A Prince Edward Island family has donated 91 hectares of rare hardwood forest and wetland in Kingsboro, P.E.I. to the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). The MacPhee family first purchased the land in 2000 with the intention of developing it. But when the family’s patriarch Mel MacPhee died in 2010, the land sat untouched for 19 years.
“We were trying to tidy up his estate,” says Nora McKeena, Mel’s daughter. “We had this land, and we were going ‘Well, what are we going to do with it?’ Nobody in the family was interested.”
The land features a rare peat bog, making it difficult to develop but great for housing rare species of birds and plants, including the eastern wood peewee and Canada warbler. The bog is also surrounded by a forest of red maple, sugar maple, and yellow birch, a combination of native hardwoods no longer common in P.E.I.
McKeena says that the family has always wanted to leave a legacy to their father Mel and their mother Camilla, who still lives in nearby Souris. After doing some research on the NCC, McKenna proposed donating the land and her mother agreed.
The area will be referred to as the Mel and Camilla McPhee Nature Reserve, which McKeena says is a fitting tribute to her mother’s love of the countryside where she grew up as a farm girl. “If you go for a walk with her, you’ll end up at the end of the walk with a blueberry pie or a bottle of raspberry jam or cranberry sauce. She loves the country,” McKeena says.
McKenna’s father Mel, on the other hand, was a worker. “He opened a grocery store, a hardware store, and a Pharmasave,” she says. Mel was a well-respected business man in the Souris community, developing a mall, which is now run by his son.
The MacPhee’s land was donated to the NCC as an Ecogift, a program that is administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada, and was created by the federal government in 1995. The program incentivizes landowners to donate ecologically sensitive land to the government in exchange for tax breaks.
“It’s a really generous donation,” says Kathryn Morse, the Atlantic director of communications for the NCC. The organization was excited to receive the MacPhee’s land as P.E.I is one of the most densely populated provinces in Canada and much of its land is privately owned. “There’s a lot of pressure on Prince Edward Island for farming and recreation and cottage development,” Morse says. “There isn’t very much untouched land left.”
There are, however, additional expenses involved in turning the land into a nature reserve. “We have to get the land surveyed off and we have to get it assessed independently so the value of it is agreed upon,” Morse says. She adds that the NCC also has to pay to maintain the land, so they set up an endowment fund “that provides income every year that allows us to manage the properties over the long term.”
The land’s conservation was also financially supported by the Quick Start program, another federal program run in conjunction with the government of P.E.I. The Quick Start program assists with the advancement of the Government of Canada’s goal to conserve at least 17 per cent of the country’s terrestrial and inland water and 10 per cent of its marine and coastal areas by 2020.
“This [land] was important because it’s a peat bog,” Morse says. “It’s not necessarily a place you’d want to build a cottage on, but a peat bog is a fantastic gift as far as we’re concerned from a conservation perspective.”