Stories from 20 Years: In The Beginning Part 1

Upon entering the Ministry of Transportation building on Exeter Road – his copy of the book Creative Conservation in hand – Bernie VanDenBelt took the elevator to the third floor.  Here, tucked in amid the offices of the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), was the desk of Don Gordon, then Executive Director of Carolinian Canada.  Bernie had an important question for Don:  In his capacity with Carolinian Canada, would he be interested in assisting with the creation of a land trust for the London region?  A lot was riding on Don’s answer.

There was a sense of hope, but also of urgency, in the question.  The continued destruction of natural habitats was of great concern to many.  Even seemingly “protected” areas appeared to be ever at risk through, among other threats, changes in zoning or through poor management.   Was there a vehicle through which more permanent protection could be achieved, and through which people could ensure the protection of cherished properties beyond their own tenure on them?  It turns out there was.  Recent changes in legislation had opened the door for a new type of community-based conservation organization: a land trust.

Fortunately that fateful day, Don’s answer was an enthusiastic “yes”, and the wheels were set in motion to create what would later become the Thames Talbot Land Trust.  Don put Bernie in touch with Mary Kerr who was heavily involved in natural heritage protection in London.  Mary pulled in Bill De Young, a London-based research consultant, and soon the “founding four” were plotting strategy.  In Mary’s living room on Elworthy Avenue on October 2, 1998, they held their first meeting under the provisional name of Longwoods Land Trust

Following that initial meeting, Don had the confidence to recommend to the board of Carolinian Canada that it support the creation of a new land trust by allocating some of his time to the project.  The board supported Don’s recommendation, and the rest – as they say – is history.

The four pulled in additional people to form an Organizing Committee which held its first meeting on November 12, 1998 in room 3CA19, University Hospital.  The Organizing Committee consisted of Muriel Andreae, Bill De Young, Shirley Dortmans, Don Gordon, Terry Grawey, Shelley Kaufman, Mary Kerr, Doug McCarthy, Jim McComb, Alex Shivas, Bernie VanDenBelt and Barbara Yurkoski.  The group reflected a wide variety of backgrounds: biology, conservation, farming, law, education, and planning, among others.  Doug, an elementary school principal and parliamentarian, served as facilitator.

Immediately, the committee commenced work on several fronts: defining the Trust’s catchment area; drafting by-laws, policies and procedures; and identifying candidate sites for protection, among other tasks.  Within five months, the groundwork was in place, and the Organizing Committee held its final meeting at the offices of the Kettle Creek Conservation Authority on April 17, 1999.  During that meeting, the decision to proceed with incorporation was made, but that’s another story!

 - Bernie VanDenBelt