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He did not waver from the belief that he wanted to preserve the island’s biodiversity.

In Lac Memphremagog, in southeastern Quebec, there’s a gorgeous, green island that stretches over 26 hectares. It’s a breathtaking approach, as thick evergreen woods cover rolling hills as far as the eye can see. There’s not a house or a manmade structure in sight. And one Montreal businessman was determined to keep it that way.

Andrew Howick has had a cottage on Lac Memphrémagog for decades and it holds more than just sentimental value for him. The area is where he goes to relax and reconnect to nature. So, in the 1990s, when he saw that an island in his beloved lake was being eyed for development, he knew he had to put a stop to it.

What Prompted One Man to Buy an Island

an island
Photo by Sophie Dale

Canada is the fastest growing country in the G7. Recent housing developments, especially in economically strong and densely populated areas like the Greater Montreal Region, have brought protests and criticism from locals and conservation scientists alike.

Local governments are failing to protect endangered plant and animal species, like the Western Chorus Frog. As green space shrinks, people worry about the wellbeing of future generations.

That was certainly the case for Andrew Howick. “I was very anxious to make a gesture for conservation and for climate change and something that my children and grandchildren would be proud of,” he said. His neighbors agreed.

So Andrew Howick devised a plan that would keep the island safe from developers. He rallied his neighbors to collectively purchase it. Then, Howick spent the next few decades buying back pieces of it, little by little, from his neighbors. 

The Plan One Man Made for His Island

man holding dollar bills
Photo by Karolina Grabowska

Molson is the largest island in Lac Memphrémagog (the size of 24 soccer fields) and a hotspot for biodiversity. Once Howick was the sole owner, he knew he could do something to protect the island forever.

But that doesn’t mean that the plan wasn’t without its detractors. The Montreal businessman now owned the whole island — and developers came directly to him with purchase offers. “I had some sleepless nights worrying about it,” he said.

No matter how good the offer, Howick couldn’t be sure what a new owner would do with the island. So he remained firm: the island had to be protected. He refused the purchase offers.

Instead, Howick donated Molson Island to the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NNC). The organization works to “deliver large-scale, permanent land conservation.” It’s the word ‘permanent’ that makes Andrew Howick smile. “Now I’m not worried,” he said.

Jensen Edwards, a spokesperson for the NCC, agreed, “Thanks to his [Howick’s] generosity, Molson Island will remain protected from development and its biodiversity will continue to thrive.”

And there’s quite a lot to be said about the biodiversity of this ecologically sensitive island in the Northern Green Mountains. Cynthia Patry, a biologist and project manager who oversees the Northern Green Mountains region at the NCC in Quebec, said, “The Northern Green Mountains are one of the last remaining areas in southern Quebec where large tracts of wilderness are still relatively undisturbed.” The area links the biodiversity in the south of the United States with that of the Appalachian Mountains.

How a Businessman Proved the Importance of Giving

volunteers giving out food
Photo by RODNAE Productions

This means that the many habitats on the island are perfectly suited for a large variety of land and aquatic animals. Molson Island is also an ideal area to study for scientists who want to learn more about these species and the ways that they can be protected.

“Environments like Molson Island are becoming increasingly rare in Quebec,” admitted Benoit Charette, the Minister of the Environment, the Fight Against Climate Change, and Wildlife and Parks in Quebec. He expressed his gratitude to Andrew Howick for his proactive gesture. Howick, Charette said, “sees the urgency of taking action to protect his island and is turning to the NCC to help him in his efforts.”

For Howick, it was a no-brainer. The island holds nostalgic value for him, in addition to its environmental value, and he wants to see it preserved for future generations. When he realized there was something he could do, he rolled up his sleeves and did it!

“I hope that this gesture might serve as inspiration for people to give,” Howick said. He realizes that not everyone can buy an island, but environmental conservation can come from many directions. He encourages people to give time, to volunteer, and to donate — whether it be a few dollars or an entire property. “Whatever is within their means,” he says humbly.

For his part, Andrew Howick says it was his “great pleasure” to donate the island, knowing that “it will be kept in its natural state forever and ever.” His selfless act preserved an environmentally threatened area and will benefit generations to come. Now that’s a legacy the businessman can be proud of.

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