Spy Rock on Westport Mountain in its setting overlooking the Rideau provides a wonderful springtime vista into space and time. It is an invitation to contemplate the past that has been witnessed and chronicled by this silent sentinel of granite. Every mountain, every pebble is a register of events through geological time, of processes that form and sculpture our landscape and influence our practical and aesthetic lives. Westport Mountain is the representative of a billion spring-times, of one-quarter of our Earth’s history, a span of time far beyond our hourly and daily senses. But we can convert this Rosetta Stone of time and witness into a proportional year, a calendar when one second of our time represents 150 years of our planet's history; a week represents about a hundred million years.
Now that we have imagined our Earth's age and events of 4.6 billion years compressed into a figurative almanac, fast forward through New Year’s Day and the firey birth of our planet within our Solar System, of first weeks and first rain on infant continents, of first months and early microbes nurtured in primeval oceans, of bacteria that used sunlight to miraculously make food and release oxygen. Mid-October in your mind’s eye. See Westport Mountain as a molten foundation within the newly-formed Grenville Mountains, ranges that margined ancient North America from present-day Labrador to Kansas. Their airy peaks surpassed the height and grandeur of modern ones like Mt. Robson and Rainier. Their feet were of molten rock destined to cool and crystallize into granite. Their flanks were rent with folds and fractures; folds like the Clear Lake Fold near Devil Lake: fractures like the Rideau Lakes Fault under Westport. (1).
View of Foley Mountain photo by: Jennifer Bond
Then came late October and early November. These were times of stability, of the relative tranquillity of rivers and glaciers, of moonscape deserts, of erosion and sculpturing to very cores of the Grenville Ranges. Mid-November of our Earth's almanac and Spy Rock overlooked the shores of an ancient Atlantic, a coastline of lagoons and beaches, of sands that half-a-billion years later would have harden to be quarried near Elgin for the great dam at Jones Falls. Other Cambrian ledges were masoned into fine stone homes along Stone Road. These seas were crucible for a unique new experiment in nature, shelled marine critters whose fossils can be found near Westport, of animals whose earliest footprints on dry sand of land have been found near Kingston. Breathable oxygen in air. Ozone oxygen layered in sky. Life on land.
Gradually these salty waters ebbed to the south and west leaving a stratigraphic record like the pages of a book; a history book from Verona to Texas, a chapter of the first corals (late November in our Earth almanac); of the first fishes and amphibians (end of November); of deserts and great briny seas that dried into the salt deposits beneath Windsor; a catastrophe of mass extinction (early December). Spy Rock stood as part of an unshaken highland when its descendant generation of mountains, the Appalachians were heaved up by one of the periodic convulsions of our planet’s surface. And it followed passively as the Americas were torn from Europe and Africa in the third week in December. Tyrannosaurus rex and lunch roamed the coastal lowlands that would become our Prairie Provinces. T-rex and lunch left a chronicle in bone and stone of the Great Age of Dinosaurs. Exotic ginko trees now found in Portland and Westport are living vestiges of forests that thrived 70 million years ago. Our unique blue gem in our Solar System had become our miraculous Blue-Green Planet.
A mere week before New Year's Eve in our imaginary calendar, the Age of Dinosaur crashed with an asteroid. To make matters more challenging, the heaving up of the Rockies, the Cordillera and sister mountains on other continents marked a profound change of environment. Filling the niches of living space were smaller but more adaptable birds and mammals living among new flowering and seed-bearing trees such as the sycamore. On December 28th, ancient horses and camels browsed among the early maples of Spy Rock’s distant panorama. The cadence of change was picking up.
Dawn, December 30th; a unique new experiment in survival, an African ape was trying and extending its cultural skills by using stone and stick to feed and to augment its limited defences. By dusk, its early human descendants and their fellow creatures of the biosphere would adapt or die through a series of several great cycles of global climate change and glacial ice. North America was scoured and sculptured as far south as the central United States. Major cycles of glaciation had occurred before in Earth's history. The uniqueness of these recent cycles of ice and thaw was the challenge and stimulus it provided for biological development in general and the cultural evolution of humans in particular. We have always been just one step ahead of extinction on the anvil of evolution, whether it be the physiology of birthing big-brained babes from two-legged bodies or the culture of bartering with bombs. To-date, the womb has proven to be mightier than the bomb!
As well, the Ice Ages greatly modified our local and national landscape. The most recent cycle in ice buried Westport Mountain under a couple “klicks” of bluish glacier. The ice sheet was an enormous emery, gouging and scratching as it oozed its way across the countryside. It striated the bedrock base of your heritage home. Resistant granite ridges like Rock Dunder were polished. Soft ancient marble was gouged into basins for Newboro, Charleston and most other local lakes. It squeezed the drumlin hills near Forfar into streamline forms. A veneer of soil rife with erratic boulders was left as a legacy for latter-day farmers to curse.
The last great cycle of ice stagnated and melted a mere couple minutes to midnight on December 31st (about 10 000 years ago). Melt-water streams washed and sorted the gravels and sands of the Morton Esker. Now, Tackaberry & Sons provide us with that Cinderella of mineral troves, gravel for homes and roads. Local basins such as the Big Rideau were brimming full of turquoise melt-water. Their waves left a sequence of sandy strands metres above present-day shores. Annual layers of fertile silts and clays filtered to the floors of receding lakes like Beverly and Newboro. Recently, international ploughmen and women furrowed these rich soils near Crosby. The salty waves of the Champlain Sea left shorelines near North Gower. Like in Holland, prosperous farms and a world-famous Agricultural College now thrive on its clay beds and beaches. No dikes and windmills are necessary. The Champlain Sea drained away of natural accord. Not so in Holland.
A mere minute to midnight in our almanac of our planet. Ancestors of native Americans were trekking northward through the newly-revealed landscape of Leeds. Twenty seconds to midnight and a man called Moses led his people across waters in another more distant fracture in our Earth's fragile shell, the Red Sea Rift. Fifteen seconds to midnight, the first Christmas occurred along the Jordan Valley, part of that same distant fracture. Two seconds to go. Samuel de Champlain was exploring woods and warfare between the valleys of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence. One second before midnight, our pioneer ancestors were clearing land, building villages and constructing a canal within the panorama from Spy Rock.
Spring time from Spy Rock. It is a spring-time in annual scale from the known of winter past to summer, a future of promises, of hopes, of unknowns; of new leaves on the trees and new boats on the lake. The melting of the most recent Ice Age. That was a spring-time in millennial scale from a barren and frigid glacial past to a time of warmth, of forests and lakes, of habitat for deer and for people who brought with them their hopes and unknowns. The coming of the Paleozoic Seas. That was a spring-time in geologic scale from barren and hostile lands of the pre-Cambrian to a time of seas teeming with life, exploring every available niche of promise and overcoming the unknowns onto land and into air.
Yes, Albert. time is indeed relative. And humans, a product of accelerated change in Nature have become the creator of change, at least temporarily in our own conceit.
(1) Interpretive Structural Map of Westport Map Area,
Fig. 21, 1967 Centennial Publication. Geological Survey of Canada
(2) Surficial Materials and Terrain Features, Ottawa-Hull,
Map 1425A, 1977. Geological Survey of Canada
Geology/Natural History tours are sponsored annually by the Bastard and S. Burgess Heritage Society on the third Sunday afternoon of September (subject to weather) when we look at some of the sites of significance in our local and very rich natural history.