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Great Outdoors

A 60-Year Biodiversity Pledge Culminates in Island Donation

Nature Conservancy of Canada

A common thread with Gen-Y is a childhood that included Pixar films, and Pixar offered vibrant animation with stories that included life lessons. With Pixar, the viewing experience anticipates something more than cartoon fantasy – offering a genuine and thoughtful perspective on life. In no story is this more evident than UP. Suppose one were to ignore the first fifteen minutes. In that case, the film appears to be a fun albeit wildly unrealistic tale of a cranky older man’s journey around the world through a floating house supported by hundreds of helium party balloons. There are plenty of exciting elements that keep the character’s travels fresh, whether the persistently optimistic boy scout or the dog named Dug, who uses a futuristic collar to translate his barks into English words. But as the opening montage shows, UP is far more thematically complex than the trailers indicate. 

Photo courtesy Coralie Meurice

Although he lacks the perpetual frown of UP’s Carl Fredricksen, Thor Vikstrom’s story shares a few thematic parallels with this animated character. The 93-year-old man purchased the tiny island of Îl Ronde in the 1960s and has lived there ever since. Shortly after the purchase, Vikstrom began to field countless offers from developers about selling the land for a sizable profit. Vikstrom, who says he initially bought the island to protect and maintain its natural beauty from modern construction and the pollution that comes with it, refused. “I don’t want money. I want the island to be an island, and I want the life that comes and goes here to have a home,” he said. “No amount of money can ever buy it.”

Now, deep into a long and impressive life, Vikstrom recently announced that he would be donating the island to the Nature Conservancy of Canada. To Vikstrom, who continues to work at the hydraulics company he founded in 1962, transferring the island’s ownership into the right hands was more important than any proceeds he or his family could have gained from a sale.

Photo courtesy  Ray Hennessy

The seven acres of Îl Ronde are home to an impressive degree of biodiversity – something the Nature Conservancy takes pride in protecting.

The wide variety of avian and aquatic species includes the northern map turtle, a creature considered ‘vulnerable’ to endangerment in Quebec.

The refusal to develop the land is essential for the turtle’s survival.

“Turtles don’t climb concrete walls really well, so having access to the natural shoreline will give them natural nesting sites, as well as basking opportunities, which is essential for their living,” said Sebastien Rouleau, a biologist who recently visited the island. Regardless of the outcome, Vikstrom can rest easy knowing that his pledge will remain fulfilled for years to come. “I said, ‘This is something that’s got to be preserved,’ and I kept my word.” 

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