The Niagara Escarpment
About the Escarpment
The Niagara Escarpment stretches more than 725 km from the Niagara River to Georgian Bay and rises up in places
more than half a kilometre above sea level. The entire Escarpment extends 1,100 kilometres from western New
York to Niagara Falls, across southern
Ontario to the Bruce Peninsula, under the
waters of Georgian Bay to Manitoulin
Island, and down the western shore of Lake
Michigan. The most spectacular sections –
those recognized by UNESCO as a World
Biosphere Reserve – are found in Ontario.
Geology of the Niagara
Physically, the Niagara Escarpment is a cuesta – a ridge composed of rock strata with a long slope on one side and
a steep cliff on the other. The Niagara Escarpment is a massive topographic feature, shaped rather like a saucer or
an arc. In the shape of a gigantic horseshoe, the landform stretches through southern Ontario, Michigan and New
York states. It has also been traced into the states of Wisconsin and Ohio.
In Ontario, the landform has a strong presence: it is a well-defined landscape with a very evident vertical face. We
refer to it as “Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment”. In other areas, the landform is quite indistinct; in some places, glacial
sediments have buried it.
The Niagara Escarpment has origins dating back into geological history some 430 to 450 million years, a time when
the area lay under a shallow warm sea. This sea lay in a depression of the earth’s crust, the centre of which is now
the State of Michigan. Now geologically known as the Michigan Basin, the outer rim of this massive saucer-shaped
feature governs the location of the Niagara Escarpment. As occurs with present-day water bodies such as the Gulf
of Mexico or Hudson Bay, rivers flowing into this ancient sea carried sand, silt and clay to be deposited as thick
layers of sediment. At the same time, lime-rich organic material from the abundant sea life was also accumulating.
Over millions of years these materials became compressed into massive layers of sedimentary rock and ancient
reef structures now visible along the Escarpment. Some rock layers now consist of soft shales and sandstones
while others are made up of dolostone (a rock similar to limestone that contains magnesium and is more durable).
The Niagara Escarpment belongs to the Mixed Wood Plains Ecozone of Canada. The ecozone’s natural features
including climate, water systems, topography, soil characteristics have agglomerated together to form the
uniqueness of Southern Ontario’s landscape – consequently establishing human and wildlife adaptations, patterns
and operations in the region. Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment is a unique ecosystem. Created by the accumulation of
limestones, dolostones, and sandstones, during the Ordovician and Silurian Periods more than 400 million years
ago, when much of North America was covered by warm shallow water and then later etched during the glaciation
era, to what it has become now a ridge of rock stretching across Southern Ontario’s landscape. It continues its
transformation, by being continually shaped and moulded through weathering and mass wasting processes. The
effects of such processes have agglomerated to form the Niagara Escarpment we are familiar with today – with its
mosaic of forests, farmlands, scenic views, cliffs set along Georgian Bay, quiet streams, wetlands, tranquil rolling
hills, multitude of waterfalls tumbling down its rock ledges and still caves carved into its base. As a result, the
Niagara Escarpment, along with its unique natural features, has become prime habitat for wildlife, creating an area
rich in wildlife and plant biodiversity. With incredible rock cliffs, breathtaking waterfalls, underwater caves, and
1,000-year-old cedar trees, the Escarpment tells a fascinating story of the natural history of Ontario – a story that
needs to be told for generations to come.
Protecting the magnificent Niagara Escarpment means protecting its unique and fascinating characteristics,
including that it:
Is the longest continuous natural corridor in densely populated south-central Ontario.
Boasts spectacular scenery – Niagara Falls and 60 other remarkable waterfalls, sheer cliffs, and
Offers unparalleled hiking experiences along the 762 kilometre Bruce Trail.
Comprises vineyards, orchards, and some of Ontario’s best farmland.
Is home to 1,000 year-old cedars, the oldest trees in eastern North America.
Houses the headwaters of five major river systems.
Tells that amazing story of more than 10,000 years of human history.
Fruit Growing Industry - Microclimatic Effects in the Niagara Escarpment
The evidence of the Niagara Escarpment’s regional diversity includes its microclimatic effects in the Niagara
Peninsula. As a result of the agglomeration of the moderating effects of Lakes Erie and Ontario and fertile soils laid
down during the glaciation era, the lands surrounding the Niagara Escarpment experience excellent growing
conditions thus forming Ontario’s prime fruit growing area. In particular, such microclimatic effects have promoted
the growth and maturing of Ontario’s wine industry. As the ground warms up in spring, cool air is drawn inland
from Lake Ontario. Flowing in a circular pattern down the Escarpment and along the ground, this cool air delays
bud burst on the vines, preventing potential damage by late spring frosts. In fall, the air circulation works in
reverse. Air is warmed over the lake and moves inland along the ground. When it reaches the Escarpment it rises,
drawing more warm air in behind it and giving the region the long, warm fall days needed to develop optimum
sugar content in the grapes.
In recent years there has been a surge of visitors to the escarpment area. In particular, urbanites seeking escape
from city surroundings - noisy traffic, pollution and the fast-paced lifestyle. Hiking and camping to experience the
natural environment are very popular. The Niagara Escarpment area offers serenity, beautiful views, charming
rural villages, vibrant cultural centres and exceptional wineries in the Niagara region. There about 40 wineries
operating in the Niagara Region of Ontario. Ontario’s wine industry has matured over the last quarter-century and
now competes in the global market. Grape growing and wine production has led to greater interest in building
large restaurants and other tourism facilities to compliment the wine touring experience.
There is also pressure to develop golf courses along the Escarpment, as it forms a picturesque backdrop. The
development of golf courses destroys the natural environment and can pose a threat to wildlife populations by
destroying habitat, introducing chemicals into the environment, decreasing biodiversity and also introducing water
management issues for the site and surrounding communities. Additionally, golf course development may
stimulate new developments in the form of surrounding residential subdivisions.
Physically, the Niagara Escarpment is a cuesta – a ridge composed of rock strata with a long slope on one side and
a steep cliff on the other. Its long slope attracts ski development. The Escarpment features several well known
skiing destinations, including Glen Eden, Blue Mountain Resort, Talisman Resort and Hockley Valley. Like golf
course development, skiways can prompt a range of other developments to take place in their vicinity.
The Niagara Escarpment offers superb hiking trails in particular the infamous Bruce Trail. The Bruce Trail is runs
700 kilometres along the Escarpment, running from its southern tip of the Niagara Escarpment in Queenston up to
its northern tip at Tobermory. Additionally, other outdoor adventure and ecotourism activities include boating,
kayaking, canoeing, fishing, rock climbing, wind surfing and swimming.
Since the early 1970s, the Ontario government has had in place a program that aims to protect the Niagara
Escarpment from environmentally inappropriate land use and development. The centrepiece of this program is the
Niagara Escarpment Plan. Adopted in 1985, it is Canada’s first and most extensive environmentally based land use
plan. The main purpose of the Act and the Plan is to protect the natural environment of the Niagara Escarpment
and the land in its vicinity. Only those land uses or developments which are compatible with the protection of the
Niagara Escarpment environment should be permitted within the Niagara Escarpment Plan Area. The NEPDA and
NEP take precedence over all other provincial and municipal laws and regulations.
The Act also established the Niagara Escarpment Commission and required it to develop a land use plan which
would achieve several important objectives:
to protect unique ecologic and historic areas;
to maintain and enhance the quality and character of natural streams and water supplies;
to provide adequate opportunities for outdoor recreation;
to maintain and enhance the open landscape character of the Niagara Escarpment in so far as
possible, by such means as compatible farming or forestry and by preserving the natural scenery;
to provide for adequate public access to the Niagara Escarpment; and
to support municipalities within the Niagara Escarpment Planning Area in their exercise of the
planning functions conferred upon them by the Planning Act.
The Act is now under the jurisdiction of the Minister and Ministry of Natural Resources.
NIAGARA ESCARPMENT - Map and Written Assignment
Niagara Escarpment – Central Ontario Map
1) Using the base map of Central Ontario that your teacher will give you, and the Oxford Atlas page 48, create a
complete map using all the map guidelines we have learned. On the map, locate the following features (add to the
legend along the bottom):
Cities: (Place a dot at the location of each city and print its name in small font beside it)
Toronto, London, Kitchener, Barrie, Guelph, Owen Sound, Hamilton, Burlington, Oakville, Mississauga, Brampton,
Milton, Oshawa, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, North Bay, Sudbury
Rivers: (Outline the rivers with blue pencil crayon/fine blue Sharpie and print its name in small font along it.)
Credit, Humber, Don, Rouge, Nottawasaga, Grand, Thames, and the Welland Canal
1) Outline the Niagara Escarpment in another colour as well as in the Legend.
2) Using the detailed Niagara Escarpment colour maps, shade in purple the areas that are for Mineral
MAP FEATURE YES NEEDS WORK NO
Clear & Descriptive
Larger Print – Neatly Printed
Well placed – Centred at Top - Underlined
North arrow or compass rose
Used a Ruler
Neat and Accurate
AUTHOR & DATE
Neat & Easy to read
Correct spelling – Capital letters
Ruled lines used if label cannot fit in space
LEGEND: COLOUR and SYMBOLS
Symbols are chosen well
Good shading technique
Accentuates the features for the map reader
Uses map conventions (ie water blue etc.)
Formation of the Escarpment
2) Make a 1 paragraph note on the formation of the Niagara Escarpment based on the readings above and three
diagrams on the Information Sheet entitled Forming the Giant’s Rib. You can also use any of the information from
the first page of notes in this booklet. Use the following key words and phrases:
• level layers of sediments were deposited
• uplifting and tilting of rock layer occurred
• erosion of harder and softer rock layers
• hard rocks undercut by softer rock layers
• scarp slope
• scarp face
3) Explain in a few sentences why the Niagara area is so good for growing fruit. Include which fruits are grown
4) Why is the Niagara Escarpment area so popular for tourism? List some examples of activities that attract tourists
to the area. Look through the photo tour pages for ideas as well.
Population Along the Escarpment
5) Make a 1 paragraph note on the pattern of population along the Niagara Escarpment. Comment on the relative
number and sizes of cities, towns, and townships in the three regions marked on the Map 1 – Giant’s Rib Niagara
Escarpment. You may also need to refer to the atlas page 48 to determine the names of some of the cities and
Escarpment Protection : Conflict - Land Uses Along the Escarpment
6) Based on information from the Niagara Escarpment Photo Tour and the 5 Land Use maps of the Niagara
Escarpment Plan, label or mark the following on your map of Central Ontario:
a) using the 5 Land Use maps of the Niagara Escarpment Plan, examine where conflicts between different land
uses are likely to occur and locate them on your map using creative symbols. In the legend, identify what land use
conflict is shown by each symbol. Refer also to the maps showing Natural Areas, Forested Areas and Built-up
b) mark on your map the location of the proposed Melancthon Quarry (use the map showing the townships for
help with this)
7) Urban and industrial development is one of the main challenges to the preservation of the Niagara Escarpment.
Write a four to five sentence description of the land use conflicts along the Niagara Escarpment as shown on your
map. Include at least one sentence describing how land use conflicts are related to the distribution of population in
the Central Ontario area.
Aggregate Quarry Proposal near the Niagara Escarpment
Human Activity on the Niagara Escarpment – Mineral Extraction
The Niagara Escarpment is an area confronted by challenges as it is an area constantly pressured by
development projects. Its pristine, quiet, rural and natural surroundings attract residential as well as tourism and
recreational developments. Additionally, its richness in aggregate material has attracted large-scale mineral
extraction projects. Intensive development projects can have serious and irreversible implications on the
environment as well as impact small communities and farmers. The resources available from the Niagara
Escarpment stimulate economic opportunity and help support Ontario’s economy but at times challenge the
balance of the ecosystem.
The extraction of mineral resources is a significant development pressure in the Niagara Escarpment area.
Aggregate resources are highly valued in Ontario’s economy. Aggregate material is used in the construction of
buildings and building of road networks. Of principle interest to the mineral extraction industry is the Niagara
Escarpment’s proximity to markets, with easily accessible major highways lining the routes.
Many conservation groups and surrounding communities are opposed to mineral extraction operations in
the Escarpment Area because of its immense change to the landscape. In particular, the visual impact, the
disruption to flora and fauna, noise and dust from the site, disruptions to water table levels and wetlands, effects
of erosion and sedimentation as well as truck traffic and the fear of lowered property values for nearby residents.
As the Niagara Escarpment is a fragile geological environment it can be easily disrupted by mining operations.
Thus it is crucial that rehabilitation and restoration efforts are initiated once operators leave the area
and/or the material has been exhausted. Restoration is the treatment of disturbed land in such a way as to
develop and improve the land in two main ways, one, into an acceptable appearance and two, into an acceptable
Ontario’s Aggregate Resource Act (1990), ensures that rehabilitation takes place. The Act’s purpose is to:
• provide for the management of aggregate resources in Ontario
• control and regulate aggregate operations on Crown and private Land
• require rehabilitation of land which aggregate has been excavated
• minimize adverse impacts of extraction activity to the environment
Rehabilitation is an expensive task that requires much financial support.
Niagara Escarpment tour: Sweeping view from Mt. Nemo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHoEdiPdc44
The Niagara Escarpment by Nikki Mandarino http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvWscNxe7Hg
Location of the Proposed Quarry
Pit Stop – Stop the Quarry http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgS0m2XtBbI
Canadian Chefs Protest http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PpHxCG5owWk&feature=related
1) Why would chefs in restaurants around the Toronto area be so concerned about a quarry that they organize a
protest to call attention to it?
The Melancthon Quarry: The Choice is Clear http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vGbGFC5qoE&NR=1
2) Describe at least two arguments that the aggregate company uses to convince you that his quarry is needed.
3) A mineral extraction company has excavated all the aggregate material on their property. The quarry cannot
operate any longer. Produce an action plan to restore the area to a natural area once more. Use the information
we heard at the quarry on the field trip, and information from the internet or printed material for assistance.
4) Who should pay for this rehabilitation initiative; should it be the government of Ontario that has approved the
quarry operation or should it be the quarry operators? Provide reasons for your answers.
5) OPINION: In your opinion, should the Ontario government give the go-ahead to this proposed aggregate quarry
in Melancthon? Provide reasons for your opinion. Your answer should be at least 2 paragraphs in length.
Rubric for a Supported Opinion Paragraph Name: _______________________________
Paragraph Marking Level 4 - Excellent Level 3 - Good Level 2 - Level 1 – Needs
Criteria Satisfactory Improvement
Opinion/Topic highly reasonably somewhat ineffective at
Sentence effective effective at effective at stating the
at stating the stating the stating the main main idea,
main idea, main idea, idea, topic and topic and
topic and topic and
Supporting Sentences extensive reasonable some limited (if any)
/Points/Ideas development development development of development
of the main of the main the main idea of the main
idea idea idea
Details/Evidence high degree reasonable some degree limited degree
Concluding Sentence highly reasonably somewhat ineffective
effective effective effective summary of
summary of summary of summary of the the main idea
the main idea the main idea main idea
Fluency/Clarity/ very fluent, reasonably somewhat not at all
clear and fluent, clear fluent, clear fluent, clear
Coherence and coherent and coherent and coherent and coherent
Organization very logical logical somewhat illogical
organization of organization of logical organization of
ideas ideas organization of ideas
Technical and Format very good- good-a few developing- weak-
minimal errors errors in many errors in excessive
in spelling, spelling, spelling, errors in
grammar, grammar, grammar, spelling,
punctuation, punctuation, punctuation, grammar,
sentence sentence sentence punctuation,
structure structure structure sentence