Thursday, May 8, 2014

Buying Land in the Clay Belt

Co-ordinates of Settlements:

Hearst        49° 42' N  83° 40' W
Cochrane    49° 04' N  81° 01' W
Kapuskasing    49° 25' N 81° 26' W
Foleyet    48° 14' N  82° 26' W
Timmins    48° 28' N  81° 20' W

The Great Clay Belt is a vast area of Ontario and Quebec, 180,000 square kilometers, with a very small population. The area is good for hunting and fishing, and its future potential for human sustenance may be in such activities. For over a hundred years, however, this area has also been intriguing because it includes some fairly arable land, the remains of glacial Lake Barlow-Ojibwa, whereas most other land in northern Ontario and Quebec is quite infertile. The Clay Belt nevertheless has limitations for agriculture, partly because much of the clay itself is poorly drained, and partly because the climate is severe.

Maps of this area differ greatly from one another, not so much because of inaccuracy in drawing, but because the area is in fact not distinctly bounded. The green line I have drawn above, imposed on an index for the maps mentioned below, at least roughly indicates the relationship between most of the Ontario portion of the Great Clay Belt and the corresponding agricultural maps of the Canada Land Inventory (CLI). The green line imposed on the index also allows us to see the geographical relationships of the major settlements within the Clay Belt. The Ontario Northland Railway and Route 11, part of the Trans-Canada Highway, divide the Ontario Clay Belt fairly neatly in half from Hearst to Cochrane, and many of the present-day farms are close to the railway and the road.

Only three of these CLI maps for the Ontario Clay Belt were published, 42 G (Kapuskasing), 42 H (Cochrane), and 42 A (Timmins). The three maps for Ontario indicate no arable land in Classes 1 or 2, i.e. the two highest ratings, but there is a good deal in Class 3, basically the lowest acceptable level for practical purposes. In general, the land in Class 3 has limitations in terms of rainfall, climate, or poor drainage, the same limitations mentioned earlier as true of the Clay Belt in general.

(In addition, maps 31 M and 31 D of the CLI cover a small part of the more-eastern sections of the Clay Belt, particularly in Quebec, but there is very little land in the Quebec Clay Belt that is above Class 3.)

However, what we can also see from the maps is that the Class 3 land in the Ontario Clay Belt is randomly distributed, and that in fact the entire area is quite varied in its makeup in terms of soil, to the extent that the term "belt" may be slightly misleading. Anyone planning to buy arable land in the Clay Belt would be advised to match any description of interesting property for sale with the corresponding area on a CLI agricultural map.

Peter Goodchild

Author of Tumbling Tide: Population, Petroleum, and Systemic Collapse (London, Ontario: Insomniac Press, 2014)