The little settlement of Rock Chapel, located close to the brow of the Niagara Escarpment in the southeast corner of West Flamborough Township, covers just a small area – but its landscape tells the story of a rich geological past.
Approximately 450 million years ago, this land, like much of North America, lay submerged under shallow seas that became filled with vast quantities of sediment. Constant pressure hardened and compressed the deposits into shales, which today form the base of the Escarpment. During the next 100 million years, great variations in the sea levels that were rich in marine life allowed further accumulations of sediments, resulting in the formation of several different and distinct layers of limestone rock.
When the seas drained away, the resulting strata or layers were subjected to the erosive forces of nature. Ancient rivers exposed and eroded the limestone, eventually creating an inland cliff which was further sculptured and gouged by the action of ancient glaciers that finally retreated from the Hamilton area about 12,000 years ago.
The land above the Escarpment on which the village of Rock Chapel was established is a flat and windswept plateau covered with shallow glacial soils. Borer’s Creek, named after the family who operated a sawmill in the community for many years, drains the surrounding area and descends 25 metres over the Escarpment at Borer’s Falls and then through the valley below to Cootes Paradise. Surrounding the settlement is the almost vertical face of the Escarpment, which in places appears to be devoid of vegetation. Stunted and twisted trees, especially Eastern White Cedars that pre-date the arrival of European settlers to the area, cling to narrow ledges, together with a variety of ferns, mosses and lichens that appear from cracks and fissures in the limestone. Many of the lower slopes are covered with talus rubble which has broken off from the exposed rock face, and numerous springs occur, creating a rich, humid environment for the thick layer of vegetation that has developed on the valley floor.
Long before European settlers came to the Rock Chapel plateau, First Nations native people travelled through the area on a trail along the top of the Escarpment, searching for the abundant deposits of chert, the silica-rich remains of fossilized sponges that they used to make arrowheads and knives. There is no evidence that their villages were ever located in the area, possibly because the thin soils were unsuited to the migratory agriculture they practiced.
Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at email@example.com.
This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 21 July 2006.