Land farmed by Manitoba veteran donated in his memory to Ducks Unlimited Canada

The family of a Second World War veteran and Manitoba farmer has donated 318 acres of land near Brandon, Man. to celebrate his memory and aid in conservation efforts.

Owned by the Hamel family for nearly 75 years, the farm contains dozens of natural marshes and native grasslands that remain intact after 150 years of agribusiness, Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) said.

It was once farmed by Roland Hamel. Originally from Saskatchewan, he came to Manitoba in the 1930s as a harvest worker and stayed after getting a full-time job as a farm hand.

He soon married Eileen in 1945 while serving with the Canadian Armed Forces and the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.

Once he returned to Manitoba, he began farming a half-section of land in 1946 thanks to assistance from the Veteran’s Land Act.

According to Ducks Unlimited Canada, he ran a mixed farming operation with chickens, pigs, dairy and beef cows, plus some crops.

The organization said the property contains over 100 acres of unbroken native grassland and 72 acres of intact wetlands within a significant ecological area that offers habitat for pintail and canvasback ducks, pied-billed grebe and more.

Hamel’s family said he researched options to preserve the land before he died in 2003. His family continued the quest after his passing, ultimately choosing DUC.

“He stopped using pesticides years ago because he didn’t like what it was doing, and he also didn’t like seeing farmers bulldozing down stands of trees and levelling off sloughs and things like that just to get every last square inch of ground and do cultivation,” said Barb Saylor, Hamel’s daughter.

“He was determined not to have that happen to his land.”

Several options were presented to the family on how the land could be used, with the family ultimately opting to donate it in 2019.

Mark Francis, Ducks Unlimited Canada’s manager of provincial operations in Manitoba, said the donation will provide the community and society as a whole with a slew of benefits.

“The water levels will rise and fall with the various climatic variables and that’s what waterfowl need on the Canadian prairies,” he said. “Aside from providing waterfowl habitat, the wetlands will protect against flooding, they will recharge groundwater, they’re good carbon sequesters, and they filter nutrients.”

Manitoba Deputy Premier Cliff Cullen poses for a photo with Ducks Unlimited Canada’s Mark Francis and the family of the late Roland Hamel at a dedication ceremony. Hamel’s children donated 318 acres of their late father’s land near Brandon, Man. in an effort to conserve it. (Image Source: Ducks Unlimited Canada)

A dedication ceremony to mark the donation was held Aug. 20 with Hamel’s family in attendance. Saylor believes her father would be pleased with what came to pass with the land he spent most of his life farming.

“He was a man who kept a lot of things to himself, but he would be very easily quietly happy about it. He might make a comment or two, and that would be it,” she said.

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