Twenty Valley Nature Primer – Volume 1

Posted Sep 26th, 2015 in Articles

Naturalists see the world through special lenses, finding breathtaking beauty and restful sanctuary just steps from the beaten path.  The natural areas in the Twenty Valley and environs are unsurpassed. Autumn thrums your heart with the bittersweet swish of the golden and the scarlet, the air redolent with the tangy scent of apples, the musky fragrance of grapes and fallen leaves; the haunting calls of migrating geese echoing in the distance.

Lincolnshire Dreaming

Whether you want to take an early morning hike, paddle up a creek, birdwatch, camp, photograph wildlife, visit an arboretum, fish, take a guided natural history walk, a sunset stroll along Lake Ontario, sit by a campfire or look at the stars with a deep space telescope, you can do all this and more in the Twenty Valley and the municipality of Lincoln.  Named for Lincolnshire in the eastern midlands of England by Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe dreaming of his homeland, our town is blessed with a rare microclimate and rich fertile soils. We are in the Deciduous Forest Region, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Life Zone, Canada’s Tender Fruit Belt, (affectionately nicknamed the Banana Belt), and are part of the rare Carolinian Canada Life Zone. Those are a lot of handles for a tiny strip of agricultural land.

Carolinian Forest at Cave Spring Conservation Area

Carolinian Forest Trail at Cave Springs Conservation Area

Our Niagara Escarpment

A ribbon of “near wilderness” runs through our Niagara Peninsula. Whether cycling, sailing, horseback riding, driving or hiking as you travel parallel to Lake Ontario, this stony walled treed escarpment ridge is always visible to the south, silently with you. After Jack Frost’s visits in autumn, it’s a riot of colourful joy reaching up to 300 feet above us.

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.  In 1990 they designated the Niagara Escarpment, a World Biosphere Reserve, which is an internationally recognized ecosystem that demonstrates a balance between conservation and development.

The Niagara Escarpment is the most diverse ecosystem in the province.  It is a life force that protects thousands of acres of trees and sustains species of birds, flowers, amphibians, and reptiles that are rare in Southern Ontario. Considering that Southern Ontario is the most urbanized and intensive agricultural area of Canada, it is a blessing that the escarpment has been protected as much as it has been. It is a gift that we should treasure and remain vigilant to protect.

Starting near Rochester New York, the Niagara Escarpment crosses into Canada at Queenston Heights and runs east-west along the northern portion of the Niagara Peninsula.  It continues northwest through the Bruce Peninsula and can be traced onward to the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin.

The Niagara Escarpment has had an impact on so many things in the Niagara Peninsula.  It influenced the nature of our soils, affects our climate and thus the crops we grow, the spring raptor migration, the industries that developed, and even forced the vision of the Welland Canal. And the most famous side effect of the Escarpment is Niagara Falls!  It also gave us the Bruce Trail. Ball’s Falls in Jordan is a mini version of Niagara Falls and were created at the same time, starting about 12,500 years ago and continuing even today, in the same fashion. 

The Last Ice Age & Lake Iroquois

To complete the story we must talk about the last ice age, when the continental glacier was slowly retreating from this area. The retreat of the glacier was not an actual northward movement of the ice but a melting back of the front of the glacier faster than ice could move south to replace it. As the glacier front retreated north from the Niagara Peninsula and out into the Lake Ontario Basin about 12,500 years ago, melt water was trapped between the Escarpment and the glacier.  This was glacial Lake Iroquois and it drained by way of various outlets through New York State.  While Lake Iroquois existed, melt water from the glacier carried heavy loads of fine sediment into the basin.  This settled to the bottom of the lake, forming a thick deposit of sediment.

Peaches, Plums, Apricots, Nectarines and Cherries Oh My!

By about 12,000 years ago, glacial Lake Iroquois gushed away leaving what would become present day Lake Ontario.  The flat lake bottom covered with the deposit of sediment would become the Niagara Tender Fruit Belt.

Hidden in Plain Sight

Lake Iroquois also left a noticeable shoreline that is visible to this day.  Drive south away from Lake Ontario towards the Escarpment in Lincoln or in the Niagara-on-the-Lake area along any of the Concessions, and be aware that you are travelling along Lake Iroquois’s ancient lake bottom, flat, flat, flat.  And then, there before you, rises the lakeshore edge.  I always imagine someone sitting along the shore of the beach in a lawn-chair, dangling their toes in the water, (and watching icebergs floating just off shore!)  As I travel through Niagara I’m always moved by the knowledge of our glacial past. 

Drive down the Escarpment from Queenston Heights, turning left along York Road and then Queenston Road heading westward, and you'll be driving along the edge of Lake Iroquois’s shoreline. You will then lose it under downtown St. Catharines development. However keep going and following Regional Road 81 you can pick it up again starting at Louth Street in St. Catharines and can drive west along the edge for some distance.


Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Nature Primer!

Many thanks to Niagara Nature Tours geologist Brian Grant for his help with our first blog! And if you’d like to come along on a natural history walk through the autumn sunshine with either one of us, you can reach us at www.niagaranaturetours.ca Or come stay at my Bonnybank Bed and Breakfast on the banks of the Twenty Mile Creek where Jack Frost has been fluttering and flitting.  



Carla Carlson graduated from Brock University in Urban and Environmental Studies & Biology and the University of Guelph in Horticulture and Agriculture. Rated in the top 3 ecotour and adventure tour companies in Canada by the Canadian Tourism Association, her ecotour company Niagara Nature Tours offers “Wine, Garden, History, Agriculture and Nature Tours along with Aboriginal Cultural Programming and Workshops.”

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