The first public meeting of the Niagara Falls Nature Club was held November 15, 1966, in the gymnasium of Maple St. School, Niagara Falls, with 86 people in attendance. A display of local wildflowers and fruit, a pair of Bob-white Quail, a recently road-killed Opossum, and a terrarium containing a Pitcher Plant and Sundew were exhibited. Three films were shown, Common Animals of the Woods, Plant Oddities and Life of the Western Marshes.
In a letter written by our founding president in 1986, on our 20th anniversary, Gus Yaki describes how a letter to the editor from Mary Moses became a catalyst for the club’s formation. In early 1966, Niagara Falls city council had been searching for a Canadian centennial project. One proposal was to acquire the Von Mueller property on the Niagara escarpment, for a sum of about $60,000, as a nature park. Unfortunately, an aldermanic candidate mounted a campaign of criticism, and the idea was dropped. The area later became Woodend Conservation Area, obtained for about six times the original cost.
Mary Moses was the only person to raise her pen in defence of the original proposal. Gus sensed that Mary was not alone in her thinking, but that most of us are too conservative to take a stand on political issues. He felt that an organized, well informed group that had learned to know and love the natural features of their area would be better able to advocate for nature. And so, with the backing of the FON, our club was formed in November, 1966, with Gus Yaki as President, Roy Sheppard as Honourary President, and Howard Martin as Secretary-Treasurer.
In the first issue of our newsletter, which has been published continuously since December, 1966, Gus summarized his remarks at that inaugural meeting: “Although most of us do not know each other yet, we are here because we all have a common bond, and that is an interest in the natural world around us. Most of us find it pleasant and helpful to share our interests and enthusiasm with others. By joining together into a club such as this, we can enrich each other’s lives.”
A month after its founding, NFNC participated in the Christmas Bird Count, a commitment that has continued throughout our 50 years. Wednesday evening walks began the following spring, with the first one exploring the escarpment behind St. David’s golf course. Long-time leader El Wightman set the standard for those who follow today.
In 1970 member Harold Mitchell offered to sell to the club a 13 ha parcel of land on Lake Erie that held some of the largest Hemlocks in Southern Ontario, purchased years earlier to prevent its destruction. The club raised the required $4,600. The Harold Mitchell Nature Reserve is now held by Ontario Nature, and we are its stewards.
In 1973 our first Conservation Award was presented to Kay and Larry McKeever, for their work with The Owl Foundation.
The Howard Martin Memorial Bursary was established with Brock University in 1991 following the passing of Howard Martin, a charter member and founding secretary.
And so the club continues, with regular meetings, walks, outings, and advocacy to preserve and protect the natural world around us.