Glen Property Visit, July 2019

An area of Bill Glen’s woodlot. The nut orchard is slightly visible in the background.

On Wednesday 18 July, some of the GeoREACH Lab team members took a trip into the field (literally) to visit Bill and Elizabeth Glen’s land in the Bonshaw area of Lot 30, Prince Edward Island. Bill and Elizabeth are well known in PEI genealogical and historical circles, and Bill was formerly a forester with the PEI Provincial Government. He now serves as a forest and woodland consultant, and he co-authored a chapter with Josh MacFadyen in the University of Calgary Press collection on Historical GIS Research in Canada. The Glens have been on their property since the early 1980s, and they were able to provide some real insight into how the land has changed over the last forty years, including how they managed the forest, fields, and hedgerows!

Bill Glen, GeoREACH Lab Director Dr. Josh MacFadyen, and research assistants Nolan Kressin and Abby Craswell.

The team has studied Lot 30 extensively using aerial photos and historical maps on GIS. We were excited to explore the real area that we have been examining from above for the last several months. It reminded us that our research is much bigger than just a computer screen! We could see the changes that have occurred in the land since the aerial photos that we are currently studying were taken in 1968, before the implementation of the Comprehensive Development Plan (for more on that see this post). Some of these changes include hedgerow planting, the appearance of new homes, and a new nut orchard on the property.

Research assistants Nolan Kressin, Nick Scott, and Abby Craswell (L-R) in the field.

While on this excursion, we learned about hedgerow and woodlot composition, as well as the importance of biodiversity and climate change adaptability in wooded areas. White spruce (what we use to plant most of our hedgerows) is incredibly vulnerable to slight shifts in climate! Bill also showed us a hydraulic pump that dates back to 1890, which he still uses to pump water to the tank for his nut orchard. The GeoREACH team would like to thank Bill and Elizabeth Glen for having us to their home and sharing their knowledge of land-use change on Prince Edward Island.

May 9th, 1957

“The April issue of the Royal Bank of Canda’s [sic] monthly letter, which treats “Using Soil Wisely” reached this farm today by way of a Doctor- friend of the family with this quite startling comment relative to this interest of his heart: “Apparently future generations will die of deficiency diseases or starvation unless some way is found to prevent soil erosion.”

“Through millions of years” the interesting article states “Nature built up a balance between animal, vegetable and mineral life. She tied the mixture in place on the earth’s surface by the interlacing of grass roots on our prairies and tree roots in our forests. The leaves she discarded in autumn became part of the soil that produced them”.

“But we humans came and broke up the prairies and cleared away the forests. We upset the balance of nature. Today our earth is sick…”

Soil erosion is a continuing issue on Prince Edward Island to this day.

“Just what in plain terms does this deterioration of land mean to us? One result of lack of conservation is a lowered level of living and the development of human erosion to be seen in the various deficiency diseases and hidden hunger. It is conceivable that if wastage of land continues, we shall be faced not with a struggle for markets but with a struggle for food.”

“Health is so important to us that we should be well advised to spend relatively more on knowing our soils and seeing that they are healthy, and relatively less on our illnesses, which are merely the outward sign of an often unrealized soil deficiency.”

“In considering health it is misleading to separate men, animals, plants. All are part and parcel of the same nutrition cycle which governs all living cells. The earth’s green carpet is the source of the food consumed by livestock and mankind.”

“We have passed the stage looking upon plants and vegetation as inexhaustible resources, but we do not yet fully realize how perishable the earth’s goodness can be..”

Photo Credit: NRCAN

“What we seek from the land is that it provide the base of the highest possible standard of living for the people of Canada…” And we who farm for future generations recognize that the term “soil erosion” includes a number of things. It takes in not only the more and less depletion left in the wake of the wintry seasons and rains, but any careless mining of the fields without thought of much restoration which is some instances, with help scarce and time at a premium has to pass for farming today. And how shall conditions be bettered?

It is likely the 26 man committee set up by the Senate early this year charged with a “widespread study of land use in Canada” in a job described in the Chamber as one of the “most important the Senate has ever undertaken” will find some answers to the question. It may be that sooner or later, to work toward the benefit of all, that soil survey and regulation of arming to some extent will be out lot on farms. 

Tonight the Maytime fields rest, quietly beneath a damp Spring-blanket of snow. 

Until tomorrow – – – Diary – Goodnight…….”

Ellen’s Diary, May 9th, 1957.