The Carp Ridge, a fault-bounded slice of Canadian Shield sprawling along the Ottawa Valley, is a picturesque venue for Sunday drives today, but it must have been a tough row to hoe literally for the first farmers who tried to pull a plough through its thin soil. Probably of more use as a source of lumber, maple syrup, and wood ash for soap-making, it was nevertheless well-treed enough to sustain the catastrophic wildfire that burned from Arnprior to Ottawa in the droughty summer of 1870. Set up by a rainless summer and fanned by freakish 100-mile-an-hour winds, an 11-mile wide wall of flame consumed trees, farms, livestock and a few unfortunate souls, not stopping until it had erased Stittsville and Bell’s Corners. Updrafts over the Ridge must have served like a blacksmith's bellows.
Today, the towns and trees have grown back – the former more so than the latter – but the swath that just missed Almonte is still justly called the Burnt Lands. Today the Ridge is mostly second and third-growth timber with pockets of boggy soil in small depressions in the granite gneiss, and the odd forest giant that has survived fires, storms, axes and chainsaws to reign over the spindly pretenders below. Relics of farms past lie scattered across the hills, mouldering in the leaf litter. Continue reading →