On Our Landscape and Environment – The Legacy of the Glaciers

Richmond Hill, like any town in Canada, did not develop without the influences of many factors. One of these important factors was the constraint and opportunities afforded us by our natural environment. Perhaps the most important factor shaping our current environment has been the legacy left by receding glaciers. The last of the glaciers left Southern Ontario about 12000 years ago, and perhaps more than any event since, set the foundation for the landscape and environment that we live in today.

In our area, as the Laurentide Ice sheet receded, a huge pile of stone, sand and rock (called glacial till) was left at the southern margin of two ice lobes. This pile of sand is known as a moraine. Today the Oak Ridges Moraine runs from the Niagara Escarpment in the West, to Rice Lake in the East, with the village of Oak Ridges located near the centre.

In Ward 4, the margin of the moraine located near Oxford street, runs roughly east to west, and extends north to Highway 9. Throughout the Oak Ridges Moraine we have kettle lakes, undulating topography, and deeply cut ravines and valleys, that in many cases, represent the headwaters of the Don, Rouge, and Humber Rivers. The glaciers also left fertile and relatively flat land south of the Oak Ridges Moraine so early Richmond Hill was able to provide farmland and ultimately food for the citizens of the time. Farming was among the original economic activities in Richmond Hill. A thriving agricultural industry developed with the support of two major transportation arteries – Yonge Street and then later, the railway. Both ran (and continue to run) through the heart of our community.

It was the contrast between the flatter areas to the south of Elgin Mills Road, and the more undulating and valley cut areas to the north, that provided a diverse landscape for our community to take its unique shape. In the early days of Richmond Hill waterpower was an important factor for grist and saw mills. Quickly flowing streams running off of the Oak Ridges Moraine towards Lake Ontario, provided power for this early economic industry.

Today we are blessed with a large tract of land, in the midst of the Moraine that has been protected from development, and kept as a green and natural heart of the Town. In addition, we have much protected land where valleys and rivers exist and these areas have been protected under the Toronto Region Conservation Authority as Hazard Lands. Keeping development out of these hazard lands is a matter of public safety, but it also provides a canvas for a great trail and park network that we enjoy in Richmond Hill. It is many of these natural features that make our community unique.

The stage was set by Mother Nature for our Town 12000 years ago, and many of the opportunities and challenges that we face today are the result of the natural landscape that was created those many thousands of years ago.