When the first settlers arrived in Norfolk County the landed was deeply covered in forest. The land grants they would have received indicated they had to clear a specific number of acres to build their homes and their farms. After the Welland Canal was opened in 1830, it allowed timber to be shipped to markets in Easter Canada and the U.S. The Royal Navy became one of the areas most important customers because they used the tall pines from Norfolk County as masts on their warships. Between forestry and the farming that was happening in the area, the once heavily forested area became bare. The sandy top soil of the region slowly blew away until parts of Norfolk County were a desert.
In 1908, Lt. Col. Arthur C. Pratt, and Walter F. McCall approached Dr. Edmund J. Zavitz with their concerns for Norfolk’s agriculture as the region’s farmers were quickly leaving because the soil could no longer support their crops. Dr. Zavitz was instrumental in approaching the Ontario government with a plan to conserve the soil through reforestation.
The very moderate micro-climate combined with light sandy soils makes it ideal for field production of bareroot seedlings as well as for growing native seed crops. The nursery was run by the Province of Ontario and produced well over a billion bareroot reforestation seedlings, until 1998 when it was privatized.
Today, St. Williams Nursery and Ecology Centre is Ontario’s largest native plant nursery supplying high quality trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers, and seed. All of our native species are produced from source-identified wild collected seed to ensure our products contain genetics truly native to Ontario, grown to conserve Ontario’s biodiversity.