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Glen Elbe Learning Centre

The Glen Elbe Learning Centre is a restored and updated, nearly 200 year-old farm near Athens, Ontario. The 111 acre property was gifted to the Thousand Islands Land Trust (TIWLT) in 2019, by a remarkable woman, Jane Topping, with the wish that the natural environment be protected 4ever. She left a fund in place to focus on protection of nature, sustainability, and culture at Glen Elbe.

Since Jane Topping donated the property, volunteers have been hard at work creating the Glen Elbe Learning Centre. We’ve had numerous school groups visit, from kindergarten to college level international students.


The Thousand Islands Watershed Land Trust (TIWLT) is arguably the most important land trust in North America. It extends from the St. Lawrence River to the Rideau Canal, from Brockville to Kingston.  The Watershed is situated at what is likely the most important migratory crossroads in all North America and is overflowing with communities of plants and animals like no other place. This is nature’s ‘crossroads of the continent’, an intersection of migration routes where five forest regions meet and intermingle. Swallowtail butterflies, moose and hundreds of other species continue to migrate through.

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Until the late 1700s, this area of Canada was far from a solitude of nature, and was actually one of the cultural hotspots of early civilization. This central region of the Frontenac Arch (today a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve) was a meeting place of peoples that were the earliest settlers of North America. They used the many lakes, rivers and trails to travel and trade ideas, goods and resources from across the continent to the Caribbean.

Post 1700 , Europeans in search of furs and timber ‘discovered’ this region. As people settled further and farther inland on the continent, this property caught the attention of business-minded persons, who solidified ownership through land grants by the British government in what was called Upper Canada. A patent of ownership was granted here to Colonel Joseph Jessup in 1799 – but quite likely there were folks already here. For on this property was an untamed, seasonally roaring waterfall.

Waterfalls were the power grid of the early settlements. A solid flow of water literally turned the wheels of industry. Power for saw-mills and power for grinding grains for bread. Power to shape tools and build houses and farms. By the first census in 1805, a sawmill was already working here, and a grist mill soon followed. Highway 42 (out front of the house today) was the super-highway of its time – a plank road. Trees and wood were everywhere and sawn boards from this and other mills were laid on the ground as a smooth surface for the wheels of wagons and carriages.

An original British Army road marker. Still exists on the property

Boards were often over 24” wide!

The wooden barn at Glen Elbe farm was a stagecoach stop to change out the tired horses on the stagecoach company, running from Brockville to Westport. The house had a special room to serve stagecoach guests.

Stage Coach stop and house before renovations & restoration

Glen Elbe was a robust, bustling village in the early 1800s. One of the earliest schools in the region was built on the property, because there were so many children of the many families that worked at the sawmill, gristmill, cheese factory, tannery, distillery and cheese box works. Their boarding houses are long gone, as are much of other houses and mill structures – but there are very visible clues to explore. The rail bed from the line from Brockville to Westport (the old B&W Railway) is part of today’s walking trail. There was a train stop here where goods and cargo were loaded and unloaded, and where children would go off to high school in Athens, and where people would go into Brockville to shop and work.

The falls powered industry.

Remains of a mill visible today.

The 111 acre property at the hamlet of Glen Elbe is a mosaic of forest and fields, and wetlands that pour over a waterfalls into a wetlands-filtered stream bound for Charleston Lake. Over the years, nature has reclaimed much of the landscape, and how nature has handled time is part of the story from which we can learn of the evolution of landscapes. The Glen Elbe Learning Centre is a story of those times, and a window into times to come.

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