In 2011, the charity, with its conservation partners and community supporters, celebrated ten years of progress since inception. The incorporation of rare Charitable Research Reserve took place December 6, 2001. Within a matter of weeks, rare – a sizeable piece of Waterloo Region approaching 1000 acres on the banks of the Grand River – unveiled its vision for the former Cruickston Park Farms to the public, a vision to preserve landscape for its ecological value. The specific objectives of this vision were a year in the making: while the Board of Directors established the charitable status and financial commitments, an Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) undertook a four-season inventory of the property.
The inventory of the property highlights a story which is told by the landscape that is now rare, and it’s a history that dates back much further than ten years. In fact, the history of rare goes back many thousands of years – millions if you consider the geology. Artefacts recovered at rare date from 10,500 years ago through to the earliest pioneer settlers; the dolomitic limestone cliffs along rare River Trail and fossils in the stone walls of the Slit Barn date back 420 million years.
Our Slit Barn and companion farmhouse, known as the Resource House (and jointly known as the rare ECO Centre), are an important reminder of the Mennonite families that settled in this area, along the banks in the Grand River Valley, beginning in about 1800.
The 1817 survey notes of land surveyor Adrian Marlet, who surveyed Dumfries township, describe the forest in what is now rare Charitable Research Reserve as consisting of “maple and beech and elm.” Dutch elm disease has eliminated all of the large elms. However, the existing upland woods (which include Indian Woods, as they are fondly known) are still dominated by sizeable sugar maple and American beech, demonstrating the long-term ecological stability of the remaining upland forests.
In 1837, The Lamb’s Inn was built in Blair, the oldest village in Upper Canada, as a stage coach inn. The charity’s administration has operated out of the Lamb’s Inn since 2005. Prior to rare, the building was most famously known as Nicholson’s Tavern.
In 1853, William Ashton purchased about 230 acres of land along the Galt-Blair Road. He is said to have named his property Cruickston Park in honour of the Cruickston Castle, the ship that brought him from England.
Within a few years, a downturn in the economy left Ashton financially overextended and in 1858, he sold his property to Matthew Wilks. From New York, Wilks bought the estate, intending to use it as a summer residence. Eventually, he completed building Cruickston Park manor house (now privately owned), and accumulated lands for farming totalling about a thousand acres.
The estate remained in the family until Matthew Wilks’ grandson, Matthew Wilks Keefer, gifted the estate to the University of Guelph, which took possession of it upon his death in 1973.
Several months after the incorporation of rare, a reference in The Canadian Field Naturalist journal outlined the vision of Matthew Wilks Keefer. Consider these excerpts and imagine the delight of discovering that Keefer’s vision spoke to the very ecological and environmental concerns that remain with us at rare, today:
“[Cruickston Park Farm] lends itself to experimental projects in conservation…what occurs to air, water, soil, vegetation, crop yields, and, indeed the total ecology of [Waterloo Region] as urban changes take place can be continuously observed.”
“…this tract of land is unique in size, location and significance.”
“…more specifically, kept as a single unit.”
Keefer’s vision stressed the importance and need in the future to undertake “research close to urbanization within a controlled environment….” In addition to research, he advocated the need for his property to serve as a place for meetings and conferences, study programs, environmental demonstrations and research seminars on the impact of urban development.
Keefer’s language is, of course, that of the 1960s and yet his thinking is very much of the 21st Century, for he recognized the value of both the preservation of landscape – and the understanding of ecosystems.
In 1996, the University of Guelph severed 53 acres of the Cruickston Park estate which included the manor house and sold it to private owners for personal use.
In 2000, with funding from concerned citizens, the remaining 913 acres of Cruickston Park was purchased as part of a conservation strategy. In December 2001, the Cruickston Charitable Research Reserve was incorporated as a charity, and by February 2002 the land transfer was completed, allowing the 913 acres to be preserved in perpetuity.
The new name of ‘rare’
In October 2004, the Cruickston Charitable Research Reserve was renamed rare. Its bold new name and accompanying graphic logo has helped to end the confusion between the private 53-acre Cruickston Park and the newly formed charity. It also signalled an acknowledgement of the property’s history beyond that of the colonial time of the Cruickston Manor, highlighting both the past and the future.
Since that time, volunteers and staff, with the financial support of hundreds of donors and many partners in conservation, have made much progress toward the rare vision of keeping the Reserve intact; offering a robust research program that begins a Chain of Learning that extends to the public, and the youngest of students.
There is satisfaction in knowing that the parallel visions of Matthew Wilks Keefer, in 1968, and rare in 2001, continue today. The common denominator of these parallel visions is a recognition that the well-being of people and their activities are imbedded in and dependent upon ecosystems