This article was originally published in the 2020 Summer digital issue of Invest In Style Magazine.
The shoreline of shelf-like rock, lapped by azure waters and looking out on vistas that stretch as far as the eye can see, is straight out of a postcard. This is Craigleith Provincial Park, opened in 1967 to preserve a geologically significant shoreline on Southern Georgian Bay.
At Craigleith Provincial Park, the exposed bedrock consists of layers of limestone and of shale. These rock formations were formed 450 million years ago when southern Ontario lay at the bottom of a shallow tropical sea called the Michigan Basin. Fine sediments washed down from the Taconic Mountains (today’s Appalachians), settled in the basin, and were compressed into shale. Coral reefs also grew in the saltwater basin, gradually accumulating and consolidating into limestone.
The weathered surface of these rocks reveals countless fossils – skeletons or impressions of animals that once lived in the warm shallow sea that covered the Georgian Bay region so long ago. These fossils give us a glimpse of the rich and diverse marine life that existed in the prehistoric Michigan Basin.
Craigleith’s fossils are mostly that of hard-shelled marine creatures. Trilobites, ancient relatives of the modern lobster, are by far the most abundant and common of these fossils. Also present are cephalopods (cone-shaped ancestors of the squid) and brachiopods (prehistoric clams). Visitors to Craigleith Provincial Park are free to search for and photograph these fossils, but keep in mind they are protected and must be left on the beach for others to enjoy.
In 1859, Collingwood businessman William Darley Pollard decided he could make a fortune by meeting Ontario’s growing demand for oil, and was confident he knew just how to do it. Pollard patented a process of extracting crude oil from shale by distilling the fragmented rock in cast-iron vats heated to high temperatures over a fire. The crude was then refined to produce oil.
The plant Pollard erected at Craigleith produced 250 gallons of crude oil per day, a not inconsiderable amount in those days, though the process was labour intensive and required 30-35 tons of shale per day. Pollard seemed on the cusp of becoming extremely wealthy.
But a few years later, oil was discovered in the ground at Petrolia and Oil Springs in southern Ontario. When oil wells were drilled there, they immediately made Pollard’s operation inefficient. In 1863, Pollard accepted defeat and closed his shale works, the only one of its kind in Ontario’s history. Today, a historic plaque is located near the site of the former oil works, at the east end of Craigleith Provincial Park.
Any industry at Craigleith Provincial Park is in the distant past. The only activity you’ll see on this stretch of shoreline are children scampering across the flat rocks, bronzed paddle boarders and kayakers in the water, and people settled comfortably into folding chairs to watch the sun set over the expanse of Lake Huron.
Pull yourself away from the water for a bit to read the panels describing some of the unique natural history of the area.
If you find the setting so intoxicating that you’re reluctant to leave at the end of the day, you’re in luck: Craigleith Provincial Park offers camping, both RV and tent. Stay a while and make your own postcard memories.
Operating season until Oct. 25; Web: www.ontarioparks.com/park/craigleith
Phone: 705-445-4467; keep up to date with the COVID-19 situation in Ontario Parks here: www.ontarioparks.com/covid19