Waterfront property near an urban center may be highly coveted, but for years, Thor Vikström refused offer after offer for his island near the Montreal suburb of Laval. The desire to protect it has now paid off in a historic donation of an island that Vikström, 93, made to the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) in December.
Situated in a region known as the Rivière des Prairies, the three-hectare Île Ronde was a piece of paradise for Vikström and his family, who used it as a nature escape and at times kept animals like sheep, according to the NCC. Vikström immigrated to Canada from Sweden in the 1960s and became a successful entrepreneur, purchasing Île Ronde shortly after he bought his home in Laval, just across the small waterway from the island.
Annie Ferland, a project manager at the NCC, said the land was very well cared for. “Mr. Vikström was always preoccupied with preserving this little paradise,” Ferland said, “and nature was more important than money.” Part of that is reflected in the presence of a tree species rarely found in Southern Quebec, the shagbark hickory. “It’s a tree that was heavily cut… so it’s a very exceptional thing to find them there,” Ferland said.
The land will be designated as a private nature reserve with no immediate plans to allow public access, which Ferland said will provide an important conservation opportunity. The map turtle, for example—a species listed as being of “special concern” by the government—can use the shore to lay eggs, and waterfowl and amphibians can continue their natural reproduction, protected from any threats.
While land donations aren’t entirely uncommon for the NCC, Vikström’s is historic in that it’s the Conservancy’s first acquisition in the Rivière des Prairies, according to Ferland. What makes it even more crucial, she said, is that only about 20 per cent of Montreal’s natural habitats remain; of those, only ten per cent are formally protected. She said the NCC is working towards raising that percentage to at least 17, but there’s still a long way to go.
Donations like Vikström’s can play a big role in land restoration, and in the overall conservation of natural areas. “Around a third of the land value the NCC has are private gifts of land or money,” Ferland explained, “so it’s very substantial.” Any landowners interested in donating or better protecting their land can contact the NCC for help, Ferland said. Even if they’re unable to take on or manage the land, the Conservancy can provide information and advice on how best to protect natural habitats.
In a video accompanying the donation announcement, Vikström reminisced about the many times he got to witness birds and ducks raise their young around the island. “I thought, ‘This is unbelievable, I have this opportunity to see nature the way it is,’” he said. He was always concerned with what would happen to Île Ronde in the future. “It’s a dream for me now that it’s preserved, forever.”