The city we now call Oshawa saw some of its first European inhabitants on the west side of Second Marsh atop a glacial drumlin now known as Gifford Hill. In the early 1790’s a surveyor found that a settler had taken up tenancy there, joining a fur trader who had already occupied this site. From these humble beginnings, so grew Oshawa.
By the mid 1800’s, land clearing had a negative impact on Second Marsh and the watershed. The forest clearing led to downstream sedimentation of the wetland with eroded materials.
In the 1930’s and 40’s, dredgeate from Oshawa Harbour was dumped into the Marsh.
Human use of adjacent lands and the construction of the C.N.R. rail line and Highway # 401 further reduced the size and function of the Marsh and cut off historic wildlife corridors from upstream areas.
From 1952 to 1971, effluent from the Harmony Creek Water Treatment Plant was directed into the Marsh.
Throughout this period and continuing even today, urban and agricultural development within the Watershed, with increased use of storm sewers and land clearing is taking its toll on the Marsh and its Watershed.
For many decades, the Marsh was subject to economic exploitation through neglect, misuse and a lack of understanding. The cumulative effect of increased upstream erosion and subsequent sedimentation coupled with pollution and loss of habitat all played a role in the degradation of the Marsh ecosystem.
The Oshawa Fish & Wildlife Advisory Committee established a waterfowl banding station at Second Marsh, which operated from 1956-1973. During that time 32,633 waterfowl were banded under the direction of Mr. Ed Kroll. It was reputed to be the second largest banding station in Ontario and the fifth largest on the Atlantic Flyway. Banding ceased in 1973 by order of the Oshawa Harbour Commission. Some additional banding was done in 1978 by Canadian Wildlife Service personnel and an additional 1,084 waterfowl were tagged.
In addition to the waterfowl-banding program, Second Marsh gained further ornithological fame in 1962, when Mr. George Scott confirmed the first nesting of Little Gull (Larus minutus) in the Western Hemisphere at the site.
In the mid 1960’s, the Oshawa Harbour Commission (OHC) identified the Marsh as a strategic site for a deep-water port. With the promise of renewed economic activity, ownership of the Marsh was transferred to the OHC from the City of Oshawa.
The Oshawa Fish & Wildlife Advisory Committee advised and lobbied against the sale but the transfer took place in 1970. A body of naturalists and conservationists took up the struggle to advocate on behalf of the Marsh in the early 1970’s culminating in the creation of the Second Marsh Defense Association in 1972 (incorporated in 1976). The organization, headed by Jim Richards and Bob Mills aggressively challenged the harbour expansion proposal at that time.
A long and often bitter battle to save the Marsh was waged between 1972 and 1984. Finally, in 1984, the OHC and the Federal Department of Transport declared Second Marsh as “excess land”, and a slow process to transfer ownership back to the City began.
During OHC ownership, many physical changes had been inflicted on the Marsh. The most devastating was the dyking of the original western outlet to Lake Ontario. After being blocked over the winter of 1973-4, the barrier beach washed out at the east end. With the onset of spring floods that ensued, much of the vegetation and vegetated islands within the Marsh were destroyed and washed out into Lake Ontario. The new outlet then forced water entering the Marsh from the northwest corner to travel further to exit into the Lake in the southeast corner, which resulted in even greater and more rapid deposition of silt to accumulate within the Marsh. The Marsh essentially transformed into an open body of shallow water and filled in with sediment.
Preparing to play a more active role in the fate of Second Marsh, the Canadian Wildlife Service (Environment Canada) conducted a comprehensive study of the Marsh. The results were published in a 1983 report entitled “Oshawa Second Marsh Baseline Study” (Cecile, 1983), which outlined the current attributes and potential problems for the site. This document was a wildlife inventory and formed the basis of a preliminary remediation plan
From 1984 through to 1991 the Second Marsh Defence Association (SMDA), now known as Friends of Second Marsh, worked to get the Marsh returned to the City of Oshawa, to encourage the City to accept it and to urge the City to establish a team that would explore land-use and rehabilitation measures for the Marsh.
In 1991 the City of Oshawa formed a ten-member Steering Committee of stakeholders in to prepare a “Management Plan” for the Marsh. Upon the completion of the Plan, it was endorsed by City Council in 1992. A network of partnerships was developed between the City of Oshawa, Environment Canada and SMDA to implement the Council-approved recommendations outlined in the Management Plan.
The Steering Committee was comprised of a ten representatives from government and non-government organizations. Leaders of the first phase of restoration, who were also members of this committee included Mr. Noel Hutchinson, (Community Services Department, City of Oshawa), Ms. Nancy Patterson (Wetlands Specialist, Environment Canada) and Mr. Jim Richards (SMDA) who assumed the implementation and leadership role and planned the day-to-day business of restoring the Marsh.
In 1993 a new team of stakeholders was formed when ownership of the Marsh was transferred back to the City of Oshawa. It was also at this time that SMDA became Friends of Second Marsh. During this period Friends was actively involved in the management and restoration of the Marsh.
Under a new management agreement for Second March, implemented in 1993, Friends’ current responsibilities are for education, interpretive programs and watershed stewardship. Friends believes the best way to protect Second March is by connecting people to the values of the wetland and the watershed. It will continue to do this by developing strong community-based programming. Ducks Unlimited Canada has assumed the mandate to restore and manage the Marsh, the City of Oshawa is responsible for operations and maintenance and monitoring is carried out by Environment Canada and the Conservation Authority (CLOCA).