Red Oaks of the Stoney Field

by Neil Carleton    

When Bruce Thompson was growing up on his family’s farm, one of the cleared fields not far from the house was too rocky to plough and plant.  The stoney field, as it was known in the family, was where the cattle grazed at times.

Located on the 7th concession, between the Rae and Drummond side roads, the Thompson farm is underlain by sandstone of the Nepean formation, about 488 million years old from the end of the Cambrian period and beginning of the Ordovician. The lay of the land we see today was most recently shaped by the powerful forces of the last glaciation.

As the ice sheet advanced from the north, it rounded off hills of harder and more resistant rock while creating lowlands where softer rock was more easily ground away.  A new topography was created under tremendous pressure below 2 km of slowly moving ice.  After the glacier disappeared in our area, about 11,500 ago, much of the bedrock was covered with a layer of till.  This is a Scots word of 17th century origin used geologically to denote a coarse deposit of sediment from melting ice sheets.

Chunks of rock that had been plucked from the frozen landscape rested where the melting ice left them too.  Huge volumes of sediment were also released in the arctic melt water.  Then, layers of clay were deposited at the bottom of the Champlain Sea in our region.  With the Earth’s crust still depressed by the weight of the recently melted ice sheet, this inland arm of the Atlantic Ocean would have just covered the Peace Tower flag pole on Parliament Hill in terms of today’s landscape.

Bruce recalls that the stoney field was too rough for anything but pasture.  Another notable feature of the field was a group of mature oaks that provided shade for the cattle.  Although the field is now overgrown, these majestic oaks remain.


As we hiked on snowshoes along a section of the stoney field’s split rail fence on the Thompson farm, Bruce drew my attention to this striking oak.

The remarkable coarse bark of this oak attests to its mature age.

A pair of red oaks near the north fence line of the stoney field stand head and shoulders above the maple and ironwood saplings that have grown up around them.


Where the snow was not as deep around the trunks, I found the distinctively shaped leaves of the red oaks.


If the red oaks of the stoney field could talk, I’m sure they’d have some fascinating stories about growing in the forest, then adapting to a landscape that was cleared for farming.

 Thank you to Bruce Thompson for nominating this month’s shady character.

Do you have a notable or favourite tree?  Readers are invited to submit their nominations for an honor roll of trees in our area that could be featured in future articles.  You can contact me at 613-256-2018, <>, or Neil Carleton, 3 Argyle Street, P.O. Box 1644, Almonte, Ontario, K0A 1A0.  I look forward to hearing from you.

My volunteer columns started in March 2010, as print features, to support the tree planting and tree awareness initiatives of the Mississippi Mills Beautification Committee.  The contact for the Tree Working Group is Ron Ayling, 613-256-4617.  In Carleton Place, the contact for the Urban Forest / River Corridor Advisory Committee is Jim McCready, 613-257-5853.

Until the next column, you’ll find me looking for and hanging out with local shady characters.