Jack Miner Sanctuary launches fundraising drive to replace the fence that Ford built

KINGSVILLE — A fence can serve many purposes and at the Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary, the fence in front of the viewing pond provided an attractive barrier to separate birds from birdwatchers.

But when the stone and wrought iron fence became a hazard to both friend and fowl, the Windsor Essex Community Foundation that runs the sanctuary decided it was time to tear down the old and build something new.

“It didn’t have very strong foundations,” said executive director Amanda Everaert. “It was very unsettled and we didn’t want it falling over on someone. So we decided to tear it down.”

The new 250-foot (76-metre) fence has proper foundations and will be a close replica of the original. Construction is expected to be completed by the spring.

“If we went with something completely different, we didn’t think it would mesh with what’s already there,” said Everaert. “So that’s why we stayed with a similar style of brick to what the (Miner) house is bricked with.”

The fence is expected to cost $100,000. Everaert said most of the cost of the fence has been paid but a GoFundMe page has been set up to raise money to finish the project and pay for future operational expenses.

Jack Miner, who some call the father of North American conservation, made the first steps toward establishing a sanctuary in 1904 when he used a hole dug to mine clay for the family brickworks, filled it with water and then populated it with tame geese.

Over the years the number of wild geese attracted to the pond grew and so did Miner’s reputation as a conservationist. He started tagging the geese with metal bands inscribed with verses from the Bible; the bands would be returned from as far away as Hudson Bay Company posts in Northern Canada and from the southern United States.

Miner became an international celebrity and attracted the rich and famous to the Road 3 sanctuary — people like auto pioneer Henry Ford, a lifelong supporter of the sanctuary who funded construction of the original fence. The Chicago Tribune said in a 1993 article about the sanctuary that “according to (Miner) family legend” Ford was visiting the family home when he was awakened one night by the sound of Miner and his sons rushing out of the house toward a pond. Ford was told a pack of wild dogs was menacing the geese.

“On his return to Detroit, Ford ordered workmen to install a chain-link fence around 35 acres of the Miner site. Sunk two feet deep to prevent burrowing by dogs, foxes or coyotes, it is still standing today,” the Tribune reported.

Miner was cited by American newspapers as one of the most well-known men in North America, mentioned in the same company as Ford, Thomas Edison and Charles Lindbergh.

Everaert said the sanctuary does not attract the same number of visitors compared to the days when Miner was running the sanctuary or when his sons, Jasper and Manley, were in charge of the 400-acre nature preserve.

Our trails are amazing. We’ve received so many compliments. We’ve had everybody from local horse groups to Boy Scouts to dog clubs. It’s an amazing place for us during these trying times.

She said the number of annual visitors is in the hundreds rather than the thousands.

“Now, in this day and age, Canada geese aren’t as exciting as they used to be, but we still get hundreds of visitors every year from all different parts of the world.“

“(The Chinese) seem to be a very large drawing (card) when they are on tours of Southwestern Ontario.”

One of the side benefits of the pandemic is the increased use of Kennedy Woods, southeast of the Miner home.

Part of the sanctuary, it is now a destination point for Kingsville residents looking for a peaceful place to walk.

“I think it’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in Essex County,” said sanctuary superintendent Joe Vermeulen.“Our trails are amazing. We’ve received so many compliments. We’ve had everybody from local horse groups to Boy Scouts to dog clubs. It’s an amazing place for us during these trying times.” Everaert said the pandemic has deprived the foundation of its normal fundraising activities — dinners, raffles and events that encourage donations.

“People being stuck at home we thought a social media type of fundraiser would be our first step and to notify people what Jack Miner’s has to offer and things you can do even during the pandemic.”

Everaert said the sanctuary hopes to have the fence finished by April 10, Miner’s birthday, and the traditional kickoff of National Wildlife Week in Canada.

She said a local metal worker has said he will create a piece of Miner-inspired artwork that will be installed in the middle of the fence. For those looking to donate to the sanctuary, connect to the link: https://www.gofundme.com/f/rebuild-the-iconic-jack-miner-front-fence?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=p_lico%2Bupdate&fbclid=IwAR1biqC57AiJRU9wUOlThqxAUSCCIyzy0CaL9GbMZUQvT684Gl-7MYawums

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