First Memorial Zavitz-Drury bike ride, this Sunday, October 5

October 3, 2014

A very good way to celebrate our magnificent county forestry heritage


What: First Memorial Zavitz-Drury bike ride

When: Sunday October 5 at 10:30 am (weather permitting)

Where: meet at Spence Ave and Hwy 27 (ball diamond parking lot, Midhurst) and ride to Finlay Mill Rd, across Wattie Rd, down St. Vincent, left onto Pooles Rd, right onto Old 2nd S, left onto Partridge Rd. then down Penetanguishene Road to the plaque that marks the original Drury farm in Crown Hill. More info 705-424-7589

Alliston Herald article

Alliston Herald
September 22, 2014

Perfect season to bike through Simcoe County forests
Letter to the Editor
Anne Learn Sharpe

LETTER – The season is turning, leaves are showing hints of brilliance against the backdrop of dark pines — and it’s the perfect time for a bike ride. The story of the pine forests of Simcoe County begins with a very long bike ride.

In October of 1905, Edmund Zavitz, who was teaching forestry at the agricultural college in Guelph, set out on his bicycle and rode to Crown Hill north of Barrie to meet E. C. Drury, farmer and fellow conservationist. Their collaboration over the following decades led to the reforestation of Ontario.

In his book Two Billion Trees and Counting, John Bacher describes what the cutting and burning of trees had done to Ontario in the early 20th century: farmland had turned to blowsand and was drifting away, water sources had dried up and serious floods were becoming more common. Edmund Zavitz started planting trees. During E. C. Drury’s term as premier, 1919 to 1923, along with a team of colleagues, the two men created policies and projects to involve farmers and land owners in planting hardy red and white pines as pioneer species. These trees gradually held the soil in place and stored water to nourish further growth and prevent floods.

This is history we don’t hear enough about. What better way to commemorate it than with a bike ride? This October before you put away your bike for the season, plan a ride to one of the many places in Simcoe County where Zavitz and Drury left their mark. Any of the county forests would be a fine destination. Springwater Park was once the Midhurst Reforestation Station. Here in Angus, we have the Ontario Tree Seed Plant, and across the road Angus Community Park, once a part of the plant. In Crown Hill on the Penetanguishene Road, a plaque marks the site of the original Drury farm.

Zavitz and Drury left us a legacy of natural spaces that sustain our lives in countless ways. And they left us a strategy: don’t cut too many trees and be sure to plant many more than you cut—in other words, conservation. Their gift was meant to be enjoyed and passed on to next generations—it’s up to us to see that it is. Like Edmund Zavitz, we could start with a bike ride.

Anne Learn Sharpe,

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They’re coming for the Simcoe County and MNR forests…once again.

May 18, 2014

In the 1800s, the great hardwoods forests were clear cut. Starting in 1905, men like Hon. E.C. Drury and Dr. Edmund Zavitz worked to help Mother Earth heal us.


Cancerous sprawl cannot stop itself by just destroying the land and water: the parasites are after the air.

The earthly manifestations of “God’s world” began with the realm of plants, as a kind of direct communication from it. It was as though one were peering over the shoulder of the Creator, who, thinking Himself unobserved, was making toys and decorations. Man and the proper animals, on the other hand, were bits of God that had become independent. That was why they could move about on their own and choose their abodes. Plants were bound for good or ill to their places. They expressed not only beauty but also the thoughts of God’s world, with an intent of their own and without deviation. Trees in particular were mysterious and seemed to me direst embodiments of the incomprehensible meaning of life. For that reason, the woods were the places where I felt closest to its deepest meaning and to its awe-inspiring workings. (MDR, PP. 67-8) PP. 28-9

The Lungs of the GTA



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Heritage does Matter: Tree nursery, Springwater Park and, then, the Vespra Boys cenotaph

October 11, 2012

Alive communities rise to challenges.

An important article entitled Pine Forests and a Park [Word pdf] appeared in the Springwater News today.

Ruth Byers suggests how our community has dealt with big challenges. This one was the total clear-cutting of the forests in the then-named Vespra Township  and Simcoe County in the late 1800s:

In the early years of the 1900s, the Ontario Government established a tree nursery and began to distribute trees for reforestation. About the same time, E.C. Drury a farmer at Crown Hill and E.J. Zavitz, a forester, began a project to help recover the land denuded of trees. They toured the ‘sand plans’ around Midhurst and Orr Lake.

In a quote from A History of Vespra, they described one of their trips:

‘We walked across the field, and came on a spring of fresh, clean water, bubbling out of a sandy bank. The stream wasn’t very wide, but seemed to have a good strong flow.’

This was the beginning of the Midhurst Tree Nursery. And eventually, Springwater Park.

The devastation of The Great War (WWI) provoked another communal, local response,  logically centred on the tree nursery and park:

Located in Springwater Park is a cenotaph built of stone by Veterans of Vespra Township. Harvey Spence and Robert Mills did the actual construction. Remembrance Day services were held her for many years, including members from Scouting and Guiding.

How will our community respond to the current challenges to our social, environmental and cultural equities?

Which was worse in Simcoe county politics: To be a member of the KKK or have a Roman Catholic wife?

April 4, 2012

Religious fervour is not unknown in Simcoe county politics.

In the 1917 federal election in Simcoe North,  E.C. Drury was rumoured to have been:

  • a drunkard,
  • a member of the Ku Klux Klan,
  • the husband of a Roman Catholic, and
  • contributed money to the repair of the Barrie Catholic church after the K.K.K. set fire to it.

He didn’t win this election.

Excerpt from E.C. Drury’s memoirs:

The [federal] election was set for early December [1917], and I opened my campaign in November after the fall work on the farm…

Some months before, a bunch of young fools in Barrie had held a midnight meeting in their nightshirts (pyjamas had not yet come in) and burned a fiery cross and organized a Ku Klux Klan. Two of their number, carried away by their enthusiasm, set fire to the Catholic church. Fortunately the fire was discovered and put out before it did much damage. The young fellows were arrested and tried and found guilty and sent to prison and their K.K.K. friends didn’t come forward to help. Around Phelpston, a strongly Catholic community, the rumour ran during the campaign that I was a member of the K.K.K. and had attended the midnight meeting where the Klan was organized. Around Elmvale a few miles away, where the Orange vote was strong, the rumour ran that my wife was a Catholic and that I had subscribed to a fund to restore the damaged church. One morning, when I got off the train in Stayner, I met on the platform the Methodist minister, the Reverend Harold Toye. I knew Harold very well, from the time when he was a boy and had saved another boy from drowning in White’s Pond about three miles north of our place. As he came toward me now he was grinning and turning his head from side to side. I asked him what was the meaning of all. “Oh,” he said, “I just wanted to see whether you could walk straight this morning. The story around these parts is that you are a heavy drinker and never go to bed sober.” Temperance sentiment around Stayner was very strong.

All of these stories were of course ridiculous. I never had anything to do with K.K.K., which I despised. My wife was not a Catholic, but a Methodist. I never subscribed to a fund to restore the damaged church – I never was asked to. Finally, like my father before me, I was a lifelong total abstainer. Yet these rumours were circulated, and doubtless they had their effect how great I do not know.

Farmer Premier: The Memoirs of E.C. Drury, E. C. Drury, McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1966, p. 78-9.

St. Mary’s Church, Barrie 1872 – 1970 (1890 shown)

First of two attempts to destroy the church: this one by fire in 1917 and a bomb in May 1926 (see here).  Location: NE corner of Mulcaster and McDonald Streets, the parking lot across from 90 Mulcaster Street, see here. Image by the Simcoe County Archives

Ku Klux Klan in Canada

The Ku Klux Klan is an ultraconservative, secret fraternal organization dedicated to the supremacy of an Anglo-Saxon, Protestant society. Formed in Pulaski, Tenn, in November 1865 by 6 ex-Confederate soldiers, it was outlawed in 1871 because of violent and outrageous acts against blacks and northerners. Revived in November 1915 in Atlanta, Ga, it drew its support from middle- and lower-class Americans who feared the loss of conservative and rural values.

In 1921 the Klan was reported active in Montréal; by 1925 “klans,” or locals, had been established all across Canada. Like their American counterparts, Canadian Klansmen had a fanatical hatred for all things Roman Catholic and feared that the purity of the Anglo-Saxon race was being jeopardized by new immigration. Moreover, they were not averse to stepping outside the law to achieve their goals.

From the The Canadian Encyclopedia.

The Midhurst Tree Nursery creation story

April 3, 2012

Clear-cut logging had turned Simcoe county into a  sand dune by 1900.

E.C. Drury and Edmund Zavitz worked to make a huge difference.


In early October 1905 the newly appointed Provincial Forester, E.J. Zavitz had paid us a visit of several days duration at the farm. It was the first time I had met him, and I liked him at once and was very favourably impressed with him. We became friends and have so remained, though we have not been able to see each other often. We discussed the problem of reforestation in older Ontario very thoroughly, and with our horse and buggy drove over the pine plains at Angus (now Camp Borden) and Midhurst. At Orr Lake Zavitz told me of the plan to establish a forest nursery and demonstration area, and for that purpose he seemed to favour either Angus or Midhurst. Both areas were suitable, both had ample supplies of water, and both were easily accessible to the public. A year or two later a Provincial Forestry Station was established, but it was located in Norfork country in an area which, while otherwise suitable, was difficult of access, so that few people saw it, and some of its educational effect was lost. Some sand land was reforested and some seedlings were distributed. And there the matter of reforestation stood until years later Zavitz and I got together again. [See The Man who Planted a Billion Trees] p. 54-5.

Shortly after I took office [1919], E.J. Zavitz, the Provincial Forester, and I got together on the subject in which we were so interested: reforestry in older Ontario. After the establishment many years before of the first Provincial Forest Station at St. Williams in Norfolk County, the Government had lost interest in the matter and very little progress had been made. Zavitz and I laid plans to reinvigorate the project. We proposed to establish two more tree nurseries an demonstration areas, one at Orono, adjacent to the sand barrens of Durham County, and the other at Midhurst, in Simcoe County. We proposed also to try to stimulate the arrangement by which, when such land was acquired, the province would undertake to plant it and administer it for thirty years. At the end of that period the municipality would be given three choices: (1) it could pay the province what it had cost for planting and care, and take over the forest, (2) it could require the province to take over the forest, paying the municipality what the land had cost, or (3) it could go fifty-fifty with the province in the ownership of the plantation. It was too late in the season to do anything about the nurseries, but the next year, 1920, land was purchased at Midhurst and Orono and the nurseries were established. They have since produced many millions of trees for public and private planting. p. 99

Farmer Premier: The Memoirs of E.C. Drury, E. C. Drury, McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1966.

I had not lived an easy or untroubled life. At no small sacrifice, both to my wife and myself.

April 3, 2012

I had asked no help from any campaign fund and had received none.


In the early fall of the year 1931, just as the leaves were beginning to turn, my wife died. The manner of her taking was tragic, for she had not been ill, just a little out of sorts. It was a preventative operation, taken on the advice of our family doctor, whom we trusted implicitly and whose advice we dared not ignore. The operation was not dangerous, he told us. But something went wrong, some unanticipated surgical development. After a week of cruel anxiety and false hopes, no less cruel, she died.

She had been my childhood sweetheart, my youthful love, through twenty-six years of happy married life my partner and comrade in all my ups and downs. Ella Drury was too great to be unduly built up by success, or to be cast down by failure. She met her fellow men with level glance, neither looking up to the great nor down to the humble. When she was called on to take her place as the wife of the Premier of the province, she did so with grace and dignity and without a trace of ostentation. Her charm lay in her complete sincerity, her absolute honesty. She was just – herself – and that was enough. She created a home to which, no matter what my difficulties and troubles outside might be, I could always come and find a haven, serene and safe. The help she gave me, of which the public of course knew nothing, was invaluable. I always consulted her before making any important speech, and I found her advice was invariably good.

I had not lived an easy or untroubled life. At no small sacrifice, both to my wife and myself. I had given years of my life to the farm movement, with no recompense except the knowledge that I was doing my part in a worthy cause. The government I had headed, after four years in power and a creditable record, was defeated. I had suffered defeat in four federal elections in the cause of free trade against protectionism. I had asked no help from any campaign fund and had received none. I was now financially embarrassed and at fifty-three years of age was worse off than when I began. None of these things had caused me to lose my courage. But this, the death of my wife was different. It struck at the very roots of my life. Without her I could not see how I could go on.

But I had to go on. My family needed me. Two of my three sons wanted to farm, and were deeply attached to the homestead which had been in the family without a break since 1819. It would have broken their hearts to lose it…I myself had no regular employment and no source of income except the farm, from which during the Depression very little could be expected. I took out a life insurance policy, sufficient in the event of my death to meet my obligations, though at my age the premium was ruinously high. And so I went on.

Farmer Premier: The Memoirs of E.C. Drury, E. C. Drury, McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1966, p. 181-2.

What did Hon. E.C. Drury think of speculators?

April 2, 2012

They were thieves who became rich while impoverishing others.

The task of liberalism down through the ages has been to resist the predators, to see that the law is not used to despoil society, to see that every man gets what he earns, and, equally important, to see that every man earns what he gets.


All my life I have been a liberal. Liberal with a small “l.” The party that calls itself Liberal in Canada has not been truly liberal since Laurier betrayed liberalism in the early years of our century. Genuine liberalism seeks to remove the government regulations which permit certain classes to exploit the rest of the community, and then to let the natural law of supply and demand take over. This is the authentic doctrine of laissez-faire, as put forward by the early English economists.

Macaulay, whom I have already quoted, put the thing very neatly: “The function of government is two fold: to see that we get our living by industry rather than by rapine; to see that we settle our differences by arbitration rather than by blows.” In other words, to see that we don’t steal and don’t fight. The term “laissez-faire” was afterwards distorted by the privileged classes to mean that governments should not take steps to relieve the misery of the poor. It meant nothing of the sort. Justice, embodied in the free operation of economic law, is not incompatible with mercy. One of the best definitions of liberalism that I know is in the bible in the book of Micah” “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

Thievery has always been the curse of humanity, and to it may be ascribed many of our economic and social ills. Theft may be defined as the process of taking something, whether from individuals or from society at large, and giving in return nothing, or less than its true value. Thieves may be divided into three classes. First, those who operate outside the law: pickpockets, highwaymen, burglars, forgers. Their depredations are annoying, but in the aggregate not fatal: we catch many of them and put them in jail. Second, those who steal within the law: land speculators, stock manipulators, price fixers. Their take is very much greater than that of the first class, but since they break no existing law they cannot be punished. I recently read a magazine article by a highly respected multimillionaire who told how he had acquired his wealth. Unlike doctors, waitresses, carpenters, teachers, ministers of the Gospel, he had produced nothing and given no service: he had simply devised a foolproof method of playing the stock market. Other men were poorer because he was richer, and this, I think, is the acid test. In other words he was a thief.

The third and most dangerous class are those who are cunning enough to make the law steal for them. After the Norman Conquest, the barons; despotic kings and the extravagant court; slave holders; and in this modern age, most dangerous of all, the tariff racketeers. The task of liberalism down through the ages has been to resist the predators, to see that the law is not used to despoil society, to see that every man gets what he earns, and, equally important, to see that every man earns what he gets. Justice first, but justice does not preclude mercy. And the conscientious citizen will find that the more justice there is, the less mercy will be required. “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” [This quotation is inscribed on left side of their headstone.]

Farmer Premier: The Memoirs of E.C. Drury, E. C. Drury, McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1966, p. 197-8.

At Crown Hill, southeast corner of Highways 11 and 93 (Penetanguishene Road).

Hon. Ernst Charles and Ella A. Partridge Drury.

Mrs. Drury taught in Midhurst before marrying on January 11, 1905 (see S.S. No. 6, 1901 class photograph).

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