On the drive to Alfred Bog, it seems hard to believe that you will find the largest bog in southern Ontario at the end of the road. The landscape along the road is typical of the Prescott and Russell region: agricultural fields as far as the eye can see, and a terrain so flat and barren that it is possible to see the Laurentian mountains in the distance.
And yet, at the very end of the dirt road, you can find a short boardwalk leading to what is arguably one of the richest ecosystems in the entire region.
As I grew up in the area, I feel like I’ve known the Alfred Bog forever. Still, I only visited it a handful of times. I think sometimes I tend to forget its importance and its uniqueness.
At 40 square kilometres, the Alfred Bog is the largest bog of its kind in southern Ontario. It is twice the size of its not-so-far neighbour, Mer Bleue Bog near Ottawa. Like Mer Bleue, Alfred Bog was created at the end of the Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago. The water, poor in oxygen, is too acidic to allow the plants to decompose, and the dead plants therefore accumulate to create peat. The peat moss in Alfred Bog reaches a depth of up to seven metres in some places.
Many of the animal and plant species found in the bog are rare or endangered. The acidity of the soil allows certain species of orchids and carnivorous plants to grow there, and the place is a true paradise for bird watchers. There is even a herd of moose there, which is said to represent one of the southernmost moose populations in the entire province.
Over the past century, sections of the bog have been drained and converted to farmland, while others have been exploited by the peat industry. The bog is believed to be today only a third of its original size, but many organizations are now involved in its protection and preservation.
In recent years, the site became a provincial nature reserve managed by Ontario Parks, and could eventually be made into a provincial park. For now, only a very small part of the bog is accessible to the public, via a small 275-metre boardwalk built by the South Nation Conservation.
The walk around the looped boardwalk only takes a few minutes, but I could have stayed there for hours. After driving a few kilometres on country roads, the impression left by the bog, with its tundra landscape as far as the eye can see, is always striking.