Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary aims to reinvent itself while keeping conservationist’s legacy alive

KINGSVILLE — At the peak of its popularity, the Jack Miner Migratory Bird Sanctuary would attract thousands of visitors a day. Cars would be lined up on both sides of Road 3 from Division Street North to the McCain Sideroad and beyond.

As a Canadian tourist destination in the early ‘60s, the sanctuary ranked behind only Niagara Falls.

Now, only a handful of people visit the sanctuary and its museum each day. Instead of tens of thousands of visitors a year, the numbers are now in the hundreds.

But the foundation that runs the sanctuary is looking to turn those figures around and reinvent the sanctuary so it is once again a major generator of tourism in Kingsville.

Tim Dobson, a Kingsville resident and former executive with Safari International, has been hired as the sanctuary’s new director of marketing and fundraising. A Windsor marketing firm has also been hired.

“We need to enhance what we have here and make it bigger and better to bring people back,” Dobson said.

He said the move to return the sanctuary to its former glory is twofold: promote the adjoining Kennedy Woods as a place to walk, play and picnic and, if proposed fundraising and sponsorships campaigns go well, build a multimillion-dollar international wildlife centre on the sanctuary grounds. The centre would promote not only Miner’s conservation efforts, but conservation efforts around the world.

1920s-era cars line both sides of Road 3 at the Jack Miner sanctuary in this undated photo. The sanctuary was once one of the top tourism draws in Canada. Photo courtesy of the Jack Miner Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

Dobson said Jack Miner and his legacy are in danger of being forgotten. During a tour of the sanctuary Tuesday, Dobson stopped and chatted with a young couple who live in LaSalle and are relative newcomers to Windsor-Essex County.

“We’ve lived in LaSalle for five years and we didn’t have a clue that this was out here,” said Cory Bursey, senior pastor at New Beginnings Community Church in Windsor.

Bursey said he and his wife, Linda, enjoyed their visit. It was an unexpected revelation, he said.

“It’s beautiful, all the antiques in the museum and house, it’s all gorgeous and it’s well-maintained.”

Linda Bursey added: “I’m a huge animal lover, that was the main attraction for me. And now the added bonus of learning about Jack Miner and everything he has done. We had a wonderful visit.”

Dobson said the Burseys are just the sort of people the sanctuary is looking to attract — a young couple with kids who are interested in conservation and the outdoors.

Dobson said a big part of reviving the sanctuary will be the telling of Jack Miner’s story: his birth in Ohio, his family’s move to Kingsville in 1878, his life as a hunter and his path to becoming an international advocate for migratory birds.

Dobson said the sanctuary started in 1904 when seven clipped Canada geese were put in pond dug by the Miners to mine clay for their brickworks. The goal was to lure migratory birds to the pond.

More birds arrived each year and in 1909 Miner banded his first migratory bird, a mallard duck. In 1915, he banded his first Canada goose.

On the aluminum bands were Jack Miner’s name, the sanctuary location — Kingsville — and a biblical verse. Whenever a band was discovered by a hunter, there was often a write-up in the local newspaper.

Tim Dobson, the sanctuary’s new director of marketing and fundraising, leafs through a bound volume of newspaper clippings saved by Jack Miner during his career. Dobson said Miner was a “marketing genius” who spoke to more people and delivered more speeches than anyone in North America between 1910 and 1940.

“Jack Miner was a marketing genius,” said Dobson. “He was 50 years ahead of his time. He was not a little thinker.”The Minneapolis Journal, which wrote extensively about Miner, called him the “Father of the Conservation Movement in North America.”

But praise for Miner was not universal. Some scientists and naturalists criticized his exclusionary view of conservation and his trapping of hawks, owls and eagles that preyed on geese. Still, no one can deny his fame.

Dobson, referencing biographies written about Miner, said that between 1910 and 1940 Miner spoke to more people and gave more speeches than anyone else in North America.

In 1936, Prime Minister Mackenzie King chose Miner to represent Canada and give a “Round the World” radio address in honour of King George V, who was celebrating his 25th year on the throne. In 1943, one year before his death, Miner was given the Order of the British Empire (OBE);four years later the Canadian government created National Wildlife Week in honour of Miner.

Detroit Tigers Hall of Fame centre-fielder Ty Cobb, left, with Jack Miner on a hunting trip in this undated photo. Cobb, a friend of Miner and regular guest at his home, sponsored construction of a baseball diamond at the sanctuary. Marketing and fundraising director Tim Dobson hopes the ball field can be rebuilt. Photo courtesy of the Jack Miner Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

“This is a story that should not be forgotten,” Dobson said.

Henry Ford was a patron of the sanctuary — he paid for construction of the brick and wrought iron fence in front of the Miner home and viewing pond — and Dobson said he wants to re-establish a sponsorship link with the Ford Motor Company.

He also wants to work with Pelee Island Winery and the three local breweries to use Miner and the sanctuary on their wine and beer labels. As well, the sanctuary wants to attract more school and church bus trips.

Dobson said the Miner name still has cachet. He said he once offered a bottle of Pelee Island wine, packaged in the wooden box with the Miner bird bands embossed on the front, to a charity auction in the United States.

He was hoping the bottle would sell for $50; it ended up selling for $1,000.

“I’m going after everybody. I’m going to turn over every stone. I want everybody that cares about the future of Jack Miner’s and conservation to get involved. It’s a prodigious task.”

Cars create a mile-long traffic jam in front of the sanctuary in this photo from 1955. Inset shows a crowd of visitors. Photo courtesy of the Jack Miner Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

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