Shore of the Novatney Property, Pelee Island, ON (Photo by Sam Brinker, OMNR)

Shore of the Novatney Property, Pelee Island, ON (Photo by Sam Brinker, OMNR)

James Duncan (Photo by NCC)

James Duncan (Photo by NCC)

Honouring a conservation giant

James Duncan joined the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) in 1995, beginning a career that would shape the future of land conservation in Ontario. For more than 20 years, James was a force to be reckoned with, touching hundreds of land securement and stewardship projects through his various roles as director of land securement, program manager for southwestern and northwestern Ontario, and finally as regional vice-president.

James was instrumental in protecting some of Ontario’s conservation gems. In 1999, he helped with the historic repatriation of Middle Island. Located in Lake Erie, this southernmost point of Canada had been in American hands for more than 80 years. But in an edge-of-your-seat, Hollywood-style auction, NCC, led by James, won Middle Island.

James Duncan at Big Trout Bay, ON (Photo by NCC)

James Duncan at Big Trout Bay, ON (Photo by NCC)

Always looking at the big picture led James to conquer the seemingly impossible. A larger-than-life personality, James sought out the tough projects that most would never dare to tackle; one of these projects was Big Trout Bay Nature Reserve.

Located on the north shore of Lake Superior, the spectacular 2,500-acre (1,018-hectare) property is one of the last privately owned, undeveloped stretches of shoreline between Duluth, Minnesota, and Thunder Bay, Ontario. For more than 15 years, James worked with partners on both sides of the border.

In 2017, James saw his conservation vision realized with the permanent protection of Big Trout Bay, thanks to the generous support of the Government of Canada, through the Natural Areas Conservation Program, the JA Woollam Foundation, the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, the Bobolink Foundation, The Nature Conservancy’s Wisconsin and Minnesota programs, The Conservation Fund, Green Leaf Advisors, The Rogers Foundation and many individual donors in both the United States and Canada.

“With a wink and a smile, James’s creative risk-taking resulted in amazing land deals that have protected some of Ontario’s most precious natural spaces, a legacy that will be enjoyed and cherished for many generations,” said Wendy Cridland, NCC's acting regional vice-president, Ontario.

These are just a few of the many, many conservation triumphs James helped NCC accomplish over his long career. Along the way, James guided and mentored a growing team of dedicated conservationists to carry on a legacy of biodiversity conservation for Ontario.

Chris Maher and James Duncan at Elbow Lake, ON (Photo by NCC)

Chris Maher and James Duncan at Elbow Lake, ON (Photo by NCC)

“James corralled me into multiple jobs I didn’t think I was ready for,” remembers Kristyn Ferguson, acting director of conservation, Ontario region. “Every time I said, ‘No, but thank you for thinking of me, I'm going to stick with stewardship for a few more years’ he would answer, ‘No, I think you should apply for this role.’ No matter what argument I gave, he had a counter-argument, and eventually he won me over to his side. And five years later in the same role, it turns out he was right all along. James always provided me with the support I needed to be successful; he was a true mentor and leader.”

To ensure that his memory lives on, NCC has created the James Duncan Memorial Fund for Ontario. The Memorial Fund reflects James’s commitment to and passion for conservation in Ontario and will include:

  • A protected 17-acre (7-hectare) property on Pelee Island, which will be named after James, and a public access and viewing area overlooking one of NCC’s restored wetlands, where a sign about James’ role in conservation on the island will be installed;
  • Supporting continuing conservation efforts on Cockburn Island;
  • The naming of a trail and installation of a recognition plaque at a lookout over Lake Superior at the Big Trout Bay Nature Reserve;
  • The planting of 23 trees at NCC nature reserves that James was instrumental in establishing;
  • Support for existing and emerging science, stewardship and securement projects across Ontario.

“Above all, James was a devoted dad, husband, son, brother and friend,” said Dana Kleniewski, NCC’s director of development and communications. “We hope that there’s some measure of comfort for his loved ones in knowing that he will forever be remembered throughout the province at many of the amazing properties he helped to conserve.”

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