Getting to know McGill’s Morgan Arboretum

On Sept. 14, McGill’s Morgan Arboretum forest reserve held its annual open house, giving students an opportunity to experience a unique part of the Macdonald campus. With activities including the monarch butterfly launch and a birds of prey flight show, visitors had the opportunity to learn more about the local flora and fauna found at the Arboretum.

Before being donated to McGill in 1945, the land that the Arboretum occupies today was owned by a famous Montreal family, the Morgans, known for their Quebec department store chain. Today, the Arboretum is maintained and run primarily by operations manager Scott Pemberton. 

“[The Morgans] used the land for recreational purposes, for walks, for horses and buggy trails, to produce firewood for housing, and to produce maple syrup just for fun,” Pemberton said. 

The family donated the land to McGill hoping that it would be maintained by the university. McGill has repurposed  it as a resource for students throughout Montreal with an interest in forestry and conservation, such as Bryanna Pilkington, an environmental geography major at Concordia University and staff member at the Arboretum. 

“[At the Arboretum], we get a diverse view of what nature means in the 21st century,” Bilkington said. “We have these places where you can come and be in the outdoors, but it’s more of this conservationist view where you have humans and nature together.” 

Students involved in field work at the Arboretum remove invasive species and collect samples for research studies. 

“[The Arboretum] is basically a living classroom or a living laboratory,” Pemberton said. “[There is research] across schools, all the major universities have projects and classes here as do all of the CÉGEPs and secondary schools in the area, they all use the arboretum.” 

The forest reserve is also a place for the public to come and interact with a host of interesting plants and animals, many of which are native to the area. Naturalist Sarah Dixon explained how the Morgan Arboretum serves as a unique experience to its visitors.

“[The Arboretum] is big enough to be […] a functional ecosystem,” Dixon said. “There is enough room for animals to behave naturally [….] It’s possible to walk 20 feet and [go from] one habitat to another which means [that] there is just an incredible diversity of animals.” 

The annual open house and other public events such as workshops, astronomy events, and guided walks hosted by McGill provides an opportunities to emphasize the importance of conservation and a chance to show off a unique resource. Pilkington also believes that events such as these are important for educating people on climate change and conserving biodiversity. 

 “It’s a social relationship thing of being able to educate,” Pilkington said.  “If you come at it through this fun event, you have the opportunity to teach people about these things that are a little bit hard to talk about.” 

For those looking to learn more about the local environment or to get away from the city, the Arboretum is open to both volunteer work and visitation year round.

“One of the beautiful things about the Arboretum is that it is a well kept secret,” Pemberton said. “We don’t have thousands of visitors every day, so you can really find some peace and tranquility in the wild nature at the Arboretum.”

 

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