A posthumous award for a lifelong career dedicated to conservation and protection of ecologically significant landscapes across Ontario.

On January 15, 2018, the Nature Conservancy of Canada lost a true champion for conservation. James Duncan worked in many different capacities at NCC from Program Director to Associate Vice President to ultimately leading NCC’s efforts in Ontario as Regional Vice President for six years. He had a passion for large, complex land deals to protect spectacular natural places and this is where he excelled.  James was involved in hundreds of land acquisitions, protecting many rare and special habitats including wetlands, forests, prairie and alvar.  His wit, humour, knowledge and creativity were a winning combination for making friends and garnering support for NCC’s mission.  

Some of his outstanding accomplishments included protecting over half of Cockburn Island (23,000 acres), the second largest protected area in southern Ontario (south of the Canadian Shield). Cockburn Island is the 7th largest island in the Great Lakes (42,350 acres), and is situated approximately 2.8 km west of Manitoulin Island and 2.6 km east of Drummond Island (Michigan).  Under NCC’s ownership and management, the cobble and sand beaches, coastal wetlands and large tracts of highly productive sand plain forest will remain wilderness forever.      

James was also instrumental in building relationships and support for NCC’s conservation work on Pelee Island.  Located in the western basin of Lake Erie, Pelee Island is the most southerly inhabited land mass in Canada.  It is located at the convergence of the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways and is critical stopover habitat for migratory birds. It also contains outcrops of limestone that support globally-rare alvar species. James led the securement of some key properties on Pelee Island that resulted in the protection of over 1000 acres (about 10% of the island), including three core alvars and natural shoreline.  Some farmland was acquired that NCC is now restoring back to natural habitat, including open water and wetlands that are used by waterfowl and shorebirds. 

James also loved the north shore of Lake Superior.  He had his eye on conserving some large shoreline and wetland properties for close to 15 years.  Under James’ leadership, NCC’s work ramped up in the mid 2000s.  Specific projects of note include the purchase of the 4725-acre Wilson Island archipelago (2008), and the purchase of Big Trout Bay (2016), consisting of 2,540 acres just west of Thunder Bay on Lake Superior. With 21 kilometres of pristine shoreline, including stretches of open bedrock and cobble beach, Big Trout Bay is composed largely of coastal boreal forest and wetland. Nearly half of Canada’s bird species, including many waterfowl, rely on boreal habitat to complete their life cycle, and many of these species migrate throughout the Americas. These successful projects generated support and momentum, which has enabled the securement of additional large-scale projects such as at Black Bay east of Thunder Bay where NCC has secured over 7800 acres, including portions of the largest wetland complex on the north shore of Lake Superior.

James’ passion for conservation is contagious and was instilled deeply in his team who continue to work every day to fulfill his vision of protected land in Ontario. His appetite for large acreages, ambitious fundraising campaigns, and conserving tracts of land where threat and biodiversity values are the highest, will be carried on through the work of those who succeed him. He continues to be an inspiration to everyone who had the opportunity to work with him throughout his incredible career in conservation. His legacy will live on through both the lands and people he touched during his too short life.