Can We Save a Wakefield Forest?

In the spring of 1997 human habitation on earth made a quiet transition from being mostly rural to being mostly urban. Today, more than half of all humans live in cities. The natural habitat of our species is now officially concrete, steel, neon, highways, streetlights, pavement, buildings and business—the hominoid agenda.

With all due respect to the astonishing ways people have come up with entertaining themselves and each other on asphalt surfaces, I find this migration from the land to be heartbreaking. I think of kids who will never know that trees breathe out what we breathe in, or what silence sounds like. I think of a summer camp I worked at years ago where inner-city kids got to escape north out of Toronto for a week and how, lying in a field one night, they marvelled at the night sky. They’d never seen stars before and kept saying, “The sky looks like a giant planetarium!” It made me realize what a privilege it is to live any part of our lives in proximity to nature. It’s a privilege even to know that nature is out there at all. 

What we lose in our great mass departure from the land is a deep and intangible sense of why we need to hold on to the beautiful and wild places that once surrounded us. We seem to fall prey to the human inclination to pave over such places and build subdivisions on them, naming the  subdivisions after whatever got killed there: The Pines, Deer Crescent, Eagle’s Nest Drive, Beech Lane.

It seems hard for us humans to understand that continually plopping down our monuments over the entire land mass of the planet may not be the best idea. To try to slow down the growth agenda is a tall order. Yet no task could be more crucial right now. Protecting the land that once brought us into being is probably the only real story there is for us, this land that still provides for us every waking hour, from the food we eat, to the water we drink, and the oxygen in our lungs that was so recently inside a leaf.

Humans need wild places. We need to see the world as it looked before people bent it to their will. We need to experience a timeless landscape—trees answering to a clock that ticks so slowly we won’t live long enough to hear it. We need to be surrounded by a howling, mating, singing, screeching commotion of other species, all of which have as much right to be here as we do and none of which care one iota about our news cycles or daily plans. Nature reminds us that our plans are, on the whole, pretty absurd. It also reminds us why, when our plans might affect future generations, we might want to choose carefully. One season after the next, nature surprises us: the snow coming to rest in startling white on winter limbs; the brave crocuses of March ushering in the spring peepers of April; the sun breaking through a summer storm; and a single red maple vibrating with so much lusty scarlet it shimmers. That’s the thing about nature—no matter how many times you experience it, it surprises you and you realize how lost you’d be without it.

All this brings me to my point. Some of us in Wakefield are trying to save a local forest, a forest that’s a ten-minute walk from Wakefield’s Earle House intersection. It’s called the Hundred Acre Wood and if we can raise enough money for a land trust to purchase it, we can spare it from being bulldozed and turned into one of those subdivisions named after destroyed species.

Hundred Acre Wood

The Hundred Acre Wood, east of Rockhurst Road, is a mature mixed-wood forest of ponds, wetlands, towering white pines, and several at-risk species, including western chorus frogs, monarch butterflies, bobolink blackbirds, as well as eastern white cedars — rare in this area because of logging over the past few centuries. The land is identified by the National Capital Commission as an important ecological corridor for wildlife moving to and from Gatineau Park. This green sanctuary also has several trails where people regularly hike or walk their dogs.

The present owner, Christopher Minnes, has had developers interested in buying his land for years. In 2013, the municipality wanted to expropriate some of his land for an industrial park and did expropriate land across the highway (hence StyroRail). Some of the land adjacent to the Hundred Acre Wood – Versant Sud – has already been purchased by land developers.

Development of the Hundred Acre Wood would drastically change Wakefield by increasing density and road traffic, removing a large section of our surrounding green space, and limiting access to recreational trails. Fortunately for us, Christopher Minnes is much more interested in the land being preserved in its natural forested state in perpetuity, which is what the land trust will ensure, so that no development can ever take place there. In total, his property is 160 acres, so the 60 remaining acres will continue to be used by his business, Eco Echo, which provides environmental education programs.

Hundred Acre Wood

While there is a long road ahead, the good news is that a promise to purchase the Hundred Acre Wood from Christopher Minnes has already been made. A group of Wakefielders, myself included, have teamed up with Action Chelsea for the Respect of the Environment [ACRE], which acts as a land trust. ACRE has been working on conservation projects around Chelsea since 1998.

All together the land will cost $1.5 million. So far, almost $275,000 has been either pledged or donated. ACRE has also applied for a federal grant and for funding from the municipality of La Pêche Green Fund. Generously, Christopher Minnes has agreed to donate 20% of the land’s value through a federal ecological gift program. If both those grants come through, there’s about $400,000 left to raise.

Someone asked me the other day how much he should contribute to help save the woods. I can’t answer that but I could ask him this: What is a forest worth to you? How much would you give to keep that forest a forest? How much do you care about preventing another piece of this once-green planet, one so close to home, from being paved over?

If you’d like to make a pledge, please contact Olaf Jensen, Director of ACRE, at ACRE is registered charity with the Canada Revenue Agency and will issue tax receipts for donations. You will receive your tax receipt once the donation is collected in the fall of 2021. At this point we are only asking for pledges. All funds pledged toward the purchase of the Hundred Acre Wood will be used toward the purchase price. Individuals, groups, and businesses who make a substantial contribution will be gratefully, joyously, acknowledged publicly (unless you wish to remain anonymous). Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who helps in coming together to save this Wakefield forest!

To successfully complete the deal, all pledges must be confirmed by July 2021. Please pledge what you can; any amount helps!

Please check out our Facebook page for more info and updates.

Hundred Acre Wood