Port Franks, ON (Photo by Carol Parafenko).

Port Franks, ON (Photo by Carol Parafenko).

Eastcourt winter wonder

Exploring winter in NCC’s natural spaces

Winter trail, Eastcourt, March 13, 1937 (Photo by Marion Ellis)

Winter trail, Eastcourt, March 13, 1937 (Photo by Marion Ellis)

Canadians are known for spending time outdoors, regardless of the weather. This winter season, be a four-season nature lover by getting outdoors to explore the Nature Conservancy of Canada's (NCC's) nature reserves in Ontario. These spaces connect us to our natural Canadian heritage.

The Ontario Region has many natural areas to visit during these wondrous winter months, including the Eastcourt Nature Reserve.

The Eastcourt Nature Reserve: Significant natural habitat in Ipperwash Beach

In 2014, NCC added 102 acres (41 hectares) of conservation lands for a total of 158 acres (64 hectares) of significant natural habitat in Ipperwash Dunes and Swales adjacent to the community of Ipperwash Beach.

The Eastcourt property is nestled in a band of natural cover that runs parallel to the Lake Huron shoreline between Kettle Point and Grand Bend. In part due to its long history of relatively minimal disturbance and large amounts of natural forest cover, this area supports many rare plant communities. This includes oak savannah, tall grass prairie, dune systems and wetlands. 

This property occurs on a series of long, low, rolling sand dunes that were created over thousands of years by the action of wind and water. The dunes are set well back from the current shoreline and have been stabilized by vegetation. Wet swales lie between the dunes and provide critical wetland habitat — important not only for plants and wildlife, but also for key ecosystem services such as water filtration and flood control.

Grandmother’s roots in Ipperwash

Ethel Ellis, Eastcourt, July 28, 1935 (Photo by Marion Ellis).

Ethel Ellis, Eastcourt, July 28, 1935 (Photo by Marion Ellis).

The Eastcourt property was owned by Ethel Ellis and her family for more than 80 years. To honour her memory and love of Ipperwash, her grandchildren, Wendy Johnson and John Russell, donated a substantial portion of the land value to NCC.

Eastcourt, named for a place in England, was bought by Ethel Ellis around 1932. A main cottage, a couple of guest cottages and a stable were built on this property for the family to use throughout the seasons in Ipperwash Beach. (The cottage was burned down in 1941 by soldiers who had broken in and left the fire going.)

Guest cottage, Eastcourt, Winter 1937 (Photo by Marion Ellis).

Guest cottage, Eastcourt, Winter 1937 (Photo by Marion Ellis).

In 1977, it was proposed that a road would go through the property to link up with Ipperwash Provincial Park. Marion Ellis, Ethel Ellis’ daughter, wrote a letter to Lorne Henderson, Member of Provincial Parliament, opposing this:
"I am writing because both my sister and I are very much opposed to the idea of a road going through our property; this property has been owned by our family for upwards of 45 years. It is a type of property that really should be preserved for its scenic and aesthetic qualities. During my mother's lifetime, 125,000 pine trees were planted and these trees have now grown to maturity or close to maturity. The construction of a road would also adversely affect the wild life," said Marion Ellis.
It was the family’s wish to preserve Eastcourt’s natural heritage and this was honoured through the dedication of the Eastcourt Nature Reserve.

Eastcourt’s natural heritage

Multiple natural heritage designations have been applied to the Eastcourt and neighbouring property. They are part of a designated Carolinian Canada site and an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest. The area also shelters the Port Franks Forested Dunes Important Bird Area, Ipperwash Interdunal Provincially Significant Wetland Complex and a Lambton County Environmentally Sensitive Area.

Exploring Eastcourt’s winter wonderland

Winter trail, Eastcourt, February 11, 1937 (Photo by Marion Ellis).

Winter trail, Eastcourt, February 11, 1937 (Photo by Marion Ellis).

NCC is working with the local community group Lambton Shores Nature Trails to manage the network of trails on the Ipperwash Dunes and Swales property, which includes Eastcourt. The group is doing an excellent job of maintaining the trail system and making the property accessible to visitors.

Lambton Shores is home to over 200 bird species and there are many birds that winter in the area. Take a winter hike through Eastcourt Nature Reserve and count how many of birds you discover while visiting.

Winter birding challenge!

How many kinds of birds can you spot?

o American goldfinch
o Bald eagle
o Blue jay
o Downy woodpecker
o Chickadee
o Horned lark
o Tufted titmouse
o White-breasted nuthatch

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Eastcourt Nature Reserve

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