Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists Get a Reading Lesson

The following account of the Wednesday October 25, 2017 ‘geology’ event Reading the Rocks.

Wednesday was a beautiful cool, crisp October morning as the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists and friends gathered in  Metcalfe Geoheritage Park for “Reading the Rocks,” led by Neil Carleton, a founding MVFN member. It was the perfect backdrop for the drama that was about to unfold. Four dozen heads tilted backward as Neil began our breakneck journey through geological time, by sweeping his arms skyward, pulling the Grenville Mountains from their ancient roots, to dizzying heights. Beneath these towering behemoths, we imagined the tremendous heat and pressure that would transform the rock, limestone to marble and shale to schist, 20 km beneath our feet.

photo Brenda Boyd

photo Brenda Boyd


Meanwhile, as the continents restlessly wandered the globe, Neil’s arms fell as the equatorial landmass that would become North America was covered in a succession of tropical oceans. His voice filled with awe as he described the diversity of marine life in the warm, shallow seas. Pointing downriver to a distant landmark, he was ready to take us further on our exploration in time, but closer to the present when a cooling climate triggered a global ice age.  Tipping the landscape on its head, the outcrop now stood 2 km atop a glacier. We could almost hear the grinding of the massive continental ice sheet in its relentless advance, scouring the landscape and smoothing the bedrock to a polished finish.  Neil’s hands and arms floated away from his body as the ice melted leaving behind the rock debris known as glacial till.

Neil then turned to the scientific record of the events he had described so eloquently. It is all there in the folded layers, bedrock striations, and colourful minerals if you take the time to read the rocks. He pointed to a large slab of micaceous schist that formed deep in the roots of the Grenville Mountains. He traced the fossils of predatory cephalopods, the uniquely preserved burrows of soft-bodied organisms, and the rippled sediments frozen in the rock of what was once the near shore bottom of an Ordovician Sea. Ruler straight lines on the face of one boulder and a conglomerate rock formed by the cementation of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks formed in very different ways, in very different places, that had been carried in and under the ice sheet, and left behind were evidence of the melting ice as it receded from the area only some 11,500 years ago.

The group then moved to tables of fossil specimens that Neil had set up for closer examination. A microscope allowed a look at the fine details of the corals, brachiopods, and trilobites that inhabited the prehistoric seas of our area.  A scavenger hunt of geological words further engaged us in our exploration of rock and fossils. Neil wrapped up the morning by answering questions and distributing “loot bags” containing local rock samples with labels, along with shells from the Champlain Sea.

Metcalfe Geoheritage Park is located  at the base of  Bay Hill (i.e. at the rivers edge at 250 Almonte Street in Almonte. For directions see  Try your hand at reading the rocks. There are pamphlets at the park to help you, or bring along your smartphone and access in-depth information, through the QR codes located at the base of each sample. Learn what the rocks have to tell us about the fascinating geological history of Almonte and the surrounding area.

By Gretta Bradley

Almonte's Metcalfe Geoheritage Park photo P. Donaldson (1280x591)

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Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists celebrate two founding members

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists celebrate two founding members as “MVFN Champions for Nature” at 21 st AGM

by Pauline Donaldson

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN), an Ontario Nature Network group promoting knowledge and stewardship of the natural world, held their 21st Annual General Meeting (AGM) at Union Hall in the welcome heat of May 21st. The evening began with a social hour and silent auction to benefit the Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary, and was capped off by a beautiful wildlife slide presentation by Mark Garbutt.

Champion Carleton

Recipient of an MVFN Champion for Nature award at MVFN’s AGM, Neil Carleton is seen here with nature displays at MVFN’s Art of Being Green festival booth. Photo: Pauline Donaldson

A highlight of the evening was presentation of MVFN Champion for Nature Awards to two of MVFN’s founding members who are truly outstanding champions for the natural world in Ontario’s Mississippi Valley. The first award was to Neil Carleton, naturalist, community volunteer and elementary school teacher from Almonte, for his contribution as founding member of MVFN and in teaching local children and adults about the natural world. Carleton was an active member on MVFN’s first Board of Directors (BOD) – in the early years lobbying for environmental causes, monitoring rare birds, and leading groups in astronomy, geology and other outings. He was also instrumental in the recent establishment of Canada’s first municipal Geopark in Almonte. “Neil is one of those special individuals who combine passion with knowledge in teaching others about the natural world and the need to protect it,” stated club President McPhail in presenting the award. “He has influenced countless individuals in his role as a teacher in and outside the classroom. To make learning interesting he leaves no stones unturned.” An active member of MVFN, Neil continues to inspire others to take notice of the wonder of details in the natural world and in its conservation.Champion Bennett

Cliff Bennett (right) receives an MVFN Champion for Nature Award from MVFN President Mike McPhail (left) at MVFN’s AGM at Union Hall. Photo: Howard Robinson

A second Champion award was presented to MVFN founding member Cliff Bennett of Mississippi Mills who has served MVFN’s executive in various roles. Cliff Bennett is a canoeist, birder, former special education teacher and Councillor, and until very recently Eastern Region Director for Ontario Nature. Cliff was responsible for development of MVFN’s flagship Environmental Education Program (EEP) and is still coordinator of MVFN’s outdoor program of nature walks and canoe outings. Although Bennett was recipient of a 2006 award for Excellence in Environmental Conservation from the National Capital Region and a 2008 Conservation award from the Ottawa Field Naturalists, he stated the MVFN award was special because it was from the peers who inspire him to continue doing the activities for which he received the award. “Cliff’s passion as a naturalist is what shines through” said McPhail during the presentation ceremony. “It seems a bit of an understatement to say that Cliff is also an avid birder. Cliff your nomination is the result of your sustained commitment to protection of the environment over many decades and perhaps even more importantly for your influence on so many individuals to take a stand for nature as we go about our lives.” It was Bennett’s efforts which resulted in publication of MVFN’s successful Lanark County Canoe and Kayak Journeys in 2007 and the 2009 companion guide Lanark County Birding Journeys.

The AGM directors reports showcased recent club activities such as the From the Ground, Up lecture series and the many presentations made on climate change awareness to local councils within the Mississippi watershed this year by Howard Robinson and Cliff Bennett, who received a special thank you from Environmental Issues Chair Bill Slade for that work.

2009 agm Slade thanks climate change group

 Environmental Issues Chair Bill Slade (left) was pleased to formally thank Howard Robinson (middle) and Cliff Bennett (right)  for their hard work in delivering messages of climate change awareness to local councils. Photo: Pauline Donaldson

Photo 3 McPhail thanked at AGM

MVFN’s President Mike McPhail was presented with a copy of The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario in appreciation of three years leading the club. Photo: Howard Robinson

BOD nominations were also held. Stepping down after three productive years as MVFN’s President, Mike McPhail was presented with a copy of The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario from fellow board members. Joyce Clinton of Carleton Place was elected new President of MVFN. Newly appointed to MVFN’s executive were Janet McGinnis of Carleton Place as Vice-President and Alison Ball of Appleton. Brenda Boyd was appointed Chair of the Environmental Education Program and continues as representative to Ontario Nature. Other returning BOD members are Howard Robinson, Treasurer; Janet Fytche, Secretary; Bill Slade, Environmental Issues; Amelia Ah-You, Membership; Pauline Donaldson, Public Relations, and Franziska Von Rosen, MVFN Representative on the Community Stewardship Council of Lanark County.




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Report of first Monarch seen July 1st

Friday a.m. at home
July 4, 2008

On Tuesday afternoon, July 1st, I saw my first Monarch butterfly of the year here at home in Almonte. While I was working outside in the late afternoon, it floated past my field of view and landed close by on a lower branch of one of our front yard maple trees. While I marvelled at the wonder of its migration, the Monarch sat in the sunshine for quite a while before lifting off and disappearing around the corner of the house.

Neil Carleton

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Freezing temperatures are bringing an end to another growing season-but could the frost-free growing season be getting longer?

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
October 1, 2006

by Neil Carleton and Paul Egginton, MVFN members


Plants and animals are limited in their distribution and activities by climate. By May 8th the last frost of the year is usually reported in the Ottawa area. This is followed by a period of relatively high activity and growth for plants and animals, which continues throughout the summer until the first fall frost.

While this frost may not severely limit all species, to an observer of nature it signals a major seasonal change and the end of another growing season. The timing and length of the frost free season is of interest to all of us and especially naturalists, farmers and gardeners. As the climate warms the timing of the first and last frosts may be expected to shift and the growing season may become longer over the whole Mississippi Watershed.

In 2005, some 90 students and families in three towns and surrounding areas participated in a Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) frost watch project to observe when the first frost arrived near their homes. Special thanks to the participating students, families and teachers at Carembeck Public School in Carleton Place (teacher Kirk Belisle), Pakenham Public School (teacher:Leanne Wing) and R.Tait McKenzie Public School in Almonte.

Many of us in participating in the 2005 frost observations were simply curious how our gardens or areas of interest would compare with others nearby.For the students, making the observations and sharing them with their class gave them a first hand look at the geographical and temporal variability of frost in our area. Details will be posted in the climate change awareness section of the MVFN website at

When should we expect the first frost each year?

This of course depends in part on where you live, whether you live in town or in the country, beside a moderating lake or on an exposed hillside. Typically some local areas will experience frost when the forecasted overnight low temperatures for the area are 40C but if lows of 0 0C are forecast we are almost certain to get frost. This is anticipated to occur on about October 8th each year. For many of us however, the growing season of 2005 was quite exceptional. The Fall season seemed to go on and on; some of us enjoyed hardy fall blooming flowers and garden vegetables until the heavy freezes of October 20 and 21st. Will such long growing seasons become normal?

Scientists’ analysis of Eastern Ontario climate station data shows that over the past 40 years the length of the frost free growing season has increased by 15 days, in other words at a rate of a day every 4 years. At this rate there would be another 10-15 days added to the growing season by 2040-2060.

Interestingly, outputs from some 40 climate models also indicate that regional warming trends may persist into the future. Thus, current trends are in line with what model projections tell us is likely to happen.

To put these changes into perspective, by 2040 Mississippi Mills, Perth, and the Ottawa area could have growing seasons as long as those found in the Windsor area today. There are significant ecological implications to such warming of our climate. MVFN is examining various aspects of the climate sensitivity of local ecosystems as part of our climate change awareness program and will report on these as information becomes available.

Neil Carleton is a teacher at R.Tait McKenzie Public School in Almonte. He and his students took part in recording frost observations in 2005.

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