The Frontenac Arch Biosphere Network

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Where is the Frontenac Arch?

Map showing location of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve

The Frontenac Arch is a geological feature ridge of ancient granite, the backbone of eastern North America, that joins the Adirondack Mountains to the Canadian Shield. The Frontenac Arch lies northwest-southeast through the eastern portion of Ontario, from Algonquin Park, across the east end of Lake Ontario to the Adirondacks, and is about midway between the cities of Toronto and Montreal.

To many, the Canadian Shield is the quintessential Canadian landscape ”the rugged "north", and a land of forests and lakes. But many haven't realized that a portion of the Shield extends southward though Ontario, and into the U.S. The Frontenac Arch, as this hourglass-shaped outlier of the Canadian Shield is known, is the ancient backbone of North America. In Mohawk tradition, this massive landform is :The Bones of the Mother".

Even to the most casual observer, the Frontenac Arch is an entirely different landscape than the remainder of southern Ontario and upper New York State. To someone driving across the land, an otherwise flat and plain countryside is suddenly interrupted by rolling hills and rugged cliffs, topped with windswept pines, and valleyied with sinewy creeks and tranquil lakes and wetlands. But about a billion years ago, this was a far more dramatic landscape. The Frontenac Arch, and the Canadian Shield, was a massive range of towering mountains. It took hundreds of millions of years for these mountains to weather down to their roots and those basement rocks of the mountains are what we experience in this landscape today.

It happens that the lowest elevation along the Frontenac Arch lies at the east end of Lake Ontario. In fact Lake Ontario owes its existence to the Arch, which nearly impounded the lake. Through the last ice ages, glaciers bulldozed the basins for the Great Lakes and as each of the lakes filled to their brims, they overflowed on their race to the sea. A young Lake Ontario first flowed out the Oswego River. As the land rose further, released from the enormity of glacial ice, the lake tipped gently towards the east. The lake's waters finally rose up the flanks of the Frontenac Arch, far enough to spill between the granite hilltops. A thousand hilltops, actually the roots of the ancient mountains, became the Thousand Islands in this flooded landscape.

And so, the greatest natural intersection on the continent came into being at the end of the last ice age: the intersection of the Frontenac Arch and the St. Lawrence River Valley. The Arch connects the Canadian Shield and the boreal forest to the forests of the Adirondack and Appalachian Mountains a south to north/north to south migration route. The river valley is a route from the Great Lakes forest heartland of the continent to the forests of the Atlantic Coast. The Thousand Islands are at the very centre of that intersection. Here, the five great forest regions of the eastern continent meet and intermingle, with many species at range limits, and with many as remnant populations from forests altered by millennia of climate change and evolving landscapes. This region has, arguably, Canada's greatest diversity of plant and animal communities.

These natural migration routes have also proven to be trade and migration routes for First nations peoples. Discoveries in archaeological sites have unearthed copper knives from the far north, shells from the southern coasts, chert for projectile points from further west and inland, and pottery types from several regions. Three centuries ago, the river valley guided explorers, traders and nation-builders to the heart of the continent, and beyond.


The Frontenac Arch runs northwest-southeast through central and eastern Ontario in Canada, and into northern New York State in the U.S. About 80 km. wide at its narrowest point, the Frontenac Arch wraps around the east end of Lake Ontario, and is about mid way from the cities of Toronto and Montreal; and an hours drive from Ottawa, Canada's capital, and an hour north of Syracuse, New York.

The Frontenac Arch Biosphere region is readily accessible. The major highway 401 crosses the Arch, as does the main line of Via Rail. Via Rail also connects Ottawa to the Biosphere, at Brockville. The Thousand Islands International Bridge crosses the St. Lawrence River at the Biosphere's south centre, where Interstate 81 runs northward from central New York. The Ottawa International Air Port is a one hour drive. Flights from Toronto can link to Kingston's Norman Rogers Airport, at the west edge of the Biosphere. The cycling section of the website illustrates cycle routes that transit the region east-west, and from Ottawa to Kingston. Boaters travel the St. Lawrence River and can explore via the Rideau Canal.

North American Map

North American Map

Regional Map

Regional Map

Biosphere Map

Biosphere Map

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