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Memorial forest leaves a living legacy in P.E.I.

MaryEllen Gaudet is continuing the legacy of her cousin, John Edward Dalton, to grow 12,000 white spruce trees, along with native hardwoods, which will spring into a forest surrounding a poppy shaped path.
MaryEllen Gaudet is continuing the legacy of her cousin, John Edward Dalton, to grow 12,000 white spruce trees, along with native hardwoods, which will spring into a forest surrounding a poppy shaped path. - Desiree Anstey

BALTIC, P.E.I. - In a former parched potato field, MaryEllen Gaudet is continuing a legacy to grow 12,000 white spruce trees, along with native hardwoods, which will spring into a forest surrounding a poppy seed pathway.

The field, 11 acres of land in Baltic, is the John Edward Dalton and MaryEllen Gaudet Memorial Forest Habitat Conservation Area.

“John took 11 acres of his land and joined the P.E.I. Forest Enhancement Program (FEP) to plant white spruce trees on the former farmland of his maternal grandfather. This was in 2013, before he unexpectedly died two years later in May,” said Gaudet, who is Dalton’s cousin.

Gaudet, an environmentalist who owns eight acres of woodland in Stanley Bridge, purchased Dalton’s estate to carry forward his name and passion for the environment.

The barren land will be transformed into an eternal memorial forest for future generations to enjoy.

“Mark Arsenault, a habitat and wildlife technician, lobbied with the board on the P.E.I. Department of Agriculture and Forestry, and now the land is protected under the Habitat Conservation Area. In my will, I have stated that this land is to be protected forever.

“It’s a memorial forest, and I will donate it to Island Nature Trust when I die. The forest will tie into their educational programs, and last spring I built a $3,000 parking pad that can accommodate a (school) bus,” she said.

In the centre of the forest, Gaudet will commemorate Dalton, who served as a marine engineer in the navy, with a memorial stone.

“He was a veteran, so the idea of the poppy seed path system came to me in the middle of the night. I just took a piece of paper and drew it, so I’m putting a lot of my own money and time on this project.”

Picnic tables and a small shelter will overlook the stone with Dalton’s story on it.

He left a legacy of caring in his wake, she said.

“John has three main legacies,” said Gaudet. “He started this habitat conservation area, he gave a gift to the P.E.I. Humane Society to help build a new surgery room and he built an engineer room at Dalhousie University.

“He was also a long-time donor at the Prince County Foundation and he gave a sizeable gift to support their equipment fund. He has a plaque on their wall.”

Gaudet has left instructions in her will for Island Nature Trust to turn the forest into a protected area.

“When I die, it will be passed to them, and the next step up is to 100 per cent protect the land. Nobody can ever touch it, so that’s one more piece of land for the foxes, eagles and other wildlife out there.”

She’s also making sure the seedlings get a good start.

“The wind is blasting the trees making it hard for them to grow, but because I’m a carpenter I go to the waste watch drop-off area and recycle materials to make natural wind blockers that protect the tiny trees. This will speed up the growing process, so in 10 to 15 years I hope we will have a forest.”

Gaudet hopes volunteers will join her in efforts to grow and maintain the living tribute.

“I’ve done 80 per cent of the work myself, and it will be great to get volunteers to help,” she concluded.

Those interested in volunteering can contact Island Nature Trust.

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