The Frontenac Arch Biosphere Network

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What is the Frontenac Arch Biosphere?

UNESCO designated boundary of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere

The intersection of the Frontenac Arch and the St. Lawrence River Valley forms one of the great crossroads of the continent. The Arch connects the Canadian Shield 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 Frontenac Arch Biosphere is at the very centre of that intersection, where five forest regions merge, creating a tremendous wildlife diversity.

Shortly after the last ice age, these natural migration routes became trade and migration routes for First Nations peoples. Discoveries of copper knives from the far north, shells from the southern coasts, stone for projectile points from further east and west, and pottery types from several regions tell that story. In historic times, this was a land of Canadian ‘firsts’—first glassworks, first iron works in Upper Canada, oldest railway tunnel, oldest daily newspaper, oldest stone grist mill in Ontario—and so much more, with so much of the built heritage still on the landscape for the world to see.

These cultural and ecological riches were key among reasons for the designation in Canada of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve, by UNESCO. The designation celebrates the global significance of the region, where the Thousand Islands are the Biosphere's front door and the Rideau Canal, now celebrated as a World Heritage Site, is a central corridor. All who live and visit here, and who cherish its character, share responsibility in the stewardship of one of our Earth's most precious landscapes.

This unique juncture of humanity and biodiversity presents both a challenge and an opportunity: maintaining a high quality of life, a rich culture, robust economy, and healthy environment while recognizing the realities of growth and development in this region. This requires the development and maintenance of a healthy symbiotic relationship between people and nature: the fundamental pillars of sustainability.

Life at this crossroads is rich indeed - entirely worthy of its UNESCO World Biosphere nomination.

The Frontenac Arch Biosphere Program Area

FAB map scope

The Frontenac Arch Biosphere lies on the central Canadian portion of the Frontenac Arch—a 2,700 sq. km. region from Brockville and Gananoque, extending north of Kingston including Harrowsmith, Verona and Westport. Over the years, however, programs of the Biosphere Network have expanded to work with communities over a much larger region of Frontenac and Leeds-Grenville Counties, and Kingston. 

UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves

UNESCOAll UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves pledge to protect their globally significant natural and cultural heritage through promoting sustainable development. In 2002, the Frontenac Arch Biosphere became one of 18 Biosphere Reserves in Canada, among 669 in 120 countries. The Frontenac Arch is one of a handful of places in the world to receive two UNESCO designations. In 2007 the Rideau Canal—across the north boundary then running through the heart of the Biosphere—was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Biospheres are nominated by the community, not by UNESCO, and carry no laws, powers or authority. In Canada, all UNESCO Biospheres are non-government, community-led organizations, without support from federal or provincial governments. Instead, each works to accomplish its mission of improving sustainable development by raising money and seeking volunteer involvement from the community.

Biosphere reserves have three interrelated zones that aim to fulfil three complementary and mutually reinforcing functions:

  • The core area(s) comprises a strictly protected ecosystem that contributes to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation.
  • The buffer zone surrounds or adjoins the core areas, and is used for activities compatible with sound ecological practices that can reinforce scientific research, monitoring, training and education.
  • The transition area is the part of the reserve where the greatest activity is allowed, fostering economic and human development that is socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable.


The Biosphere Reserves of Canada
Bras d’Or Lake (2011) Unique estuarine ecosystem

Beaver Hills (2016) Dry mixedwood boreal natural subregion

Charlevoix (1988) Boreal needleleaf forests or woodlands

Clayoquot Sound (2000) Temperate rainforests including marine/coastal component

Frontenac Arch (2002) Temperate and sub-polar broadleaf forests or woodlands / Boreal needleleaf forests or woodlands

Fundy (2007) Acadian Forest, estuarine systems, and non-forest ecosystems

Georgian Bay (2004) Freshwater coastline and islands

Lac Saint-Pierre (2000) Estuarine systems and freshwater wetlands

Long Point (1986) Temperate and sub-polar broadleaf forests or woodlands including lake system

Manicouagan-Uapishka (2007) Natural province of the Central Laurentians

Mont Saint-Hilaire (1978) Temperate broadleaf forests or woodlands

Mount Arrowsmith (2000) Temperate rainforest including marine components

Niagara Escarpment (1990) Temperate broadleaf forests or woodlands

Redberry Lake (2000) Temperate grassland; saline lake

Riding Mountain (1986) Temperate grasslands / Boreal needle-leaf forests or woodlands

Southwest Nova (2001) Boreal needleleaf forests or woodlands.

Tsá Tué (2016) The homeland of the Sahtuto’ine, the ‘Bear Lake People’

Waterton (1979) Mixed mountain and highland systems; lakes and freshwater wetlands

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