The History of Francis Hilb Preserve
Frank and Leslie Hilb of Goulais River, Ontario donated a 3.5 hectare / 9-acre property on Goulais Bay to the Lake Superior Watershed Conservancy for conservation and environmental education in memory of Frank’s father, Francis.
The Lake Superior Watershed Conservancy was awarded a Great Lakes Guardian Fund Grant to assist with the preservation of the wetland. LSWC is working with students and teachers in the Algoma District School Board to build an educational Trail and Boardwalk through the Preserve to expand understanding and appreciation for this critical Great Lakes wetland.
The Francis Hilb Preserve is a fen, a type of wetland habitat rare in the Lake Superior watershed. On the western boundary of the property, a 250 metre/800 foot long sand beach forms a natural, permeable dam between the wetland and the shallow waters of Goulais Bay. This provides excellent conditions for sphagnum moss and wild cranberries to flourish. The property is bounded on the eastern side by a mixed forest including such tree species as tamarack, white pine and cedar. The variety of plants provide essential habitat for a diversity of insects and birds. A plant inventory was compiled by expert field botanist, Susan Meades, who was a botanical consultant and director at Northern Ontario Plant Database Northern Plant Survey. She determined this to be a rich ecosystem with over 70 varieties of trees, shrubs, forbs, graminoids and pteridophytes including the insect-consuming Pitcher plants and sundews which grow in profusion in this giant sponge ecosystem.
Frank Hilb told LSWC that “my father would be very pleased to know some land has been preserved in his name for perpetuity.”
Francis Hilb was born in Budapest, Hungary in February 1912. His family was involved in the timber trade in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Romania, and Poland. He attended the University in Budapest where he studied business administration. He was a man who had a talent for remembering figures, and playing bridge was a favourite pass time. Francis also enjoyed travel and, while visiting many countries throughout Europe, he sought landscapes of lakes and mountains wherever he went.
In 1951, the difficult political situation in Europe caused Francis with his wife and children to make the move to Canada where they settled in southern Ontario. Francis first opened a box lunch business and then moved into a land development career by buying and reselling small homes. His business ventures expanded across Mississauga and into the Muskoka Lakes.
In the early 1960s, in Sault Ste. Marie, he ventured into developing a shopping mall, apartment buildings and developing land for subdivisions and small office buildings. By the early 1970s, his interest returned to wild lands and he, and a group of partners purchased a large tract of land consisting of both waterfront and interior forest on the Goulais Peninsula. Every summer up until his 95th year, Francis travelled north to show lots to prospective property buyers on his beloved Lake Superior. He regularly visited his customers bringing bags of cookies and chocolates for everyone – so much so that the children nicknamed him “Mr. Chocolate.”
Frank said, reminiscing of his father, “he loved Lake Superior and all the surrounding vistas. He used to say that God only made these beautiful sights for us to care for. And He will make no more. When he passed away in 2007, he left a legacy for his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He taught us to love this land and appreciate what we have.”