Quebec Eastern Townships man opens private forest to others, in spirit of reconciliation
First of its kind in Quebec, initiative is part of Canada-wide effort to honour residential school survivors
Terry Loucks has spent years roaming the two-and-a-half hectares of land he owns in Stanstead Township, a sparsely populated community on the eastern shore of Lake Memphremagog in Quebec's Eastern Townships.
"This forest has always healed me, through the many problems of life that I've encountered over the last 38 years — so I'm sure it can heal others," said Loucks.
Loucks is opening up his land to the public, making it the first property in Quebec to be included in the National Healing Forests movement, a country-wide initiative that stemmed from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The network of healing forests were imagined as spaces where Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike could reflect and connect with nature and honour residential school victims and survivors.
When Loucks heard about the movement, it appealed to him immediately.
"An individual, a community or an organization can plant a tree, can have a garden, have a memorial rock or have a forest," said Loucks.
"I just happened to have the forest."
Over the years, he's created eight different theme gardens in his forest that people can discover.
He's noticed that as people walk through the trails, they are drawn to different places for different reasons.
"A walk in a forest is experienced very differently by everyone. That's what's fascinating."
Loucks asked his friend Paul Conrad Carignan, who is Métis, for input on the project. Carignan has spent the last 25 years learning more about his Abenaki heritage.
Abenaki people, including elders from the community of Odanak, near Drummondville, have already shown interest and provided input into Loucks's project.
"I've made good friends from this contact here," said Carignan, who is hoping to see families connect with the space.
Access to the property is free of charge, but Loucks is still looking at the project like a business venture, which he hopes to see flourish over the long term.
"This is my own legacy, if you will — I did not have any children. I don't want to give [the property] to the government," said Loucks.
He is looking to set up a fund to make sure the land remains accessible to all once he is gone.
- With files from Spencer Van Dyk
With files from Spencer Van Dyk