At approximately 200 hectares, Westminster Ponds / Pond Mills Environmentally Significant Area (ESA) is the largest publicly-owned ESA in London. The ESA is significant for its size and for its great variety of natural habitats within the boundaries of a major urban centre. The site is also designated as a Provincially Significant Wetland.
The ESA is located south of Commissioners Road and east of Wellington Road, adjacent to the Tourist Information Centre, and extends eastward to Pond Mills Road.
The ESA has three main access points with kiosks (see map on reverse) and 10 km of managed trails. Most of the trails are gently rolling, with the occasional short, steep hill. Almost all the trails are on clay or muck soils, which are very prone to becoming muddy. Boardwalks cross some lowland areas.
Westminster Ponds / Pond Mills ESA is located on the Ingersoll Moraine, an east-west ridge of stony soil (till). This material was deposited by meltwater pouring from a glacier when its leading edge stalled at this location for a time. Large blocks of ice also broke off the glacier and became embedded in the moraine. When the ice sheet receded 13,000 years ago, the ice chunks melted to create water-filled depressions. These kettle ponds are prominent features of the ESA today.
European farmers first settled the area along Commissioners Road in 1810. The railway track that cuts across the ESA was constructed in 1915 as part of a line from London to Port Stanley.
In the 1940s, several veterans’ residences and other facilities were built north of Saunders Pond, as part of Westminster Hospital. In the 1960s, part of the area was used as a sanitary landfill site.
This large block of land remained undeveloped because much of it was federal hospital property during the crucial development decades for that part of the city.
In the 1970s, the City of London and the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA) purchased approximately 200 hectares for the purpose of establishing an urban conservation area. More land has been acquired since then. In 1990, the City designated the tract as an ESA. Publicly owned portions of the ESA are open to the public.
Five large kettle ponds and a beaver pond are surrounded by lowland and upland habitats. Approximately 60% of all plant species found in Middlesex County can be found in the Westminster Ponds / Pond Mills ESA.
Bordering Spettigue Pond is a very narrow, sensitive band of bog habitat, an uncommon feature in southwestern Ontario. Tamarack and Leatherleaf are among the species growing from a thick mat of peat. Nearby and in other areas of swamp forest, Red Maple, Yellow Birch, Silver Maple and American Elm dominate. The cool, shady conditions support a mixture of northern and southern plants.
Along the margin of Saunders Pond and throughout the Dayus Creek Valley, cattails, sedges and rushes thrive in marshy areas.
The drier slopes and ridges around the ponds support typical eastern hardwood forest species. Sugar Maple, American Beech, White Ash, Basswood and Red Oak are present, as are southerly species such as Shagbark Hickory. The ESA’s largest tree, an ancient White Oak, is a recognized Heritage Tree under Trees Ontario’s Ontario Heritage Tree program. Various wildflower species bloom in the spring.
Old field, thicket and plantation sites contain many introduced plant species, but are used by a number of wildlife species.
Please keep all pets on leash at all times when in the ESA.
The ponds and the mixture of habitats make this site an excellent place to view wildlife. More than 200 species of birds have been recorded in the area. It is an important stopover for migrants, with almost all the warblers, flycatchers, thrushes and finches in the London area being reported, as well as ducks, grebes, herons and other water-birds.
Summer residents include forest birds such as Great Crested Flycatcher and Wood Thrush, and open-country species such as Field Sparrow and Eastern Meadowlark. Great Horned Owl and Red-tailed Hawk also nest in the ESA.
Mammals common to urban areas may be seen in the ESA. Beaver, Coyote and White-tailed Deer are relatively recent arrivals. In wet areas, you may hear or see several frog and toad species. Turtles and snakes bask in open areas or on fallen logs, while salamanders find shelter in dark places. Several species of fish have been recorded in the ponds, although not in great numbers.
Watch for insects such as dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies, as well.