Grassroots group seeks to grow garden spaces in aid of pollinators

The Tehkummah Butterflyway Rangers were hard at work on the long weekend to prepare their inaugural garden plot. Organizer Janice Mitchell, left, had help from a number of neighbours including Lorie Leeson, Skylar and Tara Reckahn and Luna the poodle. photo by Warren Schlote

TEHKUMMAH – Manitoulin Island is home to a new squad of David Suzuki Foundation Butterflyway Rangers who are poised to support essential pollinators like butterflies and bees by creating a pollinator garden in the Village of Tehkummah, the first in what they hope will soon be an Island-wide effort to proliferate pollinator-preferred plant patches.

“I think in these current times, a project like this is what humanity needs,” stated Janice Mitchell in a request to Tehkummah council to grow a pollinator plot on municipal land at the Welcome to Tehkummah sign at the 10th Sideroad and Government Road. 

She added an unattributed quote: “perhaps the butterfly is proof that you can go through a great deal of darkness and still become something beautiful.”

The Tehkummah Butterflyway Rangers are part of the David Suzuki Foundation’s efforts to grow gardens suitable for pollinators across the country. This will provide these creatures food and much-needed habitat while they spread pollen and travel the continent, all the while helping to ensure plants grow and humanity’s food supply is maintained.

The population of pollinators such as bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds has dropped by 45 percent since 1974. Ms. Mitchell noted the work of Island entomologist Joe Shorthouse and the Wiikwemkoong Species at Risk program as good sources of information on why pollinators such as monarch butterflies are so important. 

“I think this ties in a huge amount of the importance of food, habitat and beautifying the area. We’re keeping it local to start, but as David Suzuki says, you can change the world one lightbulb at a time,” said Ms. Mitchell, adding that anyone from anywhere on the Island is welcome to join the effort.

The program began in five cities across Canada in 2017. Since that time, hundreds of butterfly rangers have been trained and nearly 30,000 butterfly-friendly native wildflowers have been planted in 754 locations.

There are now more than 100 participating communities across Canada, including educational and hands-on growth opportunities through schools.

Ms. Mitchell said she has been wanting to get involved with bee city initiatives for years and is a subscriber of the David Suzuki newsletter. When she heard about this program she quickly rounded up a posse—Lorie Leeson, Anastasia Eranosova, Ginger Mead and Tara Reckahn—some of whom are beekeepers themselves, including Ms. Mitchell, with 17 hives.

“I’ve done talks before about bees and pollination because I thought we needed it in (Tehkummah). If we start small, maybe it’ll spread and go Island-wide as a big flyway project,” said Ms. Mitchell.

In urban spaces where ground space is at a premium, some rangers have turned canoes into planter boxes and some have custom-painted the installations, something Ms. Mitchell agreed could be a popular attraction if implemented across Manitoulin.

Work bees on the garden will be limited because of pandemic distancing restrictions but Ms. Mitchell said she was confident the group could get the garden up and running while staying at least two metres apart.

She also plans to mix in perennials to give the garden a ‘beautified’ look, though the majority of the plants will be native wildflowers. Creating a more attractive appearance might make passers-by more inclined to stop at the garden and learn about the initiative.

“The Butterflyway Project shows that a small group of residents can make a big difference. Rangers make their communities greener and healthier. They create opportunities, connect people and champion fun ideas,” Ms. Mitchell said.

The group was already hard at work over the Victoria Day long weekend. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen pavement buried under the grass, they had to build up quite a base for the plants. The members eagerly rose to the task and had the space looking more vibrant—even before the first flowers entered the ground.

Anyone seeking information about the Tehkummah Butterflyway Rangers or joining the effort from anywhere on the Island should email Ms. Mitchell at superwotan@gmail.com.