Holland Marsh

The Holland Marsh is a flat intensive muck crop farming region in Ontario, Canada consisting of fertile peat moss. It is located in the floodlands of the Holland River, a waterway that flows into Lake Simcoe, located northwest of Toronto, near Bradford-West Gwillimbury, Ontario.


The main crops of the area are vegetables which reflect each wave of immigration into Canada. In the 1920s the main crops reflected eastern and western European tastes - yellow onions, potatoes, carrots, head lettuce, radish, etc. From the 1950s to the 1980s, Italian greens started to be grown, for example dandelion, escarole, and endive. Demand for Asian greens, such as bok choy, began in the 1990s. The expressway (Highway 400) crosses the west-central portion of the Holland Marsh. Yonge Street and the CN rail (Toronto - Barrie) are situated to the northeast.

At the nearby Muck Crops Research Station, various studies research the effects of altering specific agricultural practices. These typically focus on, and are intended for implementation, at the Holland Marsh.


The Holland Marsh is the lowest lying, completely flat area, convert|7200|acre|km2|0, of the convert|65000|acre|km2|0|sing=on Nottawasaga Watershed region. The area is oval shaped, with the narrowest points at the northwest and southeast. The marsh's length is about 15 km and its width about 4 km. The location runs from 44 to 44.15 N and from 73.8 to about 73.65 W. The Holland River's west and east branches flow to meet the canal in the northeast, near Bridge Street. The north 40% of the Holland Marsh is located in the first tier municipality of Bradford West Gwillimbury and the second tier municipality of Simcoe County, and the south 60% is located in the first tier municipality of King Township and the second tier municipality of York Region. Holland Landing is located to the east. The urban and highland rural areas of Bradford is located to the north.

Irrigation and flood control is provided by the "Holland Marsh Drainage Canal System", which completely surrounds the Holland Marsh proper and is the same elevation as Lake Simcoe, into which the canals drain. Flowing through the centre of the Holland Marsh from the southeast corner to the northwest corner is the Schomberg River, which the drainage canals were rerouted from, and which is eight feet below the water level of the canals and Lake Simcoe. Two pumphouses drain the canal water into Lake Simcoe. High amounts of rain, a strong southeast wind, or excessive spring ice melts can cause the dykes to breach, and should this happen, the water will not stop flowing into the Holland Marsh until the lowest point, the centre of the marsh, reaches the water level of Lake Simcoe. Bradford West Gwillimbury is responsible for governance of the Holland Marsh Drainage Canal System.

The remaining tiny portion of wetlands are presently to the northeast and are a protected area though are under threat by a plan to redesign the canal system. As of fall, 2006, the Oceans and Fisheries Department of Canada is expected to give clearance to move portions of the canal to create a berm between the dyke road and the canal, addressing the life safety issue of a road beside an open waterway. This will destroy any remaining wetland.


Before its development, the Holland Marsh area was a large wetland extending almost continuously from Lake Simcoe to its north, lying along the watershed of the western arm of the Holland River. It was part of the Toronto Carrying-Place Trail, although another route to the east was also used, avoiding the heavily marshy area.

Professor William Day laid the groundwork for drainage of the wetlands in 1923 to prepare them for their current agricultural use. The canal system was created by engineer Alexander Baird of Sarnia and were completed by 1930.

In October 1954, Hurricane Hazel overwhelmed the marsh's drainage system with heavy rains, and the whole marsh was flooded within six hours of the dykes being breached at the north canal. The canals are designed with the bank on the outside of the marsh several inches lower than the bank on the inside of the marsh so that flooding will occur outside of the marsh first, but the amount of runoff flowing down from the hills northeast of the Holland Marsh was so great that this failsafe became ineffective. The pipes underground the marsh that open into the canal system with one way valves to prevent flooding also became ineffective. Highway 400 was five feet underwater. The residents of the Holland Marsh were alerted to the flood because it happened in the evening when they were in from their fields, and the party phone line rang in all the homes as residents called each other to warn of the flood. Those with houses that had only one floor escaped to neighbours with a second floor, and many had boats or canoes that they used for recreation. Many residents were taken in over the winter by kindly neighbours in the Town of Bradford.

On May 31, 1985, a tornado touched down in the Bradford West Gwillimbury portion of the marsh west of Hwy. 400, lifting the roof off of one house on north Canal Road (Simcoe Road #8), and downing power lines and trees and ruining at least one house along Fraser Street. The devastation on Fraser Street was so extensive that it was renamed Tornado Road. The wind of the accompanying storm was of such velocity that many acres of crops were ruined. The storm also resulted in a tornado touching down in Barrie, killing eight and injuring 155 persons, and a tornado touching down in Bolton, destroying at least one house and injuring a teenage girl who was airlifted to hospital and later fully recovered. The Holland Marsh is prone to dust storms.

External links

* [http://www.ontarioplaques.com/Plaques_VWXYZ/Plaque_York13.html Ontario Plaques - Dutch Settlement of Holland Marsh]
* [http://www.atl.ec.gc.ca/weather/hurricane/hazel/en/hm.html Environment Canada: Remembering Hurricane Hazel - Impacts at Holland Marsh]

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