Uncultivated land bought by the United Farmers of Alberta’s first president will become the Bower Wildlife Sanctuary
Part of the inheritance of a pioneer farm family is being preserved for future generations.
Land bought about a century ago by James Bower, the first president of the United Farmers of Alberta, has been donated by his granddaughters to the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
It will form the new 477-acre Bower Wildlife Sanctuary, most of which has never been cultivated, said Carys Richards, the NCC’s communications manager for the Alberta region.
“I think when James Bower initially purchased it, he planned to make it into a working farm, and I don’t think it ever came to fruition,” she said.
“I think that the family just ended up using it like a natural escape so they could just go and enjoy the outdoors.”
Bower bought the first International Harvester gasoline-powered tractor in Western Canada in 1907, according to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. He started Sunnybrook Farm, which is now a museum in Red Deer, deciding to settle in the area in 1899 after missing his train.
He is remembered as a leading light in a farm movement that eventually led to the UFA forming the provincial government from 1921 to 1935. He was its first president from 1909 to 1911, as well as vice-president of the Canadian Council of Agriculture.
Despite experiencing a heart attack while giving a speech on behalf of farmers during a visit by then-Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier in 1910, he continued until he finished his presentation.
He was 61 years old when he died in 1921. The property that is now the Bower Wildlife Sanctuary consists of land he purchased from Canadian Pacific Railway, along with 127 acres purchased by his son, Charles.
Sisters Dorothy and Ruth Bower, who inherited the property from their father, Charles, and who live nearby, donated it to NCC.
“Over the decades, their care and dedication has ensured that the wildlife that live in and travel freely through the region have safe passage across their land, which is why it is now named the Bower Wildlife Sanctuary,” said a statement by NCC.
It will not be open to the public and its exact location is being kept confidential, said Richards. The sisters have a long-term lease holder on the property who will continue to take care of it, she said.
The land is about five kilometres northeast of Red Deer adjoining the river of the same name. The property is a rare example of a natural habitat with a high biodiversity close to an urban area, said Richards.
“Everything around it is getting developed and cultivated. This is a natural little safe refuge for wildlife, which is why the sisters are wanting to call this a wildlife sanctuary because over the generations and over the years, they’ve seen a lot of animals move through the property.”
It will benefit birds such as the piping plover, which is described as endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act, and Sprague’s pipit, which is listed as threatened.
It will also help animals listed as being of special concern, such as the western tiger salamander and the American badger taxus subspecies, said the NCC statement.
Richards estimated only about a third of such land in the Prairies remains in its natural state.
“I guess the area that it’s located in is actually a transition zone between grasslands and parklands, which is rare to find intact habitat.”
The sanctuary is within a provincially identified sensitive raptor range for bald eagles to minimize things such as nest abandonment and eaglet mortality.
One of the parcels in the sanctuary has also been designated by Alberta Parks as an Environmentally Significant Area due to its contribution to water quantity and quality.
“I think the family has done a really good job of taking care of the land… and the Nature Conservancy of Canada is just going to keep doing what the sisters have already done their whole lives, and care for this land and keep it as wild as possible,” said Richards.