In early November (2016) I received an email from David and Nancy Pease, landowners of about 200 acres at Cape Dundas. The email read:“Because you were our first contact with the Bruce Trail Association so many years ago I want you to be the first to know our thinking. “There is little doubt in our minds that the Cape Dundas property is a very special place and it is our wish that it remain so for as long as possible. We would like to donate this property to the Bruce Trail [Conservancy] . While we could sell the property, receiving significant financial returns, this would only result in the eventual destruction of this jewel on the Bruce.”
I was overwhelmed by the Pease’s generosity and immediately called Beth Gilhespy . She responded quickly: “Thank you for this wonderful news. I was just with a group at Cape Dundas and was telling them how wonderful the landowner was, and how important was the land to our corridor. “ Beth quickly called David and the donation procedure began immediately. That necessitated steps such as surveying, appraisal, and the legal paperwork of land transfer. The donation would result in the securing of a major section of Trail.
The history of the BTC’s relationship with the Pease family goes back about fifteen years. The Peninsula Club had built an isolated side trail on land it had acquired, leading to the Jackson’s Cove Lookout. I wrote an article for The Rattler praising its beauty and shortly afterwards received a call from David. He asked me simply “why don’t you put such a trail on my land?” He invited me for lunch and I immediately accepted. It was a blustery winter’s day and I got stuck in their driveway. But the lunch was delicious and we had a fascinating conversation about the property. The Trail was granted a handshake agreement and that began what over the years was a very supportive relationship.
Chris Walker was the BTA’s Trail Director at the time and we realized the importance of the property to the Trail. Chris had a home in the Peninsula so that winter we went north to scout a trail corridor. I remember that on six different days we trudged through snow to learn about the land. (It was tough slugging but with no leaves on the trees, it is actually much easier to see the contours of the land.) With us on some of these explorations were veteran BTA members such as John and Sue Lillie and Donna Baker.
We had flagged a route and before building the Trail, asked David Pease to come north to ensure that it met with his approval. I remember him stopping us once to ask why we had chosen the specific route we had. Our answer, I think, was that it was simply an easy corridor. He responded that we should look towards the scarp face where there was a series of crevice caves. He knew the land much better than we did, and that option became the chosen route.
Then on a “Spruce Up The Bruce” weekend, that May 2004 we had about 45 volunteers open the trail in one day. They were divided into six teams and each completed their work by mid-afternoon. Then we used all that help in a “bucket brigade” to carry flagstones across the wet alvar to create a raised treadway. Some of us then headed to Lion’s Head for a celebratory beverage.
Two of the volunteers, Sandra Purchase and Tove Fynbo, came to me at day’s end and pleaded to become the trail captains for the property; they simply had fallen in love with its beauty. They continued in that role for about ten years; each spring they would head north with a group of friends to spend a day on the Trail. The Peases were regularly informed of their care for the Trail and the love they had for the land.
Both Sandra and Tove became good friends of some BTC members (they traveled about four times to Saba with the Lillies and my wife and me to build trail in the Caribbean.) Then Sandra developed cancer. I am still moved by the story of her last visit: she was too ill to hike the trail, but while her friends did the work, she sat in the warmth of the sun beside the parking area. She wanted to help with “her” trail but all she could do was some trimming for the first fifty feet. Nonetheless, it was so satisfying to her to have that last visit. After her death, a memorial hike was held on this land; in attendance were family, friends and Bruce Trail members. Sandra was such a loving person; it was a fitting tribute to who she was.
The relationship with the Peases continued strong, with communication from a variety of BTC personnel. For example, I remember another luncheon invitation about three years ago when John Whitworth and I traveled to the Pease’s farm for an interview. The result which some of our readers hopefully remember was an article in The Rattler in which David explained why he would share his land with others who appreciated its beauty.
This donation is an extremely important step in securing the Trail at Cape Dundas. In the 1960s there was some initial opposition to the idea of a trail; local residents feared the imposition of provincial government controls on their land. The initial Bruce Trail route in 1967 had to cut inland on a road allowance and then cottage road to the south shore of Barrow Bay. Then in 1978 the Preliminary Proposal of the Niagara Escarpment Commission defined Cape Dundas as one of the two most important areas along the Niagara Escarpment for securement. Of course, the result was no acquisition but higher land prices!
But since then the Bruce Trail has made some amazing gains. East from the Hope Bay Forest to the Jackson’s Cove Road is now secured (except for one loyal landowner with whom we have very positive relations; she is currently one of our trail captains.) Then from the parking area at the road we continue on Bruce Trail land (with one small piece owned by our friends at the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy). That reaches the Pease property which leads north and west along a short road allowance on the shoreline to the Chris Walker Nature Reserve.
This outline, I hope, illustrates how important is the Pease donation in securing this optimum route. The area is a vivid example of what the Bruce Trail can accomplish in land preservation over time. It is a gift which should be loudly celebrated in our 50th year.