Staff at the Ontario Farmland Trust (OFT) learned that Deirdre Wright, OFT’s very first easement donor and long-time supporter, passed away on March 1st.
Rodger Cummins and Don Prince, OFT Land Committee volunteers, remember the lengthy process to protect Deirdre’s farm. “It was the first easement for OFT and there was much to be learned and understood in terms of setting up the easement. But, Deirdre was determined. She kept after us to get it done. She hoped that her easement would be an example to others”, Rodger reflects. “And it was such a happy day when she entertained the OFT Board, staff, neighbours, and others to celebrate the completion of the easement.”
It was Deirdre who inspired the Board and staff at the Trust to press on with this important work. She had a list of neighbours and friends to approach next!
One such neighbour and friend, the late Lorna Bethell, did follow suit and protect her farm, just down the road, in 2012 with the Trust. She too believed that farmland should remain for farming, and wanted to leave a lasting legacy for the future.
Both properties were not only important agricultural lands, but included important natural areas- wetlands, ponds and forest- that are part of the core Greenlands System in Peel Region and the headwaters of the Credit River.
Deirdre’s land, Belain Farm, is also adjacent to Provincially Significant Wetlands, and is home to a number of species at risk. But, the farm was at risk from nearby gravel pits and oncoming development.
Deirdre told staff when they started this work that she knew she had to do something.
“When I looked around, I saw lands being used up and farmers losing their properties. I wanted to make a difference and help preserve some green space and farmlands for the future.”
Deirdre loved being on the farm. She loved the land and could not imagine it being lost to development. She and her late husband, Charles, moved to the farm in 1970 and she enjoyed many years on the land before moving to a seniors’ home in Guelph in 2019.
Jill Green, family friend and daughter of the late Lorna Bethell, shared with us how Deirdre enjoyed her beloved farm. “She had many, many good times at Belain Farm and many horses, dogs, and cats over the years. Even an otter! For many years she shared her love of the farm and animals with her late husband Charlie Wright who became an enthusiastic rider himself. Until she moved to Guelph she went to the gym in Erin three times per week, determined to continue to be independent and live life to the fullest. I so admired her courage and determination. I will miss her feistiness and strength, which she kept until the end.”
Duncan Bull, stepson of Deirdre’s from her second marriage to John Bull, told us, “The Ontario Farmland Trust was very important to her. She was very proud to be a part of it.”
OFT staff understood that, and experienced her passion first hand!
“Deirdre was one of the first people I ever talked to when I started with the Trust in 2014. She called regularly to check in, to make sure we were reaching out to others to protect their land, and to make sure her monthly donations were always in order”, reflected Krista Long, Program Manager. “She was one of my favourite people to talk with. Her passion and determination were infectious!”
Kathryn Enders, Executive Director, met Deirdre only once during an annual monitoring visit on the farm, but she left a lasting impression. “In my mind, Deirdre will always be somewhat of a legend at the Trust. She forged the way forward for so many other landowners to protect their land. Her passion and commitment to farmland protection is her legacy, and she will never be forgotten for that.”