by: Diane Kunec
When I was at university studying botany and physical geography in my early twenties I was introduced to Nature Manitoba (then the Manitoba Naturalists Society or MNS) by member Kelvin Kroeger. It was 1976, and we were about to start a summer job promoting the establishment of Atikaki as a wilderness park. At the time I had no idea where my membership in the MNS would lead, and how those I met would impact my life.
Above: Atikaki Park, 1970s (from NM archives)
I came to find a home in the MNS, with like-minded people who knew so much about the natural world that I was in love with. They were generous with their knowledge and their passions. In those early days of botany, I learned most of my native prairie plants from fellow MNS member Ardythe McMaster, while John and Ella Jack tutored me in boreal forest botany and gave me my first glimpse of a crimson swamp milkweed - unforgettable!
While I learned the basics in my university classes, nature really came alive walking the trails with these and other naturalists, most of whom were “amateurs” who had spent their lives outdoors learning and observing. They taught me how to apply what I had learned in classes. These close encounters opened up the natural world for me in a way no indoor classroom ever could.
Above: John and Ella Jack, Woodlands, 1969 (from NM archives)
Once hooked, I was compelled to serve the organization that had fed me so well. I became a member of the Board and found myself learning about birds listening to Dennis Fast and Phil Horch at our meetings trade stories of their early morning sightings. Only once could I add one of my own - a flock of cedar waxwings in a giant tree in our back yard, which I viewed from the comfort of our bathtub!!
During that time, Jean Pollock, who ran the MNS office, gave me the nickname “pest” (hopefully with some affection), as I was forever calling the office needing one thing or another for my Board and other committee duties.
In 1980, Marilyn Latta and I teamed up to organize the MNS 60th Anniversary celebrations (which included the opening of the new Boreal Forest Gallery at the Museum). We became friends and I would later join her on the Habitat committee, working with John Morgan, Linda Pearn, Donna Danyluk and Lewis Cocks, helping to establish the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve and assisting with the popular Wildlife Art Show and Auction.
I remember being on the Parks Committee, with Graham MacDonald, then Harvey Williams, developing our presentations to various governments into proposed projects for a tramway and viewing platform at Kluane National Park, a west side road in Riding Mountain National Park and condos in the Whiteshell. We were raising objections on behalf of the MNS and, in the case of Kluane, even receiving an unmarked brown envelope with information to help us make our case. None of these projects went ahead and we breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Along the way I met Dr. Jennifer Shay who was busy working on a clean rivers project for the MNS, as well as teaching botany at the U of Manitoba. Because she knew me from the MNS, she was willing to become my main advisor for my Master’s degree at the Natural Resources Institute. She shared her understanding of field research, and treated us to homemade cake in the field. Several years later, she and her husband Tom graciously hosted my wedding in their Basswood forest.
While working on mixed grass prairie research with Dr. Shay at CFB Shilo, we enjoyed an MNS field day at Aweme, the Criddle residence nearby, with the ever energetic Mike Fedak and the delightful Alma Criddle. Alma provided details of the life her family had graciously carved out of the prairie and bush near the Assiniboine River.
Then there was the time Ardythe and Don McMaster generously brought their tipi to Lake Audy for a special program on Indigenous life when I worked at Riding Mountain National Park as an Interpretive Naturalist. At the end, we enjoyed a glorious sunset over the lake before calling it a night. We woke up to find the McMasters were gone! A wind picked up over night and they had to decamp in a hurry!
When reminded of this event via email, Ardythe replied, "That adventure had such a surprising ending, and we were laughing about it last night, after your email arrived. We had stayed at Lake Audy overnight, following that lovely day, and we do have a grand photo of the tipi taken that evening at sunset. But we were awakened VERY early in the morning, pre-dawn, by thunder and an approaching storm. The great thing about pitching the tipi is to get it down dry! SO we leapt out of bed, roused the kids, and began taking down our tipi, and just throwing it holus bolus into the back of the station wagon. What a pile of canvas! We did manage to get it all in before the rain, though it did begin to sprinkle as we were tying on the poles. Driving out of the park was an adventure of its own as it was sheeting rain enough to restrict our vision. Whew! Were we not lucky to have had such a grand day for the event!"
Above: Ardythe and Don McMaster with their children sit in front of their tipi, 1977 (from NM archives)
In the 90s I joined Cindy Cohlmeyer to work on urban environment projects with folks from other organizations. This morphed into a joint venture with all three levels of government to produce the book Naturescape Manitoba. It was a labour of love shared by many of us, with Donna Danyluk contributing and editing, and Ian Ward providing the cover photograph from their beautifully Naturescaped backyard.
And long suffering office manager Herta Gudauskas probably had a few nicknames for me, as she worked hard to keep up with the reporting demands for our Eco-Action grants!
Looking back on 40 years of membership, these experiences (and the people I shared them with) have punctuated my life with good memories and lasting friendships. They have helped mould “the clay” I was born with into the vessel I have become. They have taught my eyes to see and my ears to hear the natural world in all its wonder and beauty. And for that, I am truly grateful.