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We are not the owners of Thickson's Woods, but merely its guardians, for future generations of life on earth.
Thickson’s Woods Land Trust — a brief history

“These pines are reserved for masts for His Majesty’s Navy!” state the early deeds of landowners at Corbett Point, the original name of Thickson’s Point. By the time William Stephensen was training spies at Camp “X” across Corbett Creek Marsh in the early 1940s, warships no longer were powered by sails. Many of the white pines in Thickson’s Woods were already more than 100 feet tall and over 100 years old. On a bright May morning in the early 1960s, when I first visited Thickson’s Woods on an Oshawa Naturalists’ Club outing, the trees were alive with a myriad of colourful warblers.

In 1967 the Club had the chance to purchase the woods for $7,000. Sounds like a golden opportunity missed, but to put things in perspective, a comfortable house could have been purchased that year for about $20,000. Besides, back then, most of us thought our favourite birding spots would always be there to welcome us. Why worry?

Then in September of 1983 tragedy struck. The developer who owned Thickson’s Woods sold the logging rights. For four days the earth shook as one huge towering white pine after another crashed to the ground. By the time the naturalist community was galvanized into action, 66 ancient pines had fallen.

Thus Thickson’s Woods Heritage Foundation was born. In the spring of 1984 a small group of naturalists dipped into their savings to raise the $30,000 down payment to purchase the 16+ acres that encompass the woods, the lakefront, and the western portion of Corbett Creek Marsh. The remaining $60,000 mortgage, plus interest, was paid off over the next five years. Funds were raised through yard sales, an art raffle, and birdathons, as well as a grant from the McLean Foundation. But most of the money came from donations from many hundreds of concerned folks from near and far, who loved wild spaces, and were devastated as many of their favourite haunts were destroyed.

Back then the fields to the west were planted to corn, canola and tomatoes, while the meadow to the north was a cow pasture. Staff from the Corbett Creek Pollution Control Plant cooperated in the planting of evergreens along the north side of the road leading to their facility. Some white pine seedlings sprouted on their own after the giants were felled, while others were planted.

After the mortgage was paid off, board members breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed a little. By this time, however, the cattle had disappeared from the pasture, and rumours persisted about plans for development on those lands. Numerous attempts were made over the next dozen years to discuss with the owners the possibility of buying the meadow, but these were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, the pollution control plant underwent an expansion,  which included a new entrance off Wentworth Street. The Waterfront Trail became a reality, utilizing the old entrance road along the north border of the woods as part of its route throughWhitby. As more and more of the open fields around Thickson’s Woods were converted to factories, warehouses and truck depots, it became obvious that it was only a matter of time until the meadow was paved over. Norman Schipper, one of our directors, pointed out how the very things that make Thickson’s Woods so special would be compromised if that happened. Its value as a refuge for humans and wildlife alike, as they sought respite from the hectic pace of an increasingly urban environment, would be severely diminished.

It seemed like a daunting task, but the TWLT board of directors felt we had no choice but to try to buy the meadow. A deal was agreed upon, with a purchase price of $531,000 for two parcels totaling 81⁄2 acres. We asked for a six month delay before closing to allow time to raise the $100,000 down payment. Our thinking was that if we could raise that much in six months, then raising the remaining  $431,000, plus interest, over the next five years should be possible. 

Not only did you rise to the challenge, but your generosity meant that we were able to pay down the mortgage by an additional $23,000 when the meadow was added to the Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve onFebruary 2, 2001.

In 2002 we applied for a change in zoning from M1 Industrial to Open Space, in keeping with our goals. This also reduced our tax burden substantially.

Since Thickson’s Woods Heritage Foundation was created in 1984, the Ontario Land Trust Alliance came into being, with groups forming all across the province dedicated to keeping land in its natural state forever. Thickson’s Woods became the first property listed on the Ontario Land Trust Alliance registry of protected areas. In 2001, we adopted “Thickson’s Woods Land Trust” as our working name.

Now the Waterfront Trail runs through the heart of Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve. An attractive sign designed and erected by Phill Holder and his staff at Lofthouse Brass stands at the southwest corner of the meadow to welcome everyone.

Changes in the meadow are ones we can now embrace:

  • leaves on the white birches turning to gold against an azure sky filled with circling kettles of migrating hawks;
  • tiny footprints of meadow voles and tree sparrows in new-fallen snow where they harvested weed seeds in the shelter of a clump of scarlet-stemmed dogwoods;
  • the noisy chatter of a flock of diminutive golden-crowned kinglets busily devouring tiny insects among the opening leaves of chokecherry;
  • a newly emerged bright orange-and-black monarch butterfly drying its wings before beginning to sip nectar from yellow goldenrod.

This is how the meadow should change. Come share and appreciate what you’ve helped create.

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