Restoring memories through nature conservation
Gardiner Point, NB (Photo by Andrew Herygers/NCC staff)
On the northeast coast of New Brunswick, about 40 kilometres from the city of Miramichi, lies the Gardiner Point Nature Reserve.
Standing on the beach of the nature reserve, you can see far up the jagged coastline of Miramichi Bay. The water sparkles playfully as ducks bob up and down in the waves, and the cheerful sounds of a family biking nearby can be heard over the rustle of wind in the trees. This beautiful nature reserve, which totals 21 hectares, was donated by a U.S. citizen named Cheryl Coffin.
Cheryl Coffin lives in Maine, but she cares deeply about Canadian nature and wildlife. She first came to Miramichi Bay as a child in the 1950s and spent much of her childhood visiting her maternal grandparents in the community of Gray Rapids. Cheryl’s father, who was also from Maine, fell in love with the province’s alluring coastal landscape. He purchased property at Gardiner Point, about 80 kilometres from Gray Rapids, which he later passed down to Cheryl.
Cheryl vividly remembers childhood trips to visit her grandparents in June. The beautiful landscape around her blossomed with trilliums, lady’s-slippers, mayflowers and strawberries. She would see Atlantic salmon in the river and the occasional moose and deer on the land.
Cheryl returned to the peaceful ambience of her inherited property as an adult. The Miramichi area is now much more developed than it was during her childhood. Seeing the increased population, Cheryl noticed that she was not the only one with fond memories of the area. In particular, she noticed that people from local communities were using the beaches along Miramichi Bay for various outdoor activities.
“In the summer,” says Cheryl, “they would picnic, swim, walk their dogs, sit in the sun and relax.” It was the vibrant activity of these communities as well as her love of nature that drove Cheryl to donate the property for conservation. She was able to donate the property to American Friends of Canadian Nature (AFCN), an American organization that supports nature conservation in Canada. AFCN then transferred the property to NCC to care for over the long term.
Cheryl is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada. As she lives in the U.S., she was able to benefit from a tax receipt from AFCN. The organization has played an important role in many donations similar to Cheryl’s, be it land, cash or securities. To find out more, visit https://americanfriendscanadiannature.org/.
Cheryl is passionate about nature, especially salt water and the species that frequent the unique coastal environment. As the Gardiner Point Nature Reserve is made up both of beach and Wabanaki (Acadian) forests, it supports a diverse array of species. The forest is comprised of temperate, long-lived trees such as spruce, birch, red maple, trembling aspen and balsam fir. The beach has been used as nesting ground for bank swallow, a threatened species in Canada. The property also lies within a section of the coast that is important for spring sea ducks and bay ducks, making it a priority coastal region for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. Other birds known to frequent the nature reserve include great blue heron, belted kingfisher, Canada jay, hermit thrush, purple finch and black-capped chickadee.
Cheryl Coffin with Paula Noel and Meghan Coyle of NCC (Photo by Andrew Herygers/NCC staff)
Along with conserving nature, one of Cheryl’s great passions is art. In 2021, she received an email from Paula Noel, NCC’s program director for New Brunswick, informing her that a great blue heron, named Harper, had been tagged by the Maine Heron Observation Network. Harper had been recorded near Gardiner Point and then subsequently recorded near Cheryl’s home on the coast of Maine. “That very same day that she said Harper the heron had flown over our bay,” Cheryl recalls fondly, “my husband and I heard heron sounds in the sky.”
Harper had flown both over her home in the U.S and the location of many of her childhood memories in Canada. Captivated, Cheryl began to incorporate Harper’s story into a series of paintings. She imagined Harper gathering with other herons and searching for food. She envisioned the remarkable aerial views that Harper might see during her migration, from the warm waters down south back up to the familiar east coast of New Brunswick. Cheryl painted with creativity and passion, using her love of nature and memories of Miramichi as a jumping-off point for her art.
Gathering by Cheryl Coffin
The Gardiner Point Nature Reserve is just a small part of this area on Miramichi Bay, where so many people and species have found a home. Harper the heron returns to the area every year for food just as Cheryl returns to the location of her childhood memories. This special property is a reminder that no matter who or what we are, nature remains a vital part of all our lives.