I went on a lovely hike yesterday to Gowan Todd with some other homeschool friends. I had never been there before, except by boat when we went on our Eco Tour. What made this trail different from others I have been on was the density of the forest. I mean it was really dense. The type of dense that makes you wonder if you’re going to get lost. The type of dense that would make Melman from Madagascar say “Aghhhh nature! It’s all over me! Get it off!”
As we were walking along we noticed signs stating things like “Sensitive Ecosystem” and little ribbons tied to plants in order to keep hikers on the trail so as not to disturb the aforementioned ecosystem. Soon afterwards, we begin to notice things among the sensitive ecosystem. Things that looked like they clearly didn’t belong there. Things like giant concrete slabs, pilings and footings. Giant, rusty, discarded drilling equipment. And (gasp) broken glass, pottery, and even old shoes! As we were pondering how all this junk could be in the middle of a sensitive ecosystem I decided to ask a group of ladies who were enjoying a rest at a nearby picnic table. When asked if she would share with us the history of the park, she was more than pleased.
Okay some of you may be nodding by now, but previous to this days visit I knew nothing about the history of the beautiful forest I was walking in. You see Gowan Tod Provincial Park is located just behind the world renown Butchart Gardens. And before there were breathtaking gardens and a provincial park, the land, owned by Robert Pim Butchart was a bustling port and limestone quarry! Limestone was mined for cement production and therefore the land was also used as a cement factory.
After the quarry was exhausted of it’s limestone it resembled a barren lifeless pit. It was actually Butchart’s wife, Jennie who started to transform the sunken land into what is now known as Butchart’s Sunken Gardens. Here’s what I found from this website.
As Mr. Butchart exhausted the limestone in the quarry near their house, his enterprising wife, Jennie, conceived an unprecedented plan for refurbishing the bleak pit that resulted. From farmland nearby she requisitioned tons of top soil, had it brought to Tod Inlet by horse and cart, and used it to line the floor of the abandoned quarry. Little by little, under Jennie Butchart’s personal supervision, the abandoned quarry bloomed as the spectacular Sunken Garden.
The only surviving portion of Mr. Butchart’s Tod Inlet cement factory is the tall chimney of a long-vanished kiln. The chimney may be seen from The Sunken Garden Lookout. The plant stopped manufacturing cement in 1916, but continued to make tiles and flower pots as late as 1950. The single chimney now overlooks the quarry Mrs. Butchart so miraculously reclaimed.
You see, we were walking in a sort of natural museum. A museum that contained historical artifacts of the quarry, factory, port and even the workers who were once employed by the factory. As we looked closer, we noticed that the broken bottles and old shoes were in fact really old. There were even remnants of flower pots (produced by the factory) and what was left of old concrete housing quarters, and as we looked up we could see the still standing smoke stack of what was once the cement factory. Nature just adapted to the remnants of the land. Vivid mosses grow all over the concrete footings and housing remnants, trees grow up through the pilings, and there are native flowers and vegetation growing right along beside the old quarry drills. Who knew? Apparently everyone but me. But if your sitting there thinking “Wow, I never knew that!”, then I’m glad I could share this little bit of history with you. If you haven’t been to Gowan Tod Provincial park, then come on out for a visit. It’s well worth it!