Monarch butterfly trail to be built in Leamington, Ont.

Leamington, Ont. is best known as the Tomato Capital of Canada, where Heinz produced its ketchup for more than a century. But after the Heinz factory closed down in 2014, the city’s been trying to reinvent itself.

And thanks to a new project, a new identity could be well on its way for Leamington: The Butterfly Capital of Canada.

The town is currently building a butterfly trail in an effort to create a sanctuary for the dwindling population of monarch butterflies.

In a joint initiative between Leamington and Point Pelee National Park, the garden trail will run alongside five kilometres of the city’s 17-kilometre trail system.

The first phase of the project, which is underway, will be a 500-meter stretch between Robson Road to Seacliff Drive. Volunteers are currently removing invasive and non-native plants from the stretch and instead planting milkweed, native grasses, and wildflowers.

“Because Parks Canada is always exploring innovative ways to engage Canadians in conservation and restoration projects, we’re really excited here at Point Pelee National Park to be working with the municipality of Leamington to connection Canadians to nature,” Point Pelee National park superintendent Karen Linauskas said in a media release. “[The new plants] will not only attract birds and butterflies, but also offer Canadians natural spaces to connect with nature.”

The Monarch Butterfly Trail being built.
Volunteers help build the Monarch Butterfly Trail. Photo courtesy of Twitter.
Volunteers plant gardens of milkweed and native grasses.
Volunteers plant gardens of milkweed and native grasses.

Unlike many species of butterflies, the Canadian monarch travels from 4,000 to 7,000 kilometers each autumn to escape the cold in Mexico. During their yearly pilgrimage, the butterflies stop in Point Pelee—the most southern tip in Canada—to refuel before they need to cross the vast Lake Eerie. But due to numerous factors, including deforestation in Mexico and recent bouts of severe weather, the monarch population has been disappearing.

In 2014, the monarch butterfly population was the lowest it’s been since record keeping began in 1994. And in 2013, the Point Pelee National Park cancelled its annual monarch butterfly count, an event where eco-tourists gather to see the butterflies roost in clusters each evening.

Once completed, the Leamington Monarch Trail gardens will provide food and habitat for migrating monarchs—and hopefully boost the population.

“It’s the municipality vision that this project will help restore and support the large number of monarch butterflies that migrate through the Leamington area and create a natural spectacle to be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike,” said Leamington’s Chief Administrative Officer, Peter Neufeld in a media release.