The Legacy of Jim Walker

 

Walker Woods is named after James Woods Walker and his wife Olwen.  This property was his passion and, at one time, the best and largest private forest operation in southern Ontario. As a young Toronto lawyer, Jim discovered the area during the early 1930’s while skiing. In 1934 he convinced a farmer on the 6th Concession that he had an interest in a square log cabin that the farmer had earmarked for a pig pen.  The initial purchase was 4 acres for $350.00 and mostly mortgaged.  Jim and Olwen repaired and expanded the original structure, which still exists and is rented today from the TRCA by one of the Walker nieces.

 

Released from the military following WW2 Jim began to expand his land holdings.   The lands were mostly barren and dry abandoned farms and often covered by creeping blowsands. The forest that existed had been “high graded’ meaning the best trees had been culled leaving poor quality scrub bush.  Between 1947 and 1962 he acquired 15 such properties totaling 1,800 acres, often with structures included, for as low as $25/acre.   By 1948 he had enough land to begin his forest operation and hired Victor Symes as manager. His first task was to make a forest.  This required planting over 2 million trees including Scots and Red pine and a wide variety of hardwood trees including oak, maple, beech, ash, cherry and black walnut.  He used seedlings mostly from the Orono nursery but later developed his own nursery for certain species. He was a true visionary, often developing techniques of planting and forest management well advanced of those of the Department of Lands and Forests as the Ministry of Natural Resources was then known. He began to operate it as profitable private forest and he had multiple ventures including Christmas trees, hardwood boards, pulp wood, cord wood from the pine plantation thinnings (turned into pressure treated lumber for landscaping) and firewood.  The boards were milled at a still standing sawmill and the firewood split by an early homemade version of a log splitter.

 

In 1978 John Rose replaced Mr. Symes and continued to work for Mr. Walker until the property was sold in 1991.  The TRCA purchased 1062 acres (about 570 acres had been sold off earlier and another 170 acres given to Ontario Heritage-now part of the Glen Major Forest).  The price was close to 5 million dollars and although the price was significant Mr. Walker clearly wanted his land to be preserved as a whole and in public hands. Jim died in 1995 and Olwen survived until 2007.   John Rose and his wife Chris continued to live on the property and maintain some of the 6 houses associated with the Many of the wider trails are the remnants of the roads used by the logging crews and you may come across large open areas which were where the logs were stacked.  You can still see lots of the old structures like the sawmill, the drying shed for boards, two implement barns, a windmill for power and several houses.  The TRCA rents out several of the houses and uses a couple of the barns for storage.  

 

Those of us who use the East Duffins Headwaters properties are deeply indebted to James Walker. The forest that covers these hills is directly his creation and although the TRCA holdings now are quadruple the piece purchased from Mr. Walker, his was the anchor piece and set the model for conservation in the Uxbridge area and beyond.   We all should leave such a legacy.  Thank you Jim.

 

Written by David Taylor, with assistance from John Rose

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