Making a Case for Restoring Native Species & Ecosystems in Niagara

Take the Case of Malcolmson Eco-Park in St. Catharines

A Special to our Niagara At Large readers from Claire Theijsmeijer, a member of the volunteer advisory committee for the group, Friends of Malcomson Eco-Park

Posted November 7th, 2018 on Niagara At Large

 “Greenspace” — is it enough? 

In Niagara, we have a significant amount of what is termed  greenspace or “open space reserve, protected areas of undeveloped landscape.”

In reality?

Urban greenspace includes parks, cemeteries, vacant lots and golf courses … all “developed” in some way, so that native species of plants, birds and insects are mostly absent. In efforts to improve on this reality, many urban volunteer groups are now working to restore native ecosystems. So why is this important?

Take the case of Malcolmson Eco-Park in St. Catharines.

It’s a city park – with a difference. Given to the City in 1976 by then Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, this former plant nursery for the Seaway, was named for Mary Malcolmson, who started the first Girl Guide group in Canada, and  was the first President of the St. Catharines and District Council of Women (now the Niagara District Council of Women, NDCW).

The 36 acres had many exotic plant species, and beautiful gardens along Lakeshore Rd. that were neglected.

A concerned citizens group saved it from development in 1992, foreseeing the opportunity to restore a “natural” Carolinian forest and a prairie meadow, right inside the urban area. A crazy idea then, but amazing forward thinking! They created a plan to promote the natural eco-systems;  and a volunteer committee — Friends of Malcomson Eco-Park— was established to partner with the City and implement the plan.

Since 1993, the Friends have planted hundreds of native trees, shrubs, and prairie plants, and involved community volunteers in hands-on learning activities.

One of the many environmental projects members of the public have participated in at Malcolmson Ec-Park, this one a tree planting with former St. Catharines Mayor Brian McMullan in the centre and just to the left of a newly planted tree and former St. Catharines MPP and recently elected regional councillor to the right.

An outdoor class area was created for group learning, and a pond and wetland area were enhanced for waterfowl and amphibian habitat. Invasive exotic plants are being removed to allow growth of native species.

Trails have been improved and new ones added to provide good public access. Signs were posted explaining the park goals and the native species. The annual native plant sale has  become a spring highlight.

So back to “why is restoring native eco-systems important?” Because the health of the earth, including we humans, depends on it.

At another planting project in the park

 For example: The threat to European honeybees from disease, chemicals and habitat loss is well documented, along with the resulting losses in our food supply. But there are hundreds of species of native bees and wasps, that we are still studying, that are important pollinators, and that are declining from similar causes. If we lose them, plant life and human life would be severely affected, and there would be a cascade of impacts to air, water and soil quality.

So, preserving native eco-systems even in small areas, is much more than just saving bees.  Although 100 per cent native restoration is not possible, the alternatives — like most city parks or golf courses — are poor habitat for anything but golfers.

Maybe a park like Malcolmson Eco-Park is just an island in a sea of urban development. But islands can be refuges as well as sources of new life. And that’s a reality that brings hope!

A stream flowing through Malcolmson Eco-Park in St. Catharines/Niagara

About Malcolmson Eco-Park – Malcolmson Eco-Park is a unique natural park located in north St. Catharines, Ontario.  In 1976 the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority leased its 36-acre property adjacent Lock 1 to the City of St.Catharines.  

The City of St.Catharines formally purchased the site on August, 1989.  The City of St.Catharines Council named the parkland after St.Catharines’ native Mary Malcolmson who was instrumental in founding the first Canadian Girl Guide Troop in 1910. 

The community surrounding Mary Malcolmson Park turned down a 1989 park development proposal and instead proposed the park become a natural ecological park that would protect the Carolinian species that inhabited the park.

For more information on Friends of Malcomson Eco-Park, click on – .

Fall foliage along a trail in Malcolmson Eco-Park.

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 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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