Indigenous Plant Life Along the Laura Secord Legacy Trail
SATURDAY 10 SEPTEMBER 3 PM — THE FILM HOUSE AT FIRSTONTARIO PERFORMING ARTS CENTRE
Presentation by botanical experts who have documented Indigenous plants in Niagara.
For some peoples, a trail is a path linking point A to point B. For others, a trail can be a discovery and much more. The Laura Secord Legacy Trail has become part of the history of the region for many reasons. While it is generally connected to the War of 1812, there is much more to learn about its history and its natural environment. Along its 32 km, the Laura Secord Legacy Trail follows the path that Laura Secord took from her home in Queenston, Niagara-on-the-Lake to DeCew House in Thorold to warn of an impending American invasion in June 1813. This trail, drafted from historical research, allows hikers to walk Laura’s route, which traverses some of the ancient Indigenous trails, although a part is now in the urban setting of St. Catharines. The trail goes through many different ecosystems from vineyards and agricultural lands to forested areas.
The natural ecosystem of the Niagara region is categorized as the Carolinian forest zone. This region, rich in biodiversity, spreads from the Carolinas in the United States to southern Ontario. With urbanization and development of the agricultural sector in the Niagara region, a significant portion of this ecosystem as well as the tall grass prairies that originally grew across the region have been lost. Indeed, it is estimated that over 99 percent of the original tall grass prairie and 90 percent of Carolinian forests have been lost in southern Ontario (Kenny et al., 2011, Advancing the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Canada, Sustainable Prosperity, Ottawa). Many of these species have been used for various purposes for centuries by Indigenous peoples and can most likely be found along the trail. Knowing about these plants and their historical and cultural values, can help visitors understand the importance of biological diversity and the reasons for their conservation.
In 2021, Brock University and Plenty Canada joined forces in a project that focussed on producing an inventory of Indigenous plant species and to identify some that would be important not only for botanical purposes but, most importantly, for Indigenous knowledge. This project aims to underline this importance from an Indigenous knowledge viewpoint. Project researchers will provide a detailed presentation of what they found through beautiful photographs and maps of the trail. Learn about traditional Indigenous uses and knowledge about the plants that were found along the Trail.
This session’s presenters include a trio of remarkable plant knowledge keepers.
Liette Vasseur is a full professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Brock University, where she is a member of the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre. She holds the UNESCO Chair on Community Sustainability. Her research is interdisciplinary and links issues such as community-based ecosystem management, climate change adaptation and resilience, and sustainable agriculture. Her climate change adaptation research program encompasses different ecosystems from the rural community of Lincoln, Indigenous communities of San Juan, and in the Chimborazo, Ecuador. She is Honorary President of the Canadian Commission UNESCO and deputy chair and vice-chair for North America of the Commission for Ecosystem Management with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and co-lead of the thematic group on Climate Change and Biodiversity Policy and Practice.
Alyssa M. General is Mohawk Nation Turtle Clan from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. She is an artist, educator, and language revivalist. Alyssa has helped create a series of films in Kanyen’kéha with Onkwawén:na Kentyóhkwa, developed illustrations for the children’s television show Tóta tánon Ohkwá:ri, and has received national recognition for her poem Enkonte’nikonhrakwaríhsya’te. Alyssa has worked as an artist-educator with the Royal Conservatory of Music, a Graphic Designer with the Six Nations Language Commission, the Kawenní:io Language Preservation Project, as well as Wahta Mohawks, and is the Artistic Director with the publishing company, Spirit & Intent. She is also a specialist in Indigenous plant ethnobotany.
Kasia Zgurzynski is an ecology research assistant and Master’s student at Brock University studying Biological Sciences. She has a background in botany and horticulture. In choosing Brock, she was immediately drawn to Dr. Liette Vasseur’s lab, and has been volunteering and working there since her first year. She completes vegetation surveys for the lab and has been looking at cover crops in vineyards. She’s interested in how a more ecological approach to agriculture can improve both the crop and its environment. She graduated with the highest overall marks in Biological Sciences, winning the Biological Sciences Faculty Year 4 Book Prize as well as the Distinguished Graduating Student Award. She completed an Honours Thesis titled “Native Plant and Beneficial Insect Communities Along Perimeter Plantings and Interiors of Vineyards.” She currently holds an NSERC Scholarship for her Master’s degree. Kasia’s research and photography of Indigenous plants of the Laura Secord Legacy Trail has proven invaluable.