Relative fumes over Elgin conservation authority's sale of donated woodlot

·2 min read

A Malahide man is pushing for answers after a piece of donated family land was sold by the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority.

Elgin County staff, however, said they looked into the sale of a seven-acre woodlot on Iona Road and found nothing was amiss.

“It’s a black eye to the conservation authority,” said Jim Crane, whose great uncle donated the land. “My uncle is rolling over in his grave over this.”

James Crane, a doctor, teacher and conservationist, planted about 90 species of trees on the property near Iona Station in the 1930s.

The land was sold, each time for $1, to Western University, Elgin County and then the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority in 1976 with the expectation it would be kept as conservation land.

In 2019, the conservation authority sold the land to a neighbouring property owner for $9,000.

“It shouldn’t have been sold,” Crane said, adding the land was worth much more than the sale amount. “I have a very difficult time handling this.”

Chief administrator Julie Gonyou said at a virtual Elgin County council meeting on Tuesday that staff didn’t find restrictions to sell the land in any of the previous land transfer agreements.

A letter in the Elgin County Archives indicated that the University of Western Ontario did not require a formal agreement outlining restrictions when it sold the land to Elgin County for $1 in the 1960s, she said.

The deed from the conservation authority also contained no restrictions to selling the property, Gonyou said.

While council didn’t make any decisions on the sale Tuesday, Warden Tom Marks left the door open to further investigation.

“This does bother me greatly,” Coun. Sally Martyn said at the meeting. “I strongly believe that something that has been donated or given for a dollar should not be sold for a profit.”

Randall Van Wagner, the conservation authority’s manager of lands, said the Iona Road land had annual property taxes of about $1,000 and it was due for $11,000 in drainage work.

“We have properties for two reasons: ecological preservation and recreation for the public,” Van Wagner said. “This property has neither.”

The land, appraised by Oakview Appraisals, had a lower value because the conservation authority included restrictions in the sale that trees on the property can’t be removed and a memorial cairn must be maintained.

The new owner can build on the rest of the property.

“The goal was never financial," Van Wagner said. "Really, the goal was to meet Dr. Crane’s vision, which was the preservation of those trees."

Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press