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Glen Elbe Learning Centre

The Glen Elbe Learning Centre near Athens, Ontario is home base for TIWLT and encapsulates the 4 pillars of our land trust… LAND, LEARNING, LIFE and LEGACIES.

Glen Elbe includes a 200-year-old farmhouse which has been restored and updated. Its central location, less than an hour from Ottawa, Kingston, Smith Falls, and Brockville, explains why this site was once home to an important mill and served as a stagecoach stop on the main Brockville to Westport plank road.

The 111-acre property has had a storied past. In the mid 1700s, the waterfalls at the north end of the property provided water-wheel power for grinding grain and sawing the abundant pine trees into building planks. Remains of the original stone and brick foundations are still visible as you walk the trails. The barn was where stagecoach drivers would hitch a new team of fresh horses while tired passengers enjoyed refreshments on the farmhouse porch.

BARN shot with house

For over fifty years, Glen Elbe was owned by a remarkable woman, Jane Topping, an artist and environmentalist who understood the importance of her property and wanted to protect it forever. When she passed away, she gifted Glen Elbe to the Thousand Islands Watershed Land Trust, along with funds to support its restoration and maintenance.

Today, the property has been renovated in the spirit of its unique history. It serves as TIWLT’s home base but also as the site for our experiential learning programs featuring greenhouses, a climate-change arboretum, tree-planting, and educational walks focussed on bats and birds. The Glen Elbe Learning Centre hosts school children of all grades for real-world learning classes.


The Thousand Islands Watershed Land Trust (TIWLT) is arguably one of the most important land trusts in North America. It extends from the St. Lawrence River on its southern edge, to the world-famous Rideau Canal and from Brockville to Kingston.  The TIWLT watershed is situated at what is a hugely important migratory crossroads for North America that is overflowing with communities of plants and animals like few other places. This is nature’s ‘crossroads of the continent’, an intersection of migration routes where five forest regions meet and intermingle. Butterflies, birds, moose, deer and hundreds of other species continue to migrate through.

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We are the part of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere, a hundreds of miles granite topography stretching from the Adirondacks in the USA, through the world famous Thousand Islands to Canada’s Algonquin Park.  (AtoA). South of the international border our independent but sister land trust called the Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT), ties in the USA side of our shared mission.


Until the late 1700s, this area of Canada was far from a solitude of nature, and was actually one of the cultural hotspots. This central region of the Frontenac Arch (today a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve) was a meeting place of Indigenous peoples and European settlers, a north American trading zone. Lakes, rivers and trails and paths allowed goods and resources from across the continent and south to the Caribbean to be exchanged.

Post 1700 , Europeans in search of furs and timber built homes and businesses. A patent of ownership was granted here to Colonel Joseph Jessup in 1799 – but quite likely there were folks already here because on this property was an untamed, seasonally roaring waterfall.

Waterfalls were the power grid of the early settlements. A solid flow of water literally turned the wheels of industry. Power for saw-mills and power for grinding farmer’s grains. By the first census in 1805, a sawmill was already working here, and a grist mill soon followed. Highway 42 (out front of the Glen Elbe property today) was the super-highway of its time – a plank road. Wood was plentiful and important roads were topped with pine boards for the ease of horses and carriages.

An original British Army road marker (1760). Still exists on the property

Boards were often over 24” wide!

The wooden barn at Glen Elbe farm was a stagecoach stop to change out the tired horse teams running from Brockville to Westport. The house had a porch and sitting room to serve stagecoach guests refreshments.

Stage Coach stop and house before renovations & restoration

Glen Elbe was a robust, bustling village in the early 1800s. One of the earliest schools in the region was built on the property, because there were so many children of the many families that worked at the sawmill, gristmill, cheese factory, tannery, distillery and cheese works.

Their boarding houses are long gone, lost to the stream’s Spring floods, as are much of mill structures – but there are very visible clues to explore. The rail bed from the line from Brockville to Westport (the old B&W Railway) is part of today’s walking trail. There was a train stop here where goods and cargo were loaded and unloaded, and where children would go off to high school in Athens, and where people would go into Brockville to shop and work.

The falls powered industry.

Remains of a mill visible today.

The 111 acre property at the hamlet of Glen Elbe is a mosaic of forest and fields, and wetlands that pour over a waterfalls into a wetlands-filtered stream bound for Charleston Lake. Over the years, nature has reclaimed much of the landscape, and how nature has handled time is part of the story from which we can learn of the evolution of landscapes. The Glen Elbe Learning Centre is a story of those times, and a window into times to come.

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