WILLISVILLE—It’s not exactly over, but the champagne is definitely on chill as one of the key milestones in the effort to secure Willisville Mountain for the enjoyment of future generations has been reached. There is now enough cash in the kitty to buy the property, as well as covering surveying, registering and transfer costs. Vale, the mining giant that currently owns the property from which the mountain rises, has signed the requisite papers (after a two year pause) and plans are underway for an official announcement.
“Things are moving along, but I had hoped to keep this under wraps a little while longer, there’s a few donations still pending,” laughed Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy (EBC) executive director Bob Barnett. The executive director did admit the largest hurdle has indeed been met. The EBC hopes to also establish a small stewardship fund to help maintain the property going forward and a few projects (such as possibly extending the parking lot) are on the radar as well.
“This has been very good, excellent,” said Mr. Barnett, noting that the final T to be crossed is the completion of the survey. “Not all of our projects have the sex appeal of the Cup and Saucer Trail (in Honora Bay) or Willisville Mountain,” he admitted. “Most of the properties we secure are a lot less high profile.”
Willisville Mountain was the subject of a number of paintings by Canada’s famed Group of Seven, as well as providing the inspiration for countless works by less storied painters and photographers. The Cup and Saucer Trail, recently rescued by the EBC, is a premier tourism destination for the Island. Willisville Mountain was part of the property owned by mining giant Vale that included a quartzite quarry that has already consumed another small mountain.
Willisville Mountain is part of the LaCloche range that includes the oldest mountain range in the world and is home to numerous endangered and threatened species.
“So far it is excellent news,” enthused Ted Cowan, a former head and board member of the EBC who has worked tirelessly alongside Mr. Barnett to raise the funds needed to secure Willisville Mountain.
The total money raised to date ranges somewhere between $185,000 and $195,000, noted Mr. Cowan, and the door is not closed on further donations.
Efforts have been relentless since the duo first sat down with officials from Vale to explore the possibility of EBC buying the property. “It was in November 2017 that we kicked off the campaign,” recalled Mr. Cowan. The first approach was to EBC members, an outreach that quickly raised the first $40,000. An art sale (somewhat fittingly) at a church in Toronto raised another $8,000, a reception and talk raised a further $5,000. “We set up a webpage that brought in another $63,000,” said Mr. Cowan. Another $30,000 was raised through the partnership with the Bay of Islands and McGregor Bay. “It is still bringing in a bit.”
A night of music organized by Jon and Kerry Butler of Willisville also raised $3,000. “I had never done anything like that before,” admitted Mr. Cowan. “I kind of was resigned to it costing us a bit of money, but it went very well.” JUNO award winning musician and conservationist Ian Tamblyn filled the Whitefish Falls community centre and donated his fees and the revenue from CD sales for the event.
Mr. Cowan noted that the most amazing coincidences and connections have come about through the fundraising for Willisville Mountain, pointing out just how many lives the mountain touches across a vast landscape.
Plans are to establish a stewardship council to oversee the mountain property that will include members of the nearby Whitefish River First Nation, which Mr. Cowan described as very supportive of the group’s efforts. “We have a common interest to see the mountain preserved for future generations,” he said.
“There is something magical about Willisville Mountain,” agreed Mr. Barnett. “Something that touched deep inside both artists and ordinary people alike. Nobody walks away from the mountain untouched.”
Those wishing to contribute to the future of the property can do so by sending donations, marked for that purpose, care of the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy, a registered charity located at 503 Davenport Road, Toronto, ON M5V 1B8.