In 1976, Gordon Scott traded in the hustle and bustle of Toronto for the quiet countryside near Warsaw, Ont. The retired public-school teacher decided he would operate a hobby farm on the property’s 300 acres (121 hectares), but his vision expanded not long after he settled in.
An avid birdwatcher, Gordon’s love of nature was deep-rooted. He soon became fixated on enhancing the land to create more habitat for wildlife of all kinds. In 1980, he reached out to DUC with the intention of turning a seasonal hayfield prone to flooding into a wetland. Since a portion of the provincially significant wetland, (PSW), Dummer’s Swamp, is located on the Scott property, Gordon was motivated to do all he could to increase wildlife habitats in the area—starting with his own land.
The area was also a priority because it is located within the Trent River watershed. The large project, which involved an adjacent property owner, was a success and featured a 58-acre (23-hectare) wetland with a large, concrete water control structure and several berms.
Continuing a family legacy of caring for the land
Nearly four decades passed by with Gordon living contentedly on the property, until he too passed away in 2018 at the age of 97. However, before his death, his Will left clear instructions to his sons Ray and Munroe that the property would never be developed and kept as a refuge for wildlife for as long as possible.
At first, Ray, Munroe and Munroe’s wife Martha were overwhelmed by Gordon’s final wishes. While various family members possessed expertise in the areas of ecology and the law, how to go about protecting the land in perpetuity was daunting. Researching ways to shield the property from being sold and developed became the family’s shared responsibility.
“We were connected to this property.” says Ray. “It had become a part of us. So, dad’s wishes were our wishes too. We knew the value of the wetland and the forested areas. We care about them just as he did, so we were committed to their preservation.”
Ray, Munroe and Martha set to work on preserving the land. They considered donating the land to various groups, but finally decided to manage the property themselves by creating a not-for-profit, with a board of directors to oversee it. Together, they’ve set out a list of restricted and permitted land uses and are now confident the property can remain undisturbed for decades to come as the Gordon Scott Memorial Conservation Trust.
“Because the land is private, not public, we won’t have the sprawl issues here that other areas are experiencing,” says Martha. “There won’t be a repeat of what’s happening in other parts of the province. As well, with the nearby PSW and a managed forest, there’s an added level of protection.”
In 2021, the family was contacted by DUC to inspect the wetland. As it does with all its projects, DUC’s mandate is to regularly monitor the safe, effective operation of the wetlands they build for a period of 30 years. The investigation showed the need for improvements to the wetland’s infrastructure and soon a plan was put in place.
Work to refurbish the concrete water control structure and berms was carried out in 2022, funded by the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks. It included resurfacing the concrete structure, adding new boards to the dam, as well as adding a riprap spillway to the wetland for enhanced flood protection.
“Right from the start, it was obvious that the landowners were conservation-minded,” says DUC conservation specialist Jenn Lavigne. “When we get to work with people who really care about their land, it’s a beautiful thing. This project stood out because of the care this family showed to their property and their intention to keep it undisturbed. We went in and restored the concrete water control structure, and now it will last another 30 years. We’re pleased with the outcome of this collaboration.”
When we get to work with people who really care about their land, it’s a beautiful thing. This project stood out because of the care this family showed to their property and their intention to keep it undisturbed. We went in and restored the concrete water control structure, and now it will last another 30 years.
A dream is realized
So, what would Gordon say about the efforts his family has gone to the preserve the property?
“I’m sure he’d say well done, my good and faithful servants,” says Munroe. “He’d definitely be pleased with us fulfilling his wishes.”
More than 40 years have passed, and it’s clear Gordon’s dream of attracting more wildlife to the area has been realized, with deer, foxes, coyotes, Canada geese, swans, sandhill cranes and even the occasional bear visiting the site. As well, two species at risk, the bobolink and the eastern meadowlark, have been seen on the property.
Looking ahead, the Scott family is considering allowing university students to visit the wetland site for academic research projects. They hope to find a balance of moving science forward while keeping the area undisturbed by humans as much as possible.
“We are motivated by our family history to protect the land,” says Munroe. “Everyday we see our natural world being devoured by human activity and we’re proud that here, in this little corner of the world, that’s not going to happen.”