North America's Great Lakes country has experienced centuries of upheaval. Its landscapes are utterly changed from what they were five hundred years ago. The region's superabundant fish and wildlife and its magnificent forests and prairies astonished European newcomers who called it an earthly paradise but then ushered in an era of disease, warfare, resource depletion, and land development that transformed it forever.
The Once and Future Great Lakes Country is a history of environmental change in the Great Lakes region, looking as far back as the last ice age, and also reflecting on modern trajectories of change, many of them positive. John Riley chronicles how the region serves as a continental crossroads, one that experienced massive declines in its wildlife and native plants in the centuries after European contact, and has begun to see increased nature protection and re-wilding in recent decades.
Yet climate change, globalization, invasive species, and urban sprawl are today exerting new pressures on the region's ecology. Covering a vast geography encompassing two Canadian provinces and nine American states, The Once and Future Great Lakes Country provides both a detailed ecological history and a broad panorama of this vast region. It blends the voices of early visitors with the hopes of citizens now.
"A fascinating and convincing picture of the extent to which the Great Lakes and their environments are linked to world events, often to their detriment."
- Literary Review of Canada
"The Once and Future Great Lakes Country is wonderfully written, and Riley's profound knowledge of the region's ecology shines through on every page. The reader sees much of Canadian history in an entirely new way."
- Alan MacEachern, Department of History, Western University
"For many years I've known that John Riley is one of Canada's finest naturalists and a skilled and thoughtful writer. Now, after reading The Once and Future Great Lakes Country, I know that he is also an exceptional historian. As a long-time lover of the Great Lakes Country, I gained new insights from reading this book. Having recently published a book of my own that is in large part an ecological history, I know how overwhelming such a project can be. John Riley pulled it off splendidly. For Riley, the Great Lakes Country is truly and fully his home place, and this book serves it well."
- Reed F. Noss, Provost's Distinguished Research Professor, University of Central Florida and author of Forgotten Grasslands of the South
"This important book comes at a crucial time for our culture and beyond that, for our planet. The vivid story-telling paints a picture of our history and geography that is fresh and often surprising. This is a compelling and complex message of what we have done to nature, with a powerful conclusion of good news stories and enlightened, hopeful choices for the future."
- Robert Bateman, Canadian artist, environmentalist, and naturalist
"As both an ecological and human history, John Riley's compelling book reveals far more about the Great Lakes Country and its peoples than readers will ever have imagined. His research and lifetime of conservation are manifest in the richness of historical details, voices from the past, the truly astonishing number of animals he records, and the destruction of a land that was considered an earthly paradise by early Europeans. An unexpected and truly remarkable work."
- Graeme Gibson, acclaimed author and chairman of the Pelee Island Bird Observatory
"In his ode to his beloved Great Lakes Country, John Riley employs a compelling combination of knowledge and passion, knitting together the region's histories of human endeavour and ecological change. Riley's comprehensive and hopeful narrative connects to the past and steers us into the future ever mindful that the land is us and to appreciate its awe inspiring potential for renewal."
- David Crombie, founding chair, Waterfront Regeneration Trust
A Note on Measurements and Currencies ix
Figures follow pages 8 and 136
Foreword by Ramsay Cook xi
Introduction: The Fifth Line: A Farm Just Like Thousands of Others xv
Part One The Land and What Happened to It
1 The Land beyond Memory: Before 1500 3
2 Stone Age Meets Iron - and Smallpox: The 1500s and 1600s 29
3 Wilding the Land with War: The 1700s 55
4 Manufacturing the Land: The 1800s 84
Part Two Voices of Nature Past
5 Taking the Wildlife: 1500-1900 111
6 Clearing the Wood: 1500-1900 154
7 Taming the Unforested: Prairies, Alvars, Barrens, Cliffs, Bogs, and Fens 196
8 The True North: Three Centuries On 228
9 Invasives: The Unintended Consequences of the Uninvited 259
10 Growing Cities, Changing Climates: The Next Conversion 278
11 Restoration: A New Native Landscape 301
Afterword: Nature Never Repeats Itself 345
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John L. Riley is chief science advisor, Nature Conservancy of Canada. He has had careers as a botanist, geologist, ecologist, and conservation professional with the Royal Ontario Museum, the Ontario Geological Survey, and Ontario Nature. He lives in Mono, Ontario.