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What is the Niagara Escarpment?

Ontario's Niagara Escarpment stretches over 700 km from Queenston on the Niagara River to Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula.  The bedrock of the Escarpment was formed more than 450,000,000 years ago during the Silurian Period.  Over the last 250 million years sediment Map of the Niagara Escarpment and erosion have created this very complex land form.  Unlike many other cliff formations the Escarpment is not a geological fault but is a cuesta.  Over time ancient oceans eroded away the soft base of shale more quickly than the hard caprock of dolomite and limestone, to create an overhanging layer. The overhang eventually broke away to form the cliff's slope.

Beginning 25,000 years ago glaciation changed the Escarpment again.  First covering the area with hundreds of metres of ice, it scraped the bedrock and then deposited sand, gravel and large boulders called erratics.  The glacial phase of the Escarpment ended approximately 13,000 years ago.  With the retreat of the glaciers, the Escarpment became a habitat for plants and animals.  The cliff face and the unusual soil conditions created unique conditions including, in some areas, its own micro climate.  These conditions have created an ideal home for many rare ferns and orchids.

Human habitation soon followed with the First Nations people living off the bounty that the Escarpment offered.  European settlement began in earnest in the 1800s and once again the Escarpment underwent change.  Logging and aggregate extraction created an economic boom in Ontario.  The very factors that created the Escarpment also ensured excellent conditions for agriculture such as soft fruits in the Niagara region and apples in the Beaver Valley/Meaford area.

It is said that there has been more change to the Niagara Escarpment during the past 100 years than in the previous 450,000,000 years.  As a result of some of these changes, some people saw a need to preserve parts of our natural heritage.  In the 1960s, groups and individuals pressured the government of Ontario to protect the Niagara Escarpment.  The provincial government's "Select Committee on Conservation" presented a report in 1972 on conservation in Ontario.  By June of 1973 the Ontario government created the Niagara Escarpment Commission to control planning in the Escarpment area. 

Because of these and other efforts, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) declared the Niagara Escarpment a Biosphere Reserve in 1990.

More Information - What is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve?

For more information on NEC Land Use Policies
http://www.escarpment.org

 

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United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization