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Lifers help build a new home for nature centre

Proceeds from the groups’, Little Dens tour and fundraising concert Aug 26 will help establish homes for critters at the new Guelph Lake Nature Centre

The new Guelph Lake Nature Centre is finally getting built inside the park after a “temporary” delay of more than 35 years.

“The centre has been here since 1982 and it has been temporary from the beginning,” said Sara Wilbur executive director for the Grand River Conservation Foundation. “This was a single-family house and it was expropriated in the 1970s when the dam went in. We said what are we going to do with this house?”

The house on Conservation Road, roughly 500m outside the park’s front gates, became a temporary location for the popular nature centre.

“We have five nature centres in the GRCA and this is our busiest,” said Wilbur. “We get 20,000 kids a year.”

They can’t keep up with the demand from schools and the public in Guelph and beyond.

“We have up to six classes a day coming through this little house,” she said. “In the spring and fall, particularly in the spring, we are turning people away.”

A vital part of the nature centre experience is connecting with animals and Greg Meredith, an environmental education specialist who has worked at the centre for more than 30 years, especially enjoys introducing visitors to the snakes.

“There are lots of things in nature that people are afraid of and if you can teach them to appreciate snakes that is a benefit,” said Meredith. “Everything has a role in nature.”

Most of the animals, including Julius Squeezer the ball python, Cornelius the corn snake and Snappy the snapping turtle were donated or rescued.

“We generally don’t do native stuff,” said Meredith. “Sometimes we end up with native things that were confiscated from people that tried to sell them illegally or had them as pets.”

Guelph musicians Liv and Anita Cazzola from the Lifers are among the many students who made school field trips to the centre as children.

“It was a really important place for us to start learning about what sort of things are happening in the natural world and how they are threatened,” said Liv.

A chance meeting last year with retired nature centre teacher Dan “ Dan The Nature Man” Schneider at a Lifer show in Peterborough planted a seed.

“That probably was the thing that got the whole thing started,” said Wilbur. “We have parents that bring their kids to camp who were participants years ago. So, Dan Dan the Nature Man is known by multiple generations.”

Liv and Anita reconnected with Schneider and they talked about the plans for the new centre. Shortly after that they spoke with Wilbur about tying a fundraising campaign to their Little Dens concert tour.

“We write a lot about the feeling of home and what that means,” said Liv. “So, we thought it would be a nice way to put the music and the meaning in one.”

The Sunday matinee Aug 26, on the grounds of the old centre, is the last show of the Little Dens tour. All proceeds from the concert as well as 10 per cent of the proceeds from the tour and $5 from every Lifer CD sold during the tour will go toward the new centre.

“It is kind of cool that our previous tour in May started with a show in Guelph and this one ends with a show in Guelph,” said Anita. “Guelph is our joyous and beautiful bookend of our musical adventures this summer.”

The show is part of a larger fundraising campaign that has raised nearly $2 million toward its goal of $2.5 million.

Among the largest donators is the Rotary Club of Guelph that has committed $600,000 to projects at Guelph Lake that include the new nature centre as well as a new trail system, an observatory and a planetarium.

Construction on the nature centre is expected to start by the fall of 2019 and be ready for its first students by the start of the school year in Sep 2020.

“When this thing opens it is going to be huge and Liv and Anita will have played an important part in that,” said Wilbur.

Doors open for the concert at 2 p.m. Sunday Aug 26. The show begins at 3 p.m. with nature stories from Dan Dan the Nature Man followed by an acoustic performance by the Lifers.

Tickets are available through this website for $20 in advance or $25 at the door. Seating is on the grass so people are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets. If it rains the show will be moved inside the centre.

To learn more about the new Guelph Lake Nature Centre fundraising campaign visit the Grand River Conservation Foundation website


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Troy Bridgeman

About the Author: Troy Bridgeman

Troy Bridgeman is a multi-media journalist that has lived and worked in the Guelph community his whole life. He has covered news and events in the city for more than two decades.
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