top of page

Point 1- The Bottom Line

The most recent ice age in North America, known as the Wisconsin period, lasted about 60,000 years. During this time, Ontario was buried under a sheet of ice up to 2 miles (3.2 kilometres) thick. As these ice sheets advanced, they acted like a giant bulldozer, scraping the bedrock clean of all loose material. Evidence of this process can be seen on the smooth rocky outcrops to the south of the trailhead. Look for the small, crescent-shaped scars on the smooth, white bedrock surface. These are known as chattermarks. Under the immense pressure of the ice sheet above them, small boulders, loosely embedded in the till at the base of the glacier, pried and kneaded the bedrock surface creating the marks you now see. Also look for the long, narrow grooves known as striations. These were created by the scouring action of rocks frozen in the base of the glacier. Can you tell in what direction the glaciers advanced over this area? (Clue: What is the orientation of the chattermarks and striations in the bedrock?) Between 10,000 - 12,000 years ago, glaciers covering the Temagami area began to recede. Most of the waterways and landforms you see in this area are the result of glacial advance and retreat. As you hike the trails, watch for erratics – large rock fragments that have been transported away from their place of origin by moving ice, and deposited in areas of dissimilar rock type. Plant colonization followed the retreat of the glaciers, and many thousands of years of natural development and change have resulted in the forests you are now entering.

Point 2- Tall Pines Project

In the spring of 1988, the Temagami Wilderness Society launched the Tall Pines Project. The purpose of this ongoing research initiative is to study the ecological nature of old- growth red and white pine forests in the Temagami area. In 1990, this site at the north end of Lake Obabika functioned as the research base camp. From here, researchers can easily access the 1,300 hectares of continuous old- growth pine. Old-growth forests have recently been the subject of many research efforts throughout North America. Very little is known about the functions and processes within these complex ecosystems. As they become increasingly rare, it is essential that they be managed more conservatively. As our knowledge of old growth increases, so too does our appreciation of its unique and intrinsic value. The research being conducted on these forests has already led to some startling discoveries concerning the regeneration of white pine forests. Past forestry techniques have been based on the assumption that white pine forests regenerate through widespread catastrophic disturbances. This premise has led to the practice of clearcutting forests in order to mimic the natural process of catastrophic wildfire. But attempts to regenerate white pine forests using this technique have been unsuccessful. Re- search by Dr. Peter Quinby of the Tall Pines Project indicates that components of the old- growth forest, including snags (dead standing trees) and logs (dead fallen trees), as well as localized disturbances, including small surface fires and windthrows, are important to the regeneration of this forest (read on for a more detailed explanation). A study of the pollen record in nearby lake sediment has shown that white and red pine have dominated this old- growth stand for approximately 7,000 years. Study of successful white pine regeneration here can help in the development of techniques to regenerate white pine in logged areas. While the Tall Pines Project has made significant contributions to our knowledge of old growth dynamics, there remain many unan- swered questions. As you hike these trails, you will notice various markers. Please leave these undisturbed, as they are important for continuing research in this area.

Point 3- Pathways From the Past

These portions of the Obabika old-growth trail system are nastawgan (ancient native trails). Nastawgan crisscross the entire Temagami wilderness, and some are as many as 3,000 years old. They reveal a remarkable and complex system of year-round travel by foot, canoe, snowshoe and toboggan. Nastawagan evolved from native’s knowledge of the land into a web of water routes and land trails that made skillful use of the terrain, and provided access to traditonal hunting territories. In recent years, many canoeists have used and appreciated the nastawgan in their travels through Temagami. Unfortunately, portions of the network have been destroyed by logging activity. The remaining trails are testimony to the threatened heritage of the Teme-Augama Anishnabai.

Point 4- Bogged Down

To your right, at the south end of Lake Shish-Kong is a bog. Over hundreds or even thousands of years, the once open water has been invaded from the edges by plants. This floating mat of vegetation is comprised mainly of sedges, sphagnum moss, and shrubs. As plants on the mat die, they sink into the water below the mat and form layers of peat. Over time, peat layers have filled in this formerly shallow bay, and the mat of vegetation has become grounded. With time, trees such as the black spruce will further colonize this area, and eventually a full forest may develop. Around the southern perimeter of this bog, and at other points along the trails, you will notice that the forest is dominated by black spruce. One bird in particular, the spruce grouse, favours this type of forest. The winter diet of the spruce grouse consists largely of spruce needles, making its flesh taste strongly of turpentine, and rendering it quite inedible.

Point 5- Streams Through the Old Growth

Streams are important for many reasons. They transport nutrients to lakes where they stimulate the growth of algae which in turn serves as the foundation of the lake food chain. Streams provide habitat for the egg and larval stages of many insects such as blackflies and mayflies that hatch from the water to spend their adult life on land. These eggs and larvae are eaten by fish that spawn in streams and adult insects provide food for birds and mammals such as bats. Thus, many types of old-growth wildlife depend on healthy stream ecosystems. In addition, ancient forest streams are quite different from those in younger forest in that they are crossed by many large downed logs. By providing cover for wildlife, this creates greater species diversity compared to streams with few large logs. A close look at arf ancient forest streams will reveal three major types of habitats including; debris dams, pools and areas of fast moving water. Each support a different combination of aquatic organisms. Of all types of streams, those in the ancient forest cause the least amount of erosion and provide water of the highest quality.

Point 6- The Beavers' Role

The beaver is a most industrious creature, as evidenced by the wealth of dams and fallen trees around their habitat. It is the beaver’s ability to manipulate the environment in order to create its own habitat that sets it apart from all other animals but one – humans. It is competition between these two engineers that sometimes results in considerable conflict. Many a landowner has cursed the existence of Canada’s largest rodent. Adult beavers may weigh up to 27 kilograms (60 pounds) and attain lengths of up to 1 metre (39 inches). As well as expanding their own frontiers, beavers were partially reponsible for the expansion of other frontiers. The first contact the Teme-Augama Anishnabai had with non-natives was with representatives of fur trading companies in the 16th century. Beaver were an important mainstay of fur-trading activity in the region. For many years, every man, woman and child in Europe that could afford one, owned a beaver hat. Fluctuating fashion interest in beaver pelts has played havoc with trappers and fur traders alike, but the beaver still remains one of the most important (and common) fur-bearing animals in Ontario.

Point 7- Lake Obabika Lookout

Early non-native visitors to the Temagami area spoke of extensive waterways, vast stands of high-quality timber, and an abundance of fish, game, and fur-bearing animals. As these first travellers were all involved in resource exploitation of one type or another, it is not surprising that their descriptions were so utilitarian. Subse- quent rediscovery of the area by outdoor enthusiasts resulted in descriptions not dissimilar, but focussing more on the aesthetic values of Temagami. From this vantage point, you can experience the outstanding landscape that so awed early travellers. Much of the forest you see has never been logged.

Point 8- Lake Shish-Kong Cliff

At this point along the trail, you get your first full view of the impressive cliff that forms the backdrop of Lake Shish-Kong. This lake is known as Shis-kong-abikong, "lake at the place of the huge rock". To the Teme-Augama Anishnabai, this is an area of great spriritual significance . This lake and cliff were formed through a faulting process along a fracture or break. This did not result from glacial activity, but rather, from tectonic activity (movement in response to enormous forces in the earth’s crust). Weathering has occurred over time. As rock broke loose, talus (or scree) accumulated at the base of the cliff. Nothing in the natural world is static – all systems undergo continuous, although often very gradual change. Difficult as it is to comprehend, especially given the time frame our lives occupy, on a geologic time scale this feature will last for only a short while before completely succumbing to the elements.

Point 8a- The Burn

If you look toward the top of this hill and to the west (to the left as you walk north on the trail), you will see an open area with only a few large trees. Look closely at the ground and you will see charred stumps and logs, and small bits of charcoal – evidence of a recent fire. Many plant species, including the white and red pine trees that dominate the old-growth forest, regenerate in conditions created by periodic natural wildfire. By burning off dead leaves and branches on the forest floor, surface fires expose mineral soil making it easier for pine seedlings to grow. The initial root growth from the pine seed does not have to penetrate a layer of dead leaves in order to reach mineral soil. Once the roots of a new seedling penetrate the mineral soil its chances of survival increase. It attains physical stability and a supply of water and nutrients. Most fires in the old-growth pine forest are surface fires that kill only a small portion of the mature and old trees. Once they reach the mature stage, both white and red pine trees have developed very thick bark that usually protects them from fire. How many mature pine trees can you count within 200 meters of this burned area? These mature trees provide seed for forest regeneration. Many seeds have already germinated and produced young pine trees – investigate the forest floor and you will see them.

Point 9- Examining Old Growth

Throughout this area you have the opportunity to examine and experience firsthand the many features that make the Temagami old growth pine forest so special. Old growth is much more than just old or large trees, and has many values other than providing habitat for a few wildlife species. By describing old growth in these ways, we detract from the concept that old-growth forests are complex and productive ecosystems comprised of interwoven plant and animal communities. All of the components are important to the maintenance of the ecosystem as a whole. This old-growth red and white pine forest is an ecologically diverse system that can be defined not by a single feature, but by multiple characteristics. Old, large trees are an important component of old growth. The presence of standing dead trees (snags) and fallen dead trees (logs) are equally important to any defini- tion. These dead trees are crucial as feeding and nesting sites for many birds and mammals, and essential to the recycling of nutrients (hence continued productivity) within the ecosystem. As well, old-growth forests contain small and intermediate-sized trees, and an abundance of shrubs, herbaceous plants, mosses, ferns, fungi and lichens. One of the most critical, and least under- stood processes within this and other old-growth forests is that of regeneration. Recent research in this area indicates that white pine are suc- cessfully regenerating. Since the large, old trees are still alive, catastrophic fire cannot be the disturbance that releases the resources that the young pines need to grow. Rather, it is the effect of small, localized disturbances that encourage regeneration. Such disturbances include the natural death of large, old trees, and deaths hastened by surface fires and windstorms. These disturbances expose patches of mineral soil and create gaps in the forest canopy, resulting in an increase in light, water, and nutrients. It is also possible that, in the absence of any kind of disturbance, white pine seedlings are able to grow on layers of dead leaves and needles on the forest floor. Dispersal and germination of tree seeds, especially the white and red pine, may be facilitated by the winter preparations of red squirrels, which actively hoard and cache seeds in the ground during the fall. As a forest develops, it is said to pass through various successional stages. 700 years of tree record can be found in the logs, snags and trees. This process can neither be mimicked, nor hastened, with existing knowledge and forestry techniques. We are just beginning to tap into the wealth of knowledge contained within these remarkable ecosystems. Only through further research can we hope to increase our understanding.

Produced by the Temagami Wilderness Society

bottom of page