Nature Rising – 260+ attend Annual General Meeting

In Events by couchiching

Thank you – so much – to all who attended our Annual General Meeting on March 7th!

Over 260 people were in attendance this year, making it another record breaking year. Your passion and interest in protecting nature close to home is clear.

The meeting was opened by Executive Director, Mark Bisset, followed by The Orillia Vocal Ensemble, who shared two songs with the attendees. A concert had been planned for May 23 to support the Conservancy’s Citizen Science work through the Angela Rehhorn Fund and honour Roy Menagh’s work with the Ensemble. Since the meeting, that concert has now been postponed.

Lisa Neville, Board Secretary, read highlights from the 2019 Annual General Meeting.

Jamie Ross, President of the Board, encouraged everyone to read the Annual Report. He thanked everyone for their hard work and dedication, including volunteers and staff. Jamie also reflected on his monthly donation to the Conservancy and the benefit of not having to remember to renew his support and membership. To learn more about giving monthly, click here.

Jack Booth, Treasurer, shared a report on the financial statements. Funds that were donated and granted to the Conservancy accounted for 89% of all revenue. This report included:

  • Acquisition of the Pitts & Milligan Nature Reserve (Pitts property) at year-end in October 2019 created a deficit, but this deficit has subsequently been covered by a $102,000 grant received. A $52,000 contribution to the Stewardship Endowment Fund has also been made for the Pitts property,
  • Increase investment revenue ($47,500 for 2019) is the result of more funds being invested through the Community Foundation of Orillia and Area,
  • Additional operating grants and the increased investment revenue allowed for the hiring of additional staff to support the organization’s growth, which was reflected in wages and benefits being $57,000 over the budgeted amount,
  • Strong financial position with no long-term debt and over $1 million in Reserves and Endowment Funds,
  • Thousands of volunteer hours contributed not reflected in these financial statements. Active volunteer base combined with dedicated staff continues to be a key factor in allowing for both the growth and the long-term success of this organization.
  • Read the full financials here.

Heather Gauldie, supporter and volunteer, on behalf of the Past Presidents Council shared her reasons for making a pledge to the Heartwood Fund. Over 60 people have made planned giving pledges and contributions to the fund, now estimated at over $2.5 million. the goal of the fund is to provide long term stability to the work of the Conservancy.

Jason Stewart, co-chair of the Advisory Council, provided an update on the activities of the Advisory Council including raising funds for conservation, and providing expertise for events and presentations and more. One new initiative includes the Development Committee for fundraising – coming will be a challenge fund for the Black River Wildlands Campaign, Major Gift Leaders program, and additional foundations.

Mark Bisset, Executive Director, started his report by sharing a photo and talking about his granddaughter, Mae. As she grows up, there will be tough questions that she and her generation will ask about the future and what we did to fight climate change. Mark asked, “If we do everything possible right now and protect, restore and fund Nature, could be seen as part of the greatest human cohort in history, but if not, what will Mae think then?”

Mark continued to talk about how small actions build strong conservation action and shared the story of Evelyn Frantzke and Robert Williamson. Evelyn and Robert spoke to a Comservancy volunteer Ambassador at a community event, and were given a Passport to Nature program. They then attended a Passport event, where they learned about conservation easements. They are now working with the Conservancy to put an easement on their own property in Oro Medonte.

An update on the Black River Wildlands Corridor campaign was also shared by Mark. The Pitts & Milligan property, a 185 acre parcel has now been protected thanks to supporters and the family. Since the launch of the campaign, supporters and foundations have contributed almost $450,000 towards protected wilderness in this region. Another second wetland property, totaling 30 acres has also been protected, boosting this size of one of our pre-existing  nature reserves.

To close, Mark shared information on the updated Strategic Plan. This will be our compass for the coming years, and was developed with the help of many supporters. The plan outlines an accelerated pace of acquisition and protection, an aimto engage with Indigenous people and communities.

Wendy Lowry, Director, thanked all volunteers and did special recognition for long standing volunteers, Marilyn Clark, Harry Hall, Paul Laver, Alan Smale, James K. Stewart, Noella Storry. Their time, ideas, energy, heavy lifting, guidance, knowledge, friendship and inspiration helps us all.

A new slate of candidates for the Board of Directors was shared in advance of the meeting, and was accepted by members.

  • Jamie Ross as President, and Doug Christie, Jack Booth, Lisa Neville, Wendy Lowry, Kathy Hunt, Neil Gray, Jane Bonsteel and David Homer as Directors.

Kathy Hunt, Director, welcomed guest speaker Rick Beaver.

Rick shared information on work he has done as an Ecologist on various projects and applying Indigenous learnings to conservation practices. some of the many points he made were:

  • Need cooperative effort engagement and to celebrate success.
  • The ways forward – informed by information, intent (why), understanding (science, tradition), and measures of success (mileposts).
  • Dealing with – hybridizing land use and management approaches between Indigenous traditional practices and western science; managing the land collectively; species at risk; invasive species and population densities; impacts of development; resource management, etc.
  • Land restoration settlements and Indigenous sovereignty need to be recognized; one size does not fit all.
  • Three important Anishnaabeg Principles:
    • 1) be good human beings,
    • 2) take care of this place/planet, and
    • 3) everything is connected to everything else.
  • Traditional knowledge is about survival and shared over generations, which needs to be integrated.
  • Current biodiversity loss rapid; experiencing sixth greatest extinction.
  • Need to cooperate; 40% of species at risk found on First Nation lands, which constitute only 0.1% of country’s land mass.
  • Alderville First Nation – approach to managing species at risk includes classification of habitats/inventories, traditional ecological knowledge surveys and species surveys, mapping leading to recommendations to guide land development.
  • If want to begin a project with First Nations – meet with Consultation Protocol Officer or other representative first before Chief/Council, see if already doing conservation work, find mutual environmental concerns, and understand land ownership rules/management.
    • Need to understand how the information will be used and controlled.
  • Questions from audience:
    • When are water ceremonies and are they accessible? Information about water ceremonies can be learned by referring to the women who conduct them in the community and Trent University Indigenous Studies Department.
    • Is there expertise of ecologists for First Nations available across Canada? Question needs to be asked, but traditional ecological knowledge available

Our thanks to Rick for joining us, and to everyone for attending!

Many thanks to Lisa Neville for these notes.

<a data-flickr-embed=”true” data-footer=”true” href=”″ title=”2020 Annual General Meeting”><img src=”” width=”640″ height=”427″ alt=”2020 Annual General Meeting”></a><script async src=”//” charset=”utf-8″></script>

We have also posted some photos on Facebook here.