MMLT’s Birth and the First 5 Years

June 24, 2023 is MMLT’s 20th anniversary! Since its incorporation in 2003, MMLT (including every volunteer and staff member throughout the years) has worked tirelessly to make the organization what it is today – strong, caring, and reputable. A true champion of land conservation in the region.

To kick off our 20th year, the Backyard Beauties Online Auction launched to raise over $5,500, which was matched by private funders MapleCross, resulting in $11,000 raised to help MMLT acquire conservation land and protect the habitats of species. There are many prospective properties on the horizon! Also exclusive to our 20th anniversary year is this new logo you see here. Keep your eyes open because you’ll likely see it a lot more this year.

Please stay tuned for exciting updates on MMLT’s plans of celebration for the year. This includes special themed events, such as our annual Lake 88.1 Radiothon on July 15th, which will feature amusing interviews from MMLT founders and past directors. Throughout the next few months, MMLT will also be showcasing new content on our website, historical photos, and more! In the meantime, we invite you to read this incredible narration of MMLT’s birth and the first 5 years, written by one of our founding members – Mary Vandenhoff.



A Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust 20th Anniversary Special

By: Mary Vandenhoff, with input from other founding members of MMLT

Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust had two important antecedents in the years that led up to its establishment.  One highlighted the need for a way for private landowners to be able to provide legal protection for ecologically important areas and the other, the recognition of the significant health benefits that come from immersion in nature.  MMLT’s founding documents reflected these dual goals.

For 10 years, Lanark Children’s Haven operated as a summer nature camp, a refuge, where disadvantaged and frequently broken children experienced the healing powers of wilderness, where challenged children, whether mentally, physically or behaviourally, could immerse in nature.  The positive impact on those children was impressive.  Sadly, the provincial funding that was the major source of revenue was cut back and Lanark Children’s Haven became financially unsustainable and had to close.  Donna Davidson, Stan Errett and Mary Vandenhoff, three of the board members, had overseen the heart-breaking experience of closing the Lanark Children’s Haven. They couldn’t ignore the huge health benefits that nature provides and were determined to provide greater access to nature’s therapy to the entire community.

At the same time, Canadian Parks & Wilderness Society, led by its president Ted Mosquin, had developed a proposal for a Madawaska Highlands Regional Trust to explore a way to better protect this special Ontario landscape.  Unfortunately, that initiative proved to be unsuccessful, but it proved to be an important experience as a formulation and a foundation for what would become MMLT. Ted Mosquin’s passion to protect the beautiful landscape of the Mississippi Madawaska Highlands made him a perfect fit for this small band of dreamers to explore the possibility of a local land trust to protect private property.

Who exactly were these dreamers?  A rather diverse group.  Donna was the executive director of Lanark Community Programs, an organization that focused on those with a wide range of developmental challenges. Donna was renowned for her dedication and drive to find creative supports for the community’s most challenged.  Lanark Children’s Haven had been one of those effective tools of support that she had spearheaded.  Her reach and connections within the County were extensive and proved very useful. 

Rev. Stan Errett had recently moved to the area and had enthusiastically joined the Lanark Children’s Haven board as a logical continuation of the social side of his pastoral work and volunteer activities back in Alberta.   While serving as minister at Grace United Church in Edmonton, Stan exposed families to nature by organizing and conducting spring and summer canoe camps on the North Saskatchewan and Red Deer Rivers for a period of 7 years.  He also chaired Alberta’s first “free-standing” hospice for the terminally ill in Calgary.

Mary Vandenhoff is someone who is action oriented. Following her retirement from the Foreign Service including Ambassadorial appointments, she had become an active volunteer with a number of local organizations including the Mississippi Valley Conservation Foundation, Lanark Stewardship Council, and Lanark Highlands Community Economic Development Committee.  She was the owner of Nature Lover’s Bookshop in Lanark Village and she tapped into her vast network of friends and acquaintances to get things done. 

Dr. Ted Mosquin was a nationally recognized ecologist.  He was a research scientist at Agriculture Canada for 12 years, became the Canadian Nature Federation’s executive director and immediately began to transform the Federation into Canada’s voice for nature including the launch of the Nature Canada publication, serving as its editor for five years. He also initiated the Nature Canada bookstore. Ted was a past chairman of the board of the Canadian Audubon Society, past president of the Canadian Nature Federation, and past president of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.   He had published extensively on plant systematics and evolution, on environmental issues, and natural history.

What was missing was a colleague who could put their dream of conserving special natural areas for the benefit of the community into reality.   Howard Clifford was this person and what an important part he would play.  Following a distinguished and nationally recognized career in mental health and child care, Howard had retired on 1250 acres of wilderness in Lanark Highlands, which became the home of the Alba Wilderness School and the popular Blueberry Mountain. The Clifford family had had some discussion with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) to protect the property but had some reservations as the NCC was reluctant to enshrine public access in the agreement.

And so these individuals from such different backgrounds came together finding strength in their diversity as they pursued a common goal.  Following many meetings around the kitchen table during 2002, Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust Conservancy received its Letters Patent in 2003 and was granted CRA charitable status effective January 1, 2004.  The mission statement and guiding principles includes both protection and stewardship of private lands having ecological value and the fostering of community engagement with wilderness.

Ted Mosquin was named President and Treasurer, Howard Clifford Vice-President, and Stan Errett Secretary.  Michael Macpherson joined the board as a link to the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists. Thus, the journey began.

In 2004, a brochure was produced and MMLTC was formally launched in July at the ‘Art of Being Green’ Festival in Lanark Village.  MMLTC agreed to adopt the Ontario Land Trust Alliance Standards and Practices as guidelines for its operations.  A bank account was opened, and the organization ended the year with 9 members and $210.04. 

In 2005, MMLTC became qualified by Environment Canada to receive gifts of land under the Ecological Gifts Program, an important tool for landowners wishing to conserve their land with MMLTC.  A website was launched.  Discussions began with Helen White to place her 110 acres under land trust protection (finalized in 2018, yes 13 years later).  The first corporate donation was received – $1000 from Randall’s Paints – dramatically improving the bank account with a year-end balance of $1,824.

In the following 2 years, Ted, Michael, and Howard struggled with the task of expanding the Conservation Easement template used for the Clifford property to not only address the ecological protection of the land but also capture the concept that humans’ needs are an inseparable component of ensuring that all species can prosper in a landscape where natural forces govern its wild state.  It ended up being the first Conservation Easement in North America to include a covenant on public access, making MMLTC unique and a leader.  

MMLTC established three committees:  Property Acquisitions & Management; Fundraising, Membership & Communications; and Finances.  Following lengthy discussions, a three-year Strategic Plan was adopted.  The first newsletter was issued.

During these first years the land trust had no paid staff, with the then 9 board members and some volunteers including a bookkeeper, undertaking all the governance and operational tasks. The board meetings and AGMs were held at the St. Andrews United Church in Lanark.

While it took until 2009 for MMLTC to acquire its first property, the cliffLAND Conservation Easement, and yet another two years after that for the first direct ownership, the Rose Hill Nature Reserve, the foundation had been put in place. 

To read Mary’s piece on the second five years (2008-2012), please click here