Big Island now yours to enjoy, says former owner after donating property to Kawartha Land Trust

(From the Wednesday, May 25, 2016 edition of The Peterborough Examiner.)

1297763069743_ORIGINAL1,100-acre Big Island on Pigeon Lake. Once slated for development, it was donated to the Kawartha Land Trust and will now be preserved in its natural state. 

Dear Pigeon Lake Community,

I am writing to clarify my donation of much of Big Island and surrounding small islands.

I bought the property in March 2011 as an investment. Shortly after buying it I received a letter from Kawartha Land Trust who’d researched the new owner. I then had a chance meeting with the Executive Director. The last developer spent millions on a plan on getting approvals for 95 lots.


Kawartha Land Trust continued to be in touch from 2011 on to canvass my interest. Initially, I was going to give half of the island to Kawartha Land Trust and keep the other half for my family. In August 2015, I got approval to develop 10 large residential lots of about 12 acres each with large shore frontage. As well, I received approval for one large interior lot that included all the interior of the island and the rest of the shoreline.

I am pleased that in the end, I decided to donate all the land except two small lots on the main island and one of the small islands (the one in the southeast with the beach). I have also provided a first right of refusal to Kawartha Land Trust should I decide to sell my retained parcels outside of my immediate family.

I donated this land because like many of you, I have come to appreciate how special and significant it is. Kawartha Land Trust has gained my respect and in all my experience, I have rarely seen an organization that has been so open, effective and responsible.

I learned this first hand when their Board informed me that they could not receive the donation of land without a significant ‘Stewardship Fund.’ It would be irresponsible.

I also understand that there has been some confusion on exactly what “deal” was struck. It should be clarified that the funds raised were not to purchase the lands. I donated the lands outright in addition to donating $100,000 to the campaign. That money was raised to support getting the deal completed and as a fund to manage the island long term – insurance, taxes, signage, etc.

Going forward, the island is open for use and enjoyment for all. I would like people to use the properties for generations to come however it must be in a way that is respectful and in the best interests of the island long term. Camping, fires and excessive houseboat mooring is not consistent with my wishes nor does it minimize risk of a forest fire or a lawsuit that could deplete the fund and leave Kawartha Land Trust unable to afford ownership.

Ninety-five per cent of the community has treated the island with respect. However, a minority group has been treating the island like a free campground, dumping garbage, cutting trees and having open fires.

I understand permission was given to select individuals back when the Boyd Family owned the island but everyone should remember they sold the island 25 years ago (1990). Anyone using the island for the last 25 years has been trespassing. The Boyds sold the property in part due to their concern for liability and a possible lawsuit against them.

I have to commend your community of donors and volunteers that rallied together. Frankly, I wasn’t sure if you could do it. I’ve been involved in many charitable and business ventures. I’ve dealt with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, a large national organization on other properties I own in Quebec and I was amazed at the level of commitment and the focus of your local land trust. I know that there were large donations from prior Kawartha Land Trust donors making up much of the campaign however many from the local community also gave generously. Kawartha Land Trust coordinated all the complex dealings – removing the development plan, municipal working with CRA for six months to get approvals. You have put your faith in a competent model that has a prosperous future.

In closing, the scale of what the former developers tried to do would have been nothing short of criminal. With looming development proposals now behind us, I do hope the community can bask in the reality that Big Island will be around in its natural state now and into the future.

I invite you to join with Kawartha Land Trust and enjoy the island this coming summer season, and for years to come. It is a special place well worth all of our care.

In 2015 the North Pigeon Lake Ratepayers’ association joined with Kawartha Land Trust and the community in successfully raising a million dollars so the Kawartha Land Trust could purchase and manage the island. This allows us all to enjoy the island, responsibly, forever.

Mike Wilson

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