
Please join us for this fascinating presentation. Refreshments and discussion will follow the talk. There is a non-member fee of $5. For further information, please contact MVFN’s Program Chair, Gretta Bradley at