Wildlife wish welcomed


By Sheila Runions

Banner Staff

It will be 10 years this October since Sam Henry of Oak River district passed away, and four years next month that his wife Doris died, yet their love of the land continues. Nearly 30 years ago they began learning about MWF Habitat Foundation’s Habitat Trust. A non-profit charity which is dedicated to the preservation of habitat; it was established to receive, hold, maintain and manage upland and wetland habitat in perpetuity. Run by volunteers and fundraisers, administrative director Larry Milian explains, “We can’t do everything all at once; we do it when time and money allow.”*

Such was the case for a dedication ceremony at the Sam and Doris Henry farm. MWF finally planned a recognition and when family were notified of the event, they were thrilled to learn that MWF unknowingly organized everything for Sam’s 107th birthday — Aug. 14. Held at the old farm site 7.5 miles northwest of Rivers in the RM of Blanshard, it took nine dignitaries 45 minutes to complete speeches.

Milian said, “The first contact was made with the Henrys on June 27, 1986. Over the years there were several meetings; they signed a MWF Habitat Co-operators Agreement on July 21, 1994. Samuel passed and Doris was still very committed to have the land left for wildlife. On Aug. 18, 2005 Doris started the process to have the lands donated to the MWF Habitat Foundation Inc. In December 2007 Doris carried out their wish and donated the southeast and northwest quarters of 22-13-21W to MWF on the guarantee that the property will be set aside as a wildlife refuge. The property will be designated a No Hunting area; over time, cultivated land will be converted back to prairie; no permanent alterations of the land; no permanent structures will be built; no storage of grain or equipment. The Henrys hope their donation will be an inspiration to others to set aside some or all of their land for others to enjoy. Sam and Doris always saved space for wildlife [and] made their farm a deer sanctuary.”

Sam was born on the northwest quarter and lived there until he retired to Oak River in 2000. The home, built by Sam’s grandfather (John Henry) in 1898, is still standing but is surrounded by trees and not visible from the road. The farm is fenced and the gate is locked; the 320 acres which were donated will forever remain in their natural state and will create an “an oasis for wildlife” reads a press release.

MWF board member Fred Tait acknowledged current farming trends to reduce wetlands and tree stands to provide more land for seeding/feeding. He was passionate when he said, “I see an agricultural desert and wasteland to the north and it will no doubt come south but the bulldozers shall not sweep over this place! It is protected in perpetuity.”

Conservation Minister Gord Macintosh agreed with Tait, saying farmers have “destroyed 70 per cent of wetlands for productivity and it’s killing our lakes and we need to do something about it. [Political plug for a new conservation bill to address this issue.] It’s so truly inspiring when we see the objectives of Sam and Doris to maintain Mother Earth.”

MWF confirmed disappointment when they said heavy rains in June washed away the majority of wild grass seed they planted on 102 acres in the southeast quarter of the Henry land. Milian said this “volunteer organization works hard to get funding” so he was unsure when that parcel could be replanted. The board, and all assembled, was truly surprised that day when Little Saskatchewan River Conservation District (LSRCD) gave them a sizeable donation.

LSRCD chairman Ray Frey said, “TD bank allowed us to keep their excess grant money from another project we completed years before, so we are pleased to give $5,000 to the foundation to buy more grass seed.”

With speeches completed, some family members and dignitaries jointly unveiled a cairn near the old Henry driveway. Family included niece Dorothy Taylor (pictured) who travelled from Calgary to be present for the ceremony; Sam and Doris had no children.

*This is why a ceremony was so late. Although Doris made the donation in 2007, it wasn’t until 2010 when the transfer was completed. More donations were secured and a mason found and finally, after another three-plus years, an official cairn dedication was held on the property.