Since 1984

1984 Carolinian Canada Sites
Port Franks Wetlands and Forested Dunes



This unique Area of Natural and Scientific Interest forms a diverse coastal dune system featuring a variety of wetland communities nestled amongst a series of wooded dunes. More than 500 hectares are home to a spectacular array of plants and animals found collectively nowhere else in Canada. The Acadian Flycatcher, Dwarf Hackberry trees, various species of Blazing Stars, Eastern Flying Squirrel, Eastern Hognosed Snake and Giant Swallowtail Butterfly can all be found inhabiting this rare Oak Savanna ecosystem. In a bid to preserve the area’s unique biodiversity, a number of public and private organizations have combined to preserve more than two thirds of this rare Carolinian habitat. The Lambton County Heritage Forest, purchased in 1940, is owned and managed by the County of Lambton. Abutting to the west, L-Lake Management Area has been owned and managed by the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority since 1987. The Karner Blue Sanctuary was purchased in 1988 by Lambton Wildlife Incorporated. Obtained by the Nature Conservancy of Canada in 1994, the Port Franks Forested Dunes Nature Reserve is managed by Lambton Wildlife Incorporated.


History of Port Franks

Before the settlement of the Port Franks area, this area was used by the natives of the Attawandaron /Neutral nation. The Attawandaron did not establish a permanent settlement in the Port Franks area but instead used the area as the secret location of their flint chipping workshops. With the flint found in the area, the Attawandron made weapons for the Huron and Iroquois tribes. In 1948, Dr. Wilfred Jury located and excavated the secret flint workshops of the Attawandron tribe within what is now known as the Lambton County Heritage Forest.

Between 1653 and the 1830's, the knowledge of human activity in the Port Franks area is unknown or sketchy. Many surveyors travelled into the area in the early 1800's, including Mahlon Burwell and Samuel Smith for which the inland Lakes Burwell and Smith, respectively were named. None of the surveyors made the area their home. In the early 1850's to 1870's, Port Franks went through some very turbulent times regarding ownership of property before being recognized and registered as a village with the County of Lambton in February 1877.

In 1872, the Canada Company diverted the flow of the Ausable River by cutting off a section and forcing it to outlet in Lake Huron at Port Franks. This allowed land that was once swampy to become viable farmland. In 1892, a second cut to the lake was created at Grand Bend to alleviate the flooding in this area.

Salt was discovered in Port Franks on December 22, 1881 and the plant lasted for approximately 12 years. By this point in history, Port Franks was becoming known as a tourist community and the closing of the salt mine did not hinder the community as many thought it would. After the end of World War II, the economic boom that followed witnessed Port Franks growing rapidly into the community and tourist attraction that it is today.

The first in the series of Carolinian Canada Signature Sites Heritage Plaque was unveiled at a ceremony on November 17th, 2001 at the Port Franks Community Centre.

Special Thanks to Our Local Partners:

Lambton Wildlife Incorporated

Friends of Port Franks

Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority

County of Lambton

Funding for this project is being provided by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, an agency of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Recreation. With $100 million in annual funding from the province’s charitable gaming initiative, the Foundation provides grants to eligible charitable and not-for-profit organizations in the arts, culture, sports, recreation, environment and social service sectors. For more information visit the Trillium Foundation Website




Geology & Physiography

The Port Franks Wetland and Forested Dunes are underlain by Palaeozoic limestone rock (Hamilton & Dundee Group). This underlying rock forms the wave-cut terraces of glacial lakes Algonquin and Nippissing which covered this area thousands of years ago. On the present day landscape, the shorelines of these glacial lakes are virtually inseparable except for a large ridge of material between Thedford and Grand Bend. This ridge of material is responsible for the formation of the dunes between Kettle Point and Grand Bend after the retreat of Lake Nippissing. The sand dunes were formed as a result of the prevailing southwesterly winds and the undercutting and depositing wave action of the present day Lake Huron which moved the sand that composed the southern shoreline of Lakes Algonquin and Nippissing.



Three soils types exist within the Port Franks Wetland and Forested Dunes. The most westerly soil found along the beach is known as the Eastport series. This soil is sandy with excessive drainage. Further inland, a sandy loam soil with poor drainage known as the Granby series is located within the wetland area. East of the Granby series is the Plainfield series, a sandy soil with excessive drainage.



The Port Franks Wetlands and Forested Dunes has been coined as the ‘meeting place’ for many species of flora and fauna since it is located at the northern edge of the Deciduous Forest Region. As a result, it supports a number of Carolinian species that are at/near their northern limit of distribution as well as a number of species that are found in the abutting Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Region. The Ministry of Natural Resources ANSI report designates five vegetation complexes within the ANSI.

Interdunal Ridge & Wetland Complex: this complex is located within the Richmond Park Subdivision and has a warmer than normal climate due to the sheltering effect of the abutting dune ridges. A nationally significant wet meadow supports locally and provincially rare bluehearts and nut rush.

Shallow Lake Wetland Complex: this long, narrow complex was formed by a long-abandoned channel of the Ausable River. Contained within this complex are a number of wetland communities such as a wet meadow, broad sedge meadow, reed marsh and cattail community. Rare species found in this area include stargrass (rare locally and provincially) and dense blazing star (rare provincially and nationally).



Wild Lupine - J. Tiedje

Mud Creek Lowlands Complex: this complex is associated with the floodplain of Mud Creek. Interesting species found in this area include trees such as the swamp white oak (rare provincially and nationally).

Upland (Forested) Dune Ridge Complex: this complex is composed of an oak-pine forest running parallel to Lake Huron. A portion of open canopy on the leeward side of the dune ridge supports lupine (important to the Karner Blue Butterfly), Prairie June Grass and Needle & Thread Grass - all are rare, either nationally, provincially or locally.

Upland Interdunal Complex: this complex has become one of the most disturbed sections of the ANSI. A number of communities exist within this complex such as: oak-pine forest, evergreen-deciduous forest, interdunal meadow and deciduous-evergreen forest. These communities support a number of the same species as listed above but a few different ones exist. These species include the provincially and nationally rare rough blazing star and dwarf chesnut-oak tree as well as the regionally rare cylindric blazing star.

Rough Blazing Star - J. Tiedje



The Port Franks ANSI has been designated as an Important Bird Area since it supports a large concentration of rare and threatened species. The Port Franks ANSI lies directly in the path of the Mississippi Flyway and therefore, is a heavily traveled migration route. Some important birds of the area include: Acadian Flycatcher (nationally endangered), Hooded Warbler (nationally threatened), Red-Headed Woodpecker (nationally special concern and provincially vulnerable) and so on.

Important amphibians of the area are the spotted turtle and the eastern hognose snake. The area is well known for its high white-tailed deer population. The most notable insect of the area was the Karner Blue Butterfly which is presently extirpated from the region but a reintroduction plan is currently underway.


Natural Heritage Properties in the Port Franks Area

Port Franks Forested Dunes Nature Reserve - In early 1994, Wendy and Stephen Bright approached various organizations about the purchase of a 139 acre parcel within the Port Franks Wetland and Forested Dunes ANSI. A project proposal was completed by John Grant (Nature Conservancy of Canada) which realized funding from Carolinian Canada, Lambton Wildlife Incorporated, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority. A contract was signed between the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Lambton Wildlife Incorporated giving Lambton Wildlife management responsibilities for 50 years.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker - F. Elliot
L-Lake Management Area: L-Lake Management Area is composed of 69.2 acres of rolling sand dunes and wetland. This property was purchased by the Ausable Bayfield C.A. in 1987 with funding from Carolinian Canada Program in order to protect the forested dunes and wetland. The L-Lake property supports a very diverse array of plants and animals as well as, an oxbow wetland that is the only one of its kind in Lambton County.

Karner Blue Sanctuary: In 1987, a committee was formed entitled the Lambton Wildlife Karner Blue Committee. This group proposed to purchase a 36.95 acre parcel of land, which was home to a small population of the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly. The board of directors for Lambton Wildlife Incorporated approved the proposal and donated money to start the fundraising. The property was purchased with monies from the Carolinian Canada Program, Wildlife Habitat Canada and the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Monies raised by the committee were used to fence the property and pay other incidental expenses. A dedication ceremony was held on July 6, 1988 and the event was capped off with the release of a new set of stamps by Canada Post to commemorate the occasion.

Karner Blue Butterfly - B&B Kulon

Lambton County Heritage Forest: The Lambton County Heritage Forest has been owned by the County of Lambton since 1940 when it purchased the property from the Canada Company. The property is composed of two parcels that are separated by the Port Franks Road. The westerly parcel is 229.8 ha (567.7 acres) while the easterly parcel is 7.5 ha (18.6 acres). Lambton County has created a management plan for the Forest with the goal being "to conserve, protect and maintain the Lambton County Heritage Forest as a special and unique natural heritage forest representing an excellent example of a Lake Huron sand dune system with an associated oak savanna for the benefit of existing and future generations".

Donaldson Property
: This 3.62 acre property was purchased by the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority in 2000 through a kind donation from Ms. Stephanie Donaldson.

This information was Prepared by the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority ©2001


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