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Nature festival brings people back down to earth

'I like her to have the experience of walking the trails, seeing some animals, breathing the fresh air, being away from the buzz of the city' Sarah Vincent

The sixth annual Louise de Kiriline Lawrence Nature Festival paid tribute to this astonishing woman’s work as a world-renowned naturalist.

“Many people remember her as a midwife who looked after the Dionne quintuplets during the first year of their lives. But she also had a real love of nature. She wrote 12-hundred research papers and published five books on nature. Her work was recognized by naturalists and scientists,” said Fred Pinto president of Friends of Laurier Woods and the Nipissing Naturalists Club.

In 1969 de Kiriline Lawrence was awarded the John Burroughs Medal for her book “The Lovely and the Wild.” 

“People still have fond memories of meeting her, sharing a cup of tea with her. People do remember her walking around with binoculars in the woods back in Bonfield. They called her the Bird Lady,” said Pinto.

Upon hearing her story Theresa Haist, a member of Friends of Laurier Woods, took a keen interest in her work.

“She was such an independent, brave woman. She was born in Sweden to an aristocratic family. Her father, who was a modern man, allowed her to become a nurse which was unheard of in her circle. He encouraged her to be an outdoorswoman. She moved to Russia where she worked as a Red Cross nurse and met her first husband who died during the war,” said Haist.

‘She eventually moved to Canada and ended up coming to this area. She met her second husband who was a trapper and they bought property at Pimisi Bay. She spent much of her time in the woods there studying nature.”

Haist had a display of some of de Kiriline Lawrence’s books, her fur coat, pictures, biography and a chickadee carved by the naturalist.

“The chickadee is just a few inches high that she carved, but she did many things. She carved, she painted, she wrote books, she raised her dogsled team that she took to get her to home visits when she was in Corbeil nursing.”

Naming the nature festival in her honour is a way to ensure her legacy lives on.

“Only two per cent of the monuments in Canada recognize the contributions of women, so we said we should do something about this. So, we raised funds to get a provincial historic plaque and it is set up at Pimisi Bay between North Bay and Mattawa. When you go there you can see it and if you look across the bay, you can see where she used to live because the cabin is still there,” said Pinto.

The festival also provided educational and hands-on learning opportunities.

Dressed as Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, first-time volunteer Julie Robinson was a hit with the youngsters.

“It allows our imagination to take flight. Harry Potter’s wand was made of wood, so we have some wands that the kids can paint and some rocks they can paint. So, it is just a good connection.”  

Kaye Edmonds is a volunteer with the Nipissing Naturalist Club.

“It is nice to get the children out in nature and get to know where Laurier Woods is located and visit the trails. The kids are enjoying hearing the birds and today they are doing crafts and there is some pretty awesome work here.”

Luke Thomson, a licenced falconer, brought two of his birds, explaining their role in nature.

“The peregrine used to be on the endangered species list, but the species is back off the list. All the falconers that were around in Canada gave up all their working birds in the breeding programs and were now able to release those birds into the wild. It is called tame hacking. So, what they do is have a big enclosure where there is food, the babies can go out and come back as many times as they need to get food until they learn how to hunt on their own,” explained Thomson.

“So that is the reason why I’m doing a lot of this, so people can see them up close because they are beautiful, magnificent creatures and generally you’re not going to get that close to them in the wild.”

Sarah Vincent and her family were visiting relatives in the area when they decided to attend the festival.

“It is great for her because I grew up in North Bay, but she is growing up in South Etobicoke and there isn’t much bush there. And I like her to have the experience of walking the trails, seeing some animals, breathing the fresh air, being away from the buzz of the city. So, this is nice,” said Vincent.

“It means a lot to me because I want her to have that free play outdoors as well. We love it.”

The annual festival is hosted by the Nipissing Naturalist Club, the Friends of Laurier Woods and the North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Authority.