The Marguerite D'Youville sanctuary of l’Île Saint-Bernard triggers a sense of pride among residents of Chateauguay and its surrounding areas. Despite its growing popularity, Héritage Saint-Bernard, who manages the sanctuary, is struggling to find consistent funding to ensure the site’s sustainability. This is why a modest entry has been charged since May 4 to people who want to enjoy the beauty of this natural refuge.
For just $3.50 - or $ 2.50 for recreational passport holders (free for Châteauguay residents) - an adult can now access the sanctuary of Ile Saint-Bernard, a mecca of migration and wildlife.
Owned by the Minister of Natural Resources and by the Ducks Unlimited Canada Foundation whose mission for more than 70 years has been to conserve Canada’s wetlands, the Marguerite d’Youville sanctuary needs regular funding to conserve, maintain, and promote the natural heritage of Île Saint-Bernard.
With 40,000 visitors last year, of which 60% came from outside of Châteauguay, the Héritage Saint-Bernard wants to see its success supported by financing that will ensure its sustainability. "The asking price is above all a contribution to the maintenance of the sanctuary and to the conservation of the site," explains Luc L’Ecuyer during a tour of the sanctuary. Mr. L’Écuyer is director of Héritage Saint-Bernard.
While access was always free, Mr. L’Écuyer explained that the decision came about because of a need for regular funding. "For now we have to structure our annual budget with subsidies that are not permanent and which cannot be renewed. We greatly appreciate the cooperation of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife, but the money we receive must be used for very specific purposes that can vary from year to year. With the contribution we ask from visitors, we are ensuring permanent funding and at the same increasing our independence,” says the Heritage St. Bernard director.
Outdoor lovers and ornithologists we met during visits to the fauna sanctuary all agreed that the new rates were modest and that the fee is not likely to turn off visitors from visiting the island.
“That’s good if it can help preserve the site," says Denis Lauzon, taking out his huge camera. His wife Sylvia Garceau added: “We are from Lorraine in the North Shore, and we have to come here five to six times a year; we think the fees charged by other parks are higher.”
The same comment came from ornithologist Danielle Brassard, who was on her first visit to Ile Saint-Bernard: "You tell me that there are fees, but you easily pay double that fee elsewhere”, she says.
If Héritage Saint-Bernard manages to raise nearly $15,000 every year with its fundraising dinner while it also receives grants from the City of Châteauguay and the Government of Quebec, it’s because the organisation isn’t lacking any ideas to meet its budget.
"We are fighting for every dollar and we want to do our part to fund our activities. We managed to attract well-known artists in our modern theater while developing our entrepreneurial spirit in establishing a café where we sell fair trade and organic products, "says Luc L’Écuyer.
Does managing an auditorium, a café, and a wildlife sanctuary represent a challenge for Héritage Saint-Bernard? Luc L’Écuyer admits that this diversification complicates the task just a bit, but he congratulates the employees of the organisation "for their great versatility and their tremendous dedication. People who work here take the future of the Ile Saint-Bernard to heart.”
Looking to the future and to youth
The eyes of the Héritage Saint-Bernard director sparkle when he talks about the organisation's mission. During the visit, he pointed to students on a school excursion and said, “what we’re doing is for them. If one of these young people decide to become a biologist or to devote his or her life to protecting wildlife, I think we have succeeded."