Red Spruce in Ontario

The Legacy of Dr. Alan Gordon and Norbert Lussier C.E.T.

Dr. Alan Gordon in 1987.

The legacy of Dr. Alan Gordon, distinguished scientist and forester, lives on in the records, photos, and memories of his career partner, Norbert Lussier, Certified Engineering Technologist (C.E.T.).

A mutual interest in Ontario Red Spruce (Picea rubens) connected us to Norbert, who contacted us after reading the information on the Trees Canadensis web site about a mature Red Spruce population in Ottawa’s eastern greenbelt.  We call this 145 acre parcel of land the Alan Gordon Acadian Forest.  Dr. Gordon, of Sault Ste. Marie’s Forest Research Institute, recorded the first global record of Red Spruce in Ontario in 1950.  He also conducted research on Red Spruce trees in the area of his eponymous forest and likely walked beneath their boughs there.

Now in his eighties, Norbert met us at his retirement home in Russell where he generously shared his knowledge and memories.

Norbert Lussier. (Photo from Norbert Lussier.)

Norbert attended Ryerson University and studied chemistry.  He worked for Dr. Gordon as a summer student in 1960 and was offered employment in 1961 with the Ministry of Natural Resources – Ontario Forest Research Institute.

Our conversation and questions flowed from the pile of scientific publications, conference papers, and photographs that Norbert had preserved.  We now have references for many articles about spruce in Ontario that we need to track down.  One binder – only two copies exist, one with Norbert and one in Dr. Gordon’s archives – contains detailed research project information.

Batchawana Picetum near Sault Ste. Marie. (from Norbert Lussier’s collection.)

We learned many things about Dr. Gordon’s research.  He experimented with the crossability of spruce species, including the viability of hybridizing various native Canadian spruce species with two rare, high elevation species from Mexico:  P. mexicana and P. chihuahuana.  He also established various “Picetums” in Ontario (e.g. Scott Lake in Algonquin Park and Batchawana in Sault Ste. Marie), which were plantations for running experiments.

 

Alan Gordon, Norbert Lussier standing beside Red Spruce logs in Ontario. (Photo from Norbert Lussier.)

Red Spruce was much more prevalent in Ontario than today.  Loggers preferentially cut Red Spruce due to its straight grain and its strength in proportion to its weight.  It was logged out in all but a few areas where small, isolated populations remain today.

 

So a delightful highlight of our visit was Norbert’s identification of scattered Red Spruce populations that we were not aware of, south and west of Ottawa.  Norbert and Dr. Gordon discovered many of these populations by cruising back roads and logging tracks and spotting the trees from the car.  Norbert remembers roads, landmarks, and intersections that will provide opportunities for many field trips to see what has happened to these trees in the last 20 to 40 years.

We look forward to working with Norbert and sharing what we find today, preserving and building on the legacy of two fine, Ontario forestry scientists.

Dr. Alan Gordon. (Photo from Norbert Lussier.)
Scott Lake Plantation at Algonquin Park. (Photo from Norbert Lussier.)