Coyote Lake, by Stuart McLean
Stuart McLean at NCC's 50th anniversary gala in Calgary, Alberta (Photo by NCC)
Stuart McLean was best known for hosting the CBC radio program The Vinyl Cafe. He was also a conservationist who supported NCC’s cause, and on various occasions acted as a spokesperson for the organization, including voicing a PSA and speaking at NCC’s 50th anniversary gala in Calgary, Alberta.
Stuart first told the story of Coyote Lake at the gala — a tale that would reach many more Canadians when it was printed in the Globe and Mail and included in The Vinyl Cafe.
Over the years the story of Coyote Lake lived on, touching many hearts and helping to raise awareness for NCC’s conservation work. Here is Stuart's story, from the Globe and Mail supplement printed on July 5, 2013:
Coyote Lake, by Stuart McLean
Stuart McLean is a bestselling author, award-winning journalist and humorist, and host of The Vinyl Cafe. Over one million people listen to The Vinyl Cafe every weekend on CBC Radio, Sirius Satellite Radio and on a growing number of public radio stations across the United States. A version of Coyote Lake was originally presented on The Vinyl Cafe. This edited version is printed here with his permission.
In North America, we have been taught to acquire stuff, rather than to give stuff away.
In fact, we have been told it is our duty to acquire stuff. It is our consumption, we are told, that makes the wheels on the bus go round and round.
Once you have learned to acquire, you tend to keep. If you give stuff away, you might live to regret it.
People do it nonetheless.
I want to tell you about two of them: Eric and Doris Hopkins. In the late 1960s Eric and Doris were living in Edmonton. They were modest people of modest means. Eric had already retired from his job at the co-op. Doris was still working as a teacher.
They were an outdoorsy couple. They had always enjoyed hiking and skiing and birding. And they were dreamers. They dreamed of having a place in the country.
But they had never been able to afford one. So in November of 1971, when they were out for one of their drives, and they saw a small sign on a country road advertising land for sale, they stopped and read it. The sign said the wooded land they were looking at was owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway and was up for sale by public tender.
Eric and Doris parked their car and walked through the bush to see what the land looked like. On their hike, they came across a beautiful and completely undeveloped lake. It was the lake of their dreams.
Their golden pond.
They went home and, with absolutely no hope of success, they cobbled together what they could and submitted a tender.
Coyote Lake, UNSRB, AB (Photo by NCC)
When the bidding was done, it turned out Eric and Doris were the only bidders. It turned out they were now the owners of 320 acres of wooded wilderness: a quarter section of uncleared land that was home to elk, deer, moose and waterfowl. And a piece of Coyote Lake.
They erected a little pre-fab house on the edge of the lake.
For three decades, they lived there together. It became the place the family would gather: for family visits, for birthdays, to show off babies, to bring new partners or spouses for Christmas.
The place where young and old would go hiking and skiing along the trails, canoeing on the lake, skating on the lake, bird watching beside the lake and star gazing. In other words, it became the family home.
They thought, "It is so beautiful here. It should always be like this."
But there was a problem. Right across from their little house, there was a point of land that jutted into the lake. The point was owned by a man who lived in Calgary. Eric and Doris began to worry about what he might do to that point one day.
So, Eric and Doris found their way to the Nature Conservancy of Canada. They suggested if the conservancy bought the point, it would mean the lake would be protected forever.
The people from the conservancy explained that they would love to do that, but it would not mean the lake would be protected forever. It would mean half the lake would be protected forever.
Eric and Doris said, "You are right." And then they said, "If you will buy the point across the lake, we will give you our land, and then the whole lake will be protected. Forever."
It was like saying, "If you buy the point across from us, we will give you everything we have in the world."
The conservancy bought the point across the lake. And Doris and Eric were good to their word.
When they gave their property on Coyote Lake to the conservancy, they retained one right: The right to live in their little house for the rest of their lives. Which they more or less did.
And that sounds, more or less, like the end of the story.
But the story doesn't end there.
There is a postscript. The conservancy got the money to buy the point across from Eric and Doris's house from John and Barbara Poole. It was a donation.
Now that he was involved in the protection of Coyote Lake, John Poole wanted to conserve as much of the natural world around it as possible.
He talked to all neighbouring land owners and told them what Doris and Eric had done, and today, because of Doris and Eric's initiative, John Poole's energy and the conservancy's resilience, the conservancy owns over 1,200 contiguous acres (470 hectares) around the lake — and are focused on getting more.
I recently spent a summer at the same lake where I spent my boyhood summers. And, although the lake was unchanged, and some of the cottages too, I could feel the world creeping in, all the new fancy houses on the hills around, all the traffic on the roads. "The world is too much with us," wrote Wordsworth some two hundred years ago. "Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers."
Wordsworth was right of course. But it's people like the Hopkinses and the Pooles who manage to wrest a bit of that power back.
I asked Eric and Doris' children what they thought about what their parents had done with the family property.
"We were surprised," they said. "But we honoured their wishes, and celebrated with them as the original one quarter grew to two and eventually to nine protected quarters around the lake.
"This is their legacy, and we are proud. Proud of their foresight and commitment to the natural world."