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Heart-felt art celebrates the legacy of the Couchiching Conservancy

Outdoors columnist says artists' work, capturing the land and the love through art, is 'truly amazing'
2018-11-18 Legacy Landscapes
The Legacy Landscapes exhibit at the Orillia Museum of Art & History celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Couchiching Conservancy.

Legacy is a word we hear a lot lately, especially as it relates to the passing of a legendary person, or great event (e.g. WWI 100th anniversary). A legacy is something passed forward, sometimes tangible, sometimes simply spiritual. It is a remembrance of a time, of a person, of deeds done.

Most of you know that I work for a land trust organization called The Couchiching Conservancy. We try to protect ecologically significant land from undue development pressures. This organization is celebrating 25 years of doing just that, and has made some impressive steps.

It started with a kitchen-table talk, as many great ideas do, a group of friends lamenting the blatant disregard displayed by developers and levels of government towards protecting wetlands, woodlands or any large tract of land.

"Somebody should do something!". And so they did.

It began small but with grand ideas. Create a strategic plan of where the most critical ecosystems are in the Lake Couchiching region, find out what development pressures may be on these lands, meet the current landowners to see if they also shared a sense of doom for the longevity of their natural environment. And then hope they give us their property. Yeah right, like that's going to happen.

Surprise! Landowners were indeed interested, especially those who held land that was in a family linage that went back a few generations. (And no, I'm not about to start debating treaty rights in this column... albeit a very good topic to research and understand.) A property here, a property there, and soon the buzz in the field was that this Couchiching Conservancy might be on to something.

Twenty-five years later, the Conservancy is involved with the care and custody of 44 properties, totaling over 13,000 acres.

Some of these are now owned by the group, others are in partnership with other conservation organizations, and 13 properties are still with the private landowner yet their deed now has a conservation easement attached that restricts what activities may occur on that parcel for centuries to come.

Most, nay all, of these properties have come from former landowners who had a sense of legacy. They knew the land, the previous owners, the wildlife that lives on the land, the importance that it stays intact. They have created their own legacy by ensuring the land will remain "as is" for the next generation, and the next, to experience.

Because the lands acquired are unique ecologically, they are by default "pretty cool" places (my description). Wetland, rockland, woodland, limestone plain... urban, rural, occupied, vacant... home for species at risk and home to just regular members of the ecosystem. Special places.

Unfortunately, these properties are like scattered postage stamps on a large map. To remain fully functional they have to be connected, to form corridors, linkages from one area to another.

This notion has almost been completed in the Carden Plain, with protected properties now touching borders from Kirkfield northwards to Queen Elizabeth II Wilderness Park. The Conservancy's work is not completed; more linkages must be protected.

However, as the 25th anniversary has arrived, a special event was arranged to celebrate the good work that has been done.

Starting almost two years ago, a select group of local professional landscape artists were contacted and asked if  they would be interested in wandering about these properties, recording their impressions on paper or canvas. Almost 40 of them said yes!

And now we get to see the results. And they are truly amazing. My wife Juliana and I curated the show, and as each artwork was brought in on drop-off day, our jaws dropped and our eyes got big.

The collection that began to assemble, propped against the wall and laid out on the floor, was beyond our expectations.

Each of the artists was also asked to write a short bit about what inspired them to paint this particular scene. While Julie hung art and re-hung art, and re-hung art until it was all just right, I got to summarize the artist's statements. Wow, they write as emotionally as they paint.

Pride. Concern. Being positive. Legacy. Every artist had those sentiments captured in both word and paint. More than a few damp eyes were noted on opening day as words were read and images absorbed. Art is powerful and so is the land. Brought together, the event is called "Legacy Landscapes".

A side-note that has hit me hard is that several of the artists are sons and daughters of previously well-known artists. There is lineage here. Yet another form of legacy.

Please make some time to drop into the Orillia Museum of Art and History on Peter Street. Your $5 admission will let you explore not only this incredible show, but three other galleries as well. Worth it!