Not many people realize that Valens Lake looked very different 50 years ago; to many, they only know it as it is today. This park didn’t exist back then and it was all farm land, which the Hamilton Conservation Authority bought to build a dam to help control flood waters. Where the lake is today was once only a small creek. Today all you will find are a few ruins, rock piles and old stone and cedar rail farm fences running through the trees where once there were fields. Below is a map of the area from 1875, the Valens Lake Conservation Area boundaries are in red.
In the early 1800’s the area where the park is located was settled by a number of pioneer families, one of them was John Valens after whom the park and the village was named. This area was covered in old growth forest and they cleared most of the land for farming. In the mid sixties, the Hamilton Conservation Authority approached the landowners on which Valens Lake is now situated and bought the land to make a reservoir to control flood waters and provide water for the Beverly Swamp during dry spells. The dam was constructed and some of the land which would be flooded was cleared of trees. It took less than a week for the lake to fill up to its present level. A major tree planting program began and many of the farm fields were planted with scots pine, red pine and spruce. Site plans were developed for the day use area and campgrounds and the conservation area slowly took shape. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests stocked largemouth bass in the lake and was the only species of fish ever introduced, all the other fish just appeared over time.
There were only 150 campsites (17 sites had electric and water hookups) when the park first opened, today there are 226 sites. The campground looked much different back then; all the trees would have been small saplings no more than a couple feet tall when they were planted. To get an idea of what the area looked like take a walk through the 30 hectares of land which the HCA purchased about eight years ago, it is located to the west of the Cedars loop; follow the trail between sites 309 and 310. This area was planted shortly after the HCA purchased it, these fields will eventually be developed into campsites. We plan to start developing the first loop in 2016, which will add about 25 new serviced sites.
There are remnants of farm buildings across the property; you can find some by the Ruins Group Area and across the lake where the Rabbit Run and Boardwalk Trails join. There are also remnants of a lime kiln next to the fire pit in the Pinegrove Group Area. There are only two original homes remaining on the property, one is located at the front of the park as you drive in on the right. This was owned by the Ferguson Family, it is a beautiful large stone house. The other house is located across the lake next to the dam, John Valens built this house and it was purchased by the McNealy’s in the early 1900’s, from who the HCA bought the property. One room of this house was used as a post office in the early days.
Today as you walk the trails around Valens Lake, all you will see are the remnants of fields, fence rows and rock piles. It is hard to imagine corn or wheat growing throughout the campgrounds and horses pulling plows as the farmers tilled the fields. The lake was once a large field, today people swim, canoe and fish where once a farmer grew crops and cattle grazed. So the next time you are at Valens Lake Conservation Area and see a rock pile or fence line, stop and take a moment and imagine the pioneers clearing the land…if only they could see the place now.
Valens Lake Superintendent
Hamilton Conservation Authority