Category Archives: Vegetation/ Phytogeography

History of QUBS Forests: Trees at QUBS Point in the 1940s and 1970s.

In 1944 Queen’s University bought approximately 26 ha of farmland in Lots 15 and 16 of Concession IX in South Crosby Township as a site for a field station (Smallman et al. 1991).  The main interest in the site was its access to Lake Opinicon for aquatic studies led by Dr. Curran, but the land was of interest to Professor Earl, a botanist trained in cytogenetics who was at that time Acting Dean. Neighbouring land belonged to other Queen’s people, Professors Curtis and Smailes.

Since the establishment of the biological station at QUBS Point the area has become more forested after tree planting was implemented and cattle grazing was prevented. It should be noted that White-tailed Deer continue to graze but probably with far less impact on the flora. We discuss three types of evidence that highlight the changes in the vegetation at QUBS Point since the 1940s: memories of local people, maps and aerial photographs and historic field work data.

Memories of local people
In the summer of 1946 Dr. S.R. Brown was at the field station as an undergraduate. He had come to Queen’s as soon as he was demobbed and after finishing his studies here and at Yale he returned and later became the Station Director (Smallman et al. 1991). Dr. Brown remembers that one of his jobs that summer was tree planting, directed by Dr. Earl. The resident students planted rows of Red Pines and Black Walnuts, and possibly some Butternuts, in open fields presumably for shade and eventual economic value. Most of the pines and walnuts were planted in the valley northwest of where Cabins 1-8 now stand, and parallel to the car park. There was also a patch of Red Pines put northeast of Earl Cottage. Later about twenty Hybrid Poplar trees were planted along the edge of the car park; Dr. Brown thinks they came from the University of Toronto where a likely source was Dr. C. Heimburger, a forester who worked on disease resistance in trees.

Figure 1. Tree planting at QUBS Point in 1945. The original caption reads: “Planting trees to stop erosion”. Photo: Wes Curran.

Dale Kristensen (Queen’s University) suggests that the tree planting may have been part of a provincial campaign to control erosion at that period, when conservation authorities were being established in recognition of disasters such as the flooding in the Ganaraska Valley. The caption of one of the historic photographs at QUBS from Wes Curran’s album also suggests this (Figure 1).

When AC first saw these plantings in the late 1960s most of the poplars, which had grown very tall, were diseased and they subsequently died or were felled. At least one large poplar remains at the east end of the main parking lot and another between the workshop and storage building. The Black Walnuts had grown poorly, but their survivors grew large now produce a good crop of nuts annually. The Red Pines were successful in both sites; some have been thinned and some used as poles and many have begun to die back in recent years. The ice storm of 1998 caused considerable damage to the plantations, but in general they still remain intact.

Maps and aerial photographs
Aerial photography by the Royal Canadian Air Force was the basis for the 1:50,000 series of Ontario maps produced in the 1920s and 30s; the Westport sheet (31/C9) which includes Lake Opinicon and environs continued in print until the 1960s. These maps showed coniferous or deciduous forest as different types of tree symbols, spaced by hand to indicate density. Cow Island, the mainland shorelines and northeast part of Queen’s property were drawn with sparse deciduous trees. Red Pines which must have been growing on Cow Island at that time were not noted on the maps.

Figure 2. Aerial photograph taken in autumn 1953 (4425-14-19#132). Note the dense trees in the vicinity of the boathouse, near Cow Island and in two belts parallel to the row of cabins. Between these two belts of trees the lines of the young plantations of pines and walnuts are clear (red arrow). Photo: Royal Canadian Air Force.

An aerial photograph taken in fall 1953 (4425-14-19#132) shows dense trees in the boathouse area, near Cow Island and in two belts parallel to the row of cabins (Figure 2). Between these two belts of trees the lines of the young  plantations of pines and walnuts are clear. The trees close to the cabins can be seen in a photograph dated 1945 in Smallman et al. (p149); Ted Brown and A.C. remember a high proportion of basswood in this fringe of trees  some of which were later destroyed by a wind storm in the 1980s. In 1973 an aerial survey included QUBS in four sheets (1.71-4-4423-164 and 165, and 1.71-31-4424-65 and 66) but the quality was poor and offer little evidence of changes in tree cover. An aerial photograph taken by AC in July 1980 (Figure 3) shows the plantations as continuous tree cover at that time although the rows were still apparent. Note that new aerial photos of all QUBS properties including QUBS Point can be found on the station website.

Field data: 1945-46
In the 1960s the only two large old trees observed near the station proper were an Eastern White Pine on the rocky shore near Earl Cottage and a White Birch beside an outcrop in the same area.  Coring showed both dated to the 1890s. The pine is still flourishing but the birch has subsequently died, apparently from fungal rot.

Figure 3. Aerial photograph from July 1980. The plantation rows are still visible among the continuous vegetation cover. Photo: Adele Crowder.

In 1970 after the death of Dr. R. Beschel, a plant ecologist in the Biology Department, AC was asked to sort his scientific  papers and found among them two notebooks labelled “Tree Census Report, Queen’s University Biology Station Summer 1945” and “Summer 1946”. They are hardback notebooks, not field books but tidy ink-written records in two handwritings without any authors’ or owners’ names. Dr. Brown thought that they were probably the work of undergraduates working for Dr. Earl, who presumably gave them to Dr. Beschel.

Neither the purpose nor the method of the survey is described. Dr. Earl conducted forestry and soil studies from 1947 to 1956 employing one or two student assistants each year (Smallman et al. 1991) but we have not found other reports or theses. The first notebook begins with a sketch map of the station, its only built feature being the driveway (Figure 4). Parts of the shore are not solidly outlined. A grid is superimposed on the map, with its axes following the lot line directions. The grid is divided into squares of 250’ x 250’, each subdivided into small squares  50’ x 50’. The large squares must belong to a larger grid since they are numbered 182-217; in the second notebook the numbering was

Figure 4. Reproduction of the sketch maps from the hardback notebooks. The original grid numbering system (from 1945) corresponds to the numbers in purple. A different system was employed in the 1946 survey; those numbers are given in red. One tree symbol represents a density of 1 tree/50 sq ft. Note that the western most squares and #216 were not counted.

changed to 1-49 on another copy of the same map. The small squares, which we shall call quadrats, were numbered 1-25, in vertical rows beginning at the bottom left. Before the UTM grid was adopted in the 1940s the army used a Modified British Grid for its maps, with lines 1000 yds apart (Nicholson and Sebert 1981): as Dr. Earl served in World War I and commanded Queen’s Officers training Corps in World War II  he would have been aware of  updates in maps  with this grid produced by the Army Survey Establishment.

Each page of the notebooks has a column of Latin plant names in alphabetical order followed by vertical columns for seedlings, for two sizes of saplings, for three sizes of trees and for ‘clumps’.  Seedlings were described as scarce, few or many.  Counts of individual saplings and individual trees were entered in small, medium or large size categories; current definitions include small, medium, large and very large, (Farrar, 2009).  The term ‘clumps’ was used only for Common Juniper. Entries were made for 50’x 50’ quadrats, and followed by sums for each large square.

Authorities for the Latin names were not given but the nomenclature followed Native Trees of Canada  then available in Douglas Library in several editions.  The 1946 edition (J.H. White 1946) defined size categories of trees, but the survey did not appear to use them as the notebooks contain no information on height or diameter at breast height (dbh). Definitions of seedlings vary greatly so that it is impossible to know what criteria were used. The general approach was not that of a forester or a timbercruiser  but several  texts in Douglas Library provided ecological methodologies of community analysis using transects or quadrats; a likely source for Dr. Earl was Aims and Methods in the Study of Vegetation (Tansley and Chipps 1926) which contains a section on Canadian forestry by C.D. Howe.  AC  remembers Dr. Earl discussing Tansley’s work.

The students began counting in “Summer  1945” in Square 182 ( renumbered 15) near the Boat House and counted 19 of its 25 quadrats.  No compass  bearings  were given.   They then proceeded north to 181(14) beside the lodge, in which three quadrats  were not wooded. They then went to the shore at the Boat House and again worked northwards, to the boundary fence with the Curtis property. Their last square was 215 (48) more than half of which is in Cow Island Marsh, and they commented that the shoreline was indefinite with Speckled Alder and Eastern White Cedar swamp. In total they counted 298 quadrats in 21 squares, with the break between years after Square 192(25). A square on Cow Island was counted in 1946 but no location was given for it. They did not go southwest of the lodge, omitting Common Apples and the Bur Oaks near the point. The omission may have been due to lack of time or perhaps avoidance of the new plantations.

The students’ census data are tabulated in Table 1 with Latin and English names. Presence of seedlings in 1945-6 is shown (column A). Saplings are summed as the counts for all squares (Column B): the most abundant were Ironwood, Largetooth Aspen and Sugar Maple.  Tree numbers of the three size categories have been lumped together (n=2549); most were in the medium size category, with 276 in the large class. Percentage frequency of species in all the sampled quadrats is shown (Column C); the most frequent were Sugar Maple, Ironwood, Eastern White Cedar, American Basswood and Northern Red Oak, followed by White Birch, Bitternut Hickory, Common White Oak, Largetooth Aspen and Rock Elm.

Table 1.  Column A shows presence of seedlings in 1945-46; Y = seedlings present, N = seedlings not present. Column B shows counts of saplings in 298 quadrats in 1945-46. Column C gives percent frequencies of tree species in all quadrats counted in 1945-46 (n=2549). Column D shows presence of seedlings in 1974-78; Y = seedlings present, N = seedlings not present. Column E gives percent frequencies of trees in 1974-78 (n=2121).

Latin Name English Name A B C D E
Abies balsamea Balsam fir N 0 0 Y 0
Acer negundo Manitoba maple N 1 0.11 N 0
Acer rubrum Red maple Y 7 0.27 Y 0
Acer saccharum Sugar maple Y 133 26.08 Y 29.46
Alnus rugosa Speckled alder Y 0 0.07 N 0.37
Betula allegheniensis Yellow birch N 0 0 N 0.09
Betula papyrifera White birch Y 0 4.59 Y 5.18
Carpinus caroliniana Blue-beech Y 67 1.17 Y 2.31
Carya cordiformis Bitternut hickory Y 23 4.74 Y 3.34
Carya ovata Shagbark hickory Y 5 0.98 Y 0.23
Corylus americana American hazel N 0 0 Y 0.09
Fagus americana American beech N 30 1.76 Y 1.6
Fraxinus americana White ash Y 23 0.66 Y 4.1
Fraxinus nigra Black ash Y 0 0.66 N 0
Fraxinus pennsylvanica Red ash N 0 0 Y 1.51
Juglans cinerea Butternut N 11 0.19 N 0.09
Juniperus  virginiana Eastern red cedar Y 42 0.39 Y 0.04
Ostrya virginiana Ironwood Y 478 19.49 Y 27.34
Pinus resinosa Red pine N 0 0 N 2.26
Pinus strobus White pine Y 53 1.37 Y 1.83
Populus balsamifera Balsam poplar N 0 0 N 0.23
Populus deltoides Eastern  cottonwood N 0 0 N 0.37
Populus  grandidentata Largetooth aspen Y 161 1.72 Y 5.13
Populus tremuloides Trembling aspen Y 22 0.31 N 0.42
Prunus serotina Black cherry Y 0 0.03 Y 3.06
Quercus alba White oak Y 0 2.27 N 0.47
Quercus rubra Red oak Y 5 5.21 Y 2.64
Robinia pseudacacia Black locust N 0 0 N 0.09
Thuja occidentalis Eastern white-cedar Y 0 16.94 Y 3.44
Tilia americana Basswood Y 0 7.76 Y 3.67
Tsuga canadensis Eastern hemlock N 0 0.9 N 0.09
Ulmus americana White elm N 0 1.49 N 0
Ulmus thomasii Rock elm N 0 0 N 0

Field Data: 1974 and 1978
When teaching a field course at QUBS in the 1970s AC thought it would be interesting to know the composition of the forest community round the station at that time. At first it seemed possible to resurvey some of the 1940s census with the help of students. However several problems were encountered, the first problem was definitions: what was a sapling, what was a tree?

Figure 5. A 1952 land survey plan showing the new fence line in red. The new fence line made later vegetation surveys in the 1970s very difficult to organize because of confusion over the original grid plan in relation to old and new property lines.

The second problem was location.  After wasting a day not being able to match quadrats we found that an accurate geographic survey of the station was not made until 1952 when D.J.  Humphries made one drawn to a scale of 1” to 100’, showing astronomic north, with bearings and distances laid down and marsh boundaries, buildings and driveways shown. The lot line bearing was given as N 49o 06’30” E. Most importantly the boundary with Curtis land was redrawn and a new fence line had to be built (Figure 5). Near Cow Island the new fence diminished QUBS land by as much as 240’, thereby excluding much of four of the northern tier of squares of the 1945 sketch map and survey (197, 203, 209, 215). About 20 acres of the purchased 65 were lost (Smallman et al. 1991). Another problem in relocating 1940s quadrats was later disturbances such as hydro lines, new driveways, aviaries and other structures.

AC decided  to use the same technique as the 1940s survey, although no statistical comparisons could be made because we would use the smaller area inside the new boundaries and would  adopt definitions which would speed up counting. Accordingly seedlings were defined as having four or less foliage leaves, saplings as being less than 1.5 m high, and all tree sizes were lumped.  Selection of quadrats was randomly stratified in Squares 12, 13, 14, 18, 20, 24, 26, 31, 32, 37, 42 and 48. Later more quadrats were added in nine of these squares because their ground flora was interesting. Ground flora was listed in all sampled quadrats (n=34). Data from 1974 and 1978 are shown in Table 1 with the reminder that the sampling technique of the 70s was not directly comparable to the census of the 40s, and that the area used was 34 quadrats in the 1970s and 298 in the 1940s. Presence/absence of seedlings in the 1970s is shown (Column D).  Species not found as seedlings in either decade were Butternut, Eastern Hemlock and Rock Elm. Seedlings reported only in 1945-6 were Black Ash, Trembling Aspen and White Elm. Seedling species diversity was higher in the 70s with the addition of Balsam Fir, Red Maple, Corylus sp., Red Ash, Balsam Poplar, Eastern Cottonwodd and Black Locust.

A crude estimate of seedling abundance can be made from the 1940s quadrats listed as having ‘many seedlings’. The shade-tolerant Sugar Maple was so described in 21 quadrats in 1945 and 10 in 1946. The next most abundant tree was Ironwood in 20 quadrats in 1945 and 7 in 1946.  Others were much less numerous, for example Blue-Beech had ‘many seedlings’ in five quadrats in 1945, Bitternut Hickory and White Birch only in one.

Counting seedlings had become easier by the 1970s with an illustrated guide (Brayshaw 1959). Summed numbers from all sampled quadrats were Sugar Maple 16,713, Ironwood 868, White Ash 667, American Basswood 641, Red Maple 393, Bitternut Hickory 183, Black Cherry 70 and all others less. Nineteen seventy-seven appears to have been a mast year for Sugar Maple, with a single quadrat containing 6,982 seedlings. Sugar Maple was also most widely distributed, found in 60% of quadrats, Bitternut Hickory was in 42%, Ironwood in 40%. High densities of Sugar Maple and Ironwood seedlings did not always co-occur.

Percentage frequency of all sizes of trees in the 1970s is shown in Table 1, Column E (n=2121).  Sugar Maple was followed by Ironwood, White Birch, Largetooth Aspen, White Ash, American Basswood, Eastern White Cedar and Black Cherry. White Elm had disappeared since the 1940s, while Black Locust, Red Pine, Balsam Poplar, Eastern Cottonwood, Red Ash and Yellow Birch were now found. The difference in area sampled including quadrats at Cow Island Marsh can account for an apparent decrease in Eastern White Cedar, Speckled Alder and Corylus sp., but probably not for American Basswood. The greater frequency of Sugar Maple and Ironwood has been accompanied by an increase in pioneer species such as the aspens and cherries. The ashes offer an anomaly; in the 1940s Black Ash and White Ash were reported in equal numbers, but in the 1970s White Ash had greatly increased, Black Ash had disappeared, and Red Ash was well represented. It is possible that the ashes may have been misidentified in the earlier surveys, but since Black Ash is the only local species in which the leaflets are not stalked it seems very unlikely. Another possibility is that the wet habitat of the Black Ash dried out during the thirty years however we have no evidence to support this idea. Another anomaly was the decision of the 1940s crew to include counts of one shrub, Common Juniper. Obviously it was a noticeable feature of the old fields, but why not count all shrubs? In addition to the junipers Crataegus sp., Staghorn Sumac, Amelanchier sp, Salix sp. and Choke Cherry were mentioned.  Both Pin and Choke Cherry were abundant in the 1970s.

The two notebooks will in future be kept in the library at QUBS. Our thanks go to Ted Brown, Floyd Connor, Frank Phelan, Dale Kristensen, the staff of the map Library in Stauffer Library for their help, Fiona Munro and Cally Toong at QUBS for cleaning up maps and helping with historic photo records, Paul Grogan for taking care of the notebooks, and of course the students who counted seedlings and trees  in both decades. Particular thanks are due to those who counted the 6982 sugar maple seedlings in one quadrat!  It would be excellent if one or more of the recorders of the 1940s identified themselves as a result of this blog. We are happy to have been able to have read this article to Ted Brown before his recent death.


  1. Brayshaw, T.C 1959. Tree seedlings of Eastern Canada. Bull.122 Dept. Of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources. Forestry B ranch.
  2. Crowder, A. and  R. Harmsen. 1998. Notes on Forest Succession in Old Fields in Southeastern Ontario: the Woody Species.  Canadian Field-Naturalist 112(3) : 410-418.
  3. Farrar, J.L.  2009. Trees in Canada.  Fitzhenry and Whiteside Ltd and the Canadian foret Service. Markham, Ontario.
  4. Nicholson, W.L. and L. M. Sebert.  1981 The maps of Canada.  Wm. Dawson and Sons Ltd. Folkestone, U.K.
  5. Robertson, R.   Biology faculty reminisce-careers in perspective:focus on Drs. Adele Crowder and Ted Brown.  Queens’s Biology.  Autumn 2008. Vol.3 :4-6.
  6. Smallman, B.N., H.M. Good and A.S. West.  1991. Queen’s Biology, an academic history of innocence lost and fame gained 1858-1965. Department of Biology, Queen’s University at Kingston.
  7. Tansley, A.G., and T.F. Chipps, (eds). 1926. Aims and Methods in the Study of vegetation. The British Empire Vegetation Committee. London.
  8. J.H. White   1946 The   Forest Trees of Ontario and the more commonly planted foreign trees. First Edition 1925.  Ministry of Natural Resources. Ontario.

Posted by – Adele Crowder and Mark Andrew Conboy