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Point Pelee National Park of Canada

A Park is Born

The Find

One of the most important events in the history of Point Pelee occurred with the arrival in the fall of 1882 of the young naturalist, W.E. Saunders from London, Ontario.

Yellow-breasted Chat
Yellow-breasted Chat.
© Parks Canada/CD-1879-66

What prompted Saunders' visit was the chance to hunt ducks in Point Pelee's famous marshes. What he found convinced him to give up duck hunting. He wrote:

"I was no duck hunter anyway and the wide ornithological interest of the point soon took precedence of anything else, and the shorebirds and the other migrants claimed chief attention."

Saunders, known affectionately as W.E., was so taken with his experience that he began introducing his friends to Point Pelee. Together they established the Great Lakes Ornithological Club (GLOC) which was dedicated to the study of bird migration in the Great Lakes region, especially at Point Pelee. They built a clubhouse near the present location of the Visitor Centre and named it "The Shack." From there they explored a nesting colony of yellow-breasted chats and recorded blue-winged warblers and chuck-will's Windows, all firsts in Canada.

A New National Park
Historical Image
Members of the Great Lakes Ornithological Club gather outside their club house, "the shack." They are: (left to right) Wallace, Swales, Saunders, Taverner (bottom) and Fleming.
© Parks Canada/CD-0277-49

In the evenings, as they discussed their day's findings, they must have considered the possibility of Point Pelee being set aside as a bird sanctuary. In 1911, one of their members, Percy Taverner, became Canada's first Dominion Ornithologist. Four years later he proposed to the newly formed Federal Commission of Conservation that Point Pelee be declared a national park.

But Travernor and his friends were not alone in this idea. Club members had befriended local bird enthusiast Jack Miner. "Wild Goose Jack," as he was sometimes called, had become famous because of his sanctuary for Canada Geese in Kingsville, Ontario.

In 1913, W.E. convinced Jack to visit Point Pelee. Jack later wrote a letter to the Leamington Post in which he left little doubt of his enthusiasm for Point Pelee and the idea of it becoming a Park:

"Last May I was finally persuaded to spend a day at Point Pelee, and although it rained nearly all the time I was there, yet I scarcely knew it, for I was trying to look in all directions at once, as I saw the greatest variety of trees and shrubs that stand in any one place in Ontario. In fact I spent this day in the prettiest 'natural park' I ever saw.

Let us hear from you and let us combine our forces and keep Point Pelee out of the hands of unlimited wealth and preserve it for our children's children."

But Jack went even further. He mustered support from four prominent Leamington men: Cole Cullen, Fred Moss, George Jackson, and Forest Conover. In turn, they persuaded two Essex County Wildlife Protection Associations to join the cause. Because of his prestige, Jack was delegated to make a personal representation to the Prime Minister of Canada, Sir Robert Borden.

This local support, and the evidence presented by Tavernor and the Great Lakes Ornithological Club about the unique nature of this part of Canada and its need to be protected, convinced the federal government that action was justified.

On May 29th, 1918, an Order-in-Council was passed creating Point Pelee National Park.

Reproduced with permission of The Friends of Point Pelee, from Where Canada Begins by James Robertson Graham.