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KINGSVILLE ONTARIO -
JACK MINER BIRDS AND COLASANTI GARDENS

Story and photos by

What is the southernmost town in Canada? Hint: It's in Essex County.

Answer: Kingsville, Ontario (population 21,000). You can drive to Kingsville in just four hours from Toronto.

The Jack Miner Sanctuary sign
The Jack Miner Sanctuary sign
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Spring arrives early here, because the town is located at the same latitude as Northern California. Lake Erie also moderates the climate.

Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary

Wild birds flock to the Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary during their spring and fall migrations. A sign reads: "The Canada Geese will have all left for their nesting grounds in James / Hudson Bay by April 15. They will start to return with their young in mid-September."

Several birds are in the roadside field, feeding on corn and barley before resuming their flights. We hear their loud honking, but need binoculars to view them up close. (Visitors can't pass the yellow rope surrounding the field.)

Driving directions

The Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary address is 322 Road 3 W. (off Division Rd.), in Kingsville. It's easy to drive here. Signs on Highway 401, from Toronto and London, direct drivers to the Highway 77 exit to Leamington. To reach the bird sanctuary, turn right at Wilkinson Road.

Grandfather and grandchild look at turkey at Jack Miner's.
Grandfather & grandchild look at turkey at Jack Miner's.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Bird sanctuary hours are 8 am to 5 pm every day, except Sundays and Christmas, year-round.

Jack Miner, a hunter-turned-conservationist, founded the sanctuary for birds in 1904. Admission is free because he stipulated: "Let there be one place on earth where no money changes hands."

Bird feeding

Today, thousands of visitors come here annually to see the birds in the 162-hectare sanctuary. Like us, they push open the gate and fill plastic cups with barley to feed Canada geese, greenhead mallards, wood ducks and other waterfowl species around the pond. Injured birds feed in a hospital pen.

The best months to see the migrating birds are the last 10 days of October, November and early December. The best times to see the birds are the first two hours after sunrise and the last two hours after sundown.

Bird banding

During the annual fall banding season (Labour Day to the December freeze), volunteers and staff band up to 1,000 geese and 2,000 ducks. Bands recovered by wildfowl hunters help biologists document the 9,600-kilometer migration routes of the wild birds.

Aluminum leg bands, which are engraved with quotes from the scriptures, are collector's items. At auctions in the US Bible Belt, Jack Miner bird bands sell for as much as $500.

Kirk Miner with bust of his grandfather
Kirk Miner with bust of his grandfather
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

People have recovered Jack Miner bands in more than two dozen US states and Canadian provinces. The Jack Miner website (www.jackminer.com) summarizes the waterfowl band release dates and recovery locations.

Museum

In the museum, we met Kirk Miner, executive director of the sanctuary and Jack Miner's grandson. "I never knew Grandad, because he died of a heart attack, in 1944 - four years before I was born," he says. "Three years later, an Act of Parliament set aside the week of April 10, his birthday, as National Wildlife Week in his honour."

Fascinating artefacts in the museum document the life of Wild Goose Jack, as Jack Miner was called. Among them, are two bands attached by UN delegates who visited the sanctuary in 1956.

Inuit hunters recovered the bands, the following summer, when they shot the geese on Baffin Island. The Inuit call the April full moon the "wild goose moon," because "that's when the great birds that honk come home."

Jack Miner books

Other museum highlights are a bust of Jack Miner and a letter from his friend, Henry Ford, who gave him the first Ford tractor imported into Canada. We also saw two record-setting bats from baseball hitter, Ty Cobb, another friend who helped support the bird sanctuary.

Colasanti's Tropical Gardens sign
Colasanti's Tropical Gardens sign
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The best way to learn more about Jack Miner is from his autobiography, Wild Goose Jack (published 1969), and Jack Miner & the Birds (published 1923), by Jack Miner. People who give tax-deductible donations of $100 or more to the Jack Miner Foundation, which receives no funding from governments, receive their choice of book as a thank you.

Colasanti's Tropical Gardens

A short drive from Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary, between Kingsville and Leamington, is another family enterprise with free admission. Colasanti's Tropical Gardens sells plants and flowers of every variety, size and colour, as well as garden supplies.

Little girl with blue hydrangeas
Little girl with blue hydrangeas
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Visitors load their purchases (and often their children) on little red wagons, which they wheel around the premises.

Driving directions

Colasanti's Tropical Gardens address is 1550 Road #3 E., Kingsville. From the Highway 77 exit of 401, drive toward Leamington, then turn west and drive for 3.5 miles (5.6 km) on Wilkinson Road.

Colasanti's is open daily, except for Christmas and New Year's Day. Hours are 8 am to 5 pm on weekdays and 8 am to 6 pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Family activities

With year-round special events, including a dog show, an apple festival and a chess tournament, as well as a petting farm, indoor mini-golf, kiddie rides and an arcade, Colasanti's has lots of fun activities for kids.

Shops sell homemade soaps, jellies, fudge and candy apples, as well as home décor and collectibles like ceramics and teddy bears.

Wedding reception at Colasanti's in Kingsville
Wedding reception at Colasanti's in Kingsville
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Banquet hall

Colasanti's Tropical Gardens is a popular place for wedding receptions. The reception hall is very pretty after dark when tiny white lights glimmer from the large indoor trees.

Victorian Rose Tea Room
Victorian Rose Tea Room
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The favorite dish for both weddings and visitors to Colasanti's restaurant is undoubtedly their broasted chicken, made with a secret recipe. It's also a big draw at the restaurant's affordable lunch and dinner buffets, as well as Sunday brunch.

Bed & breakfast

If you're looking for accommodations in downtown Kingsville, consider the Wedding House Bed & Breakfast, a Heritage Home at 98 Main St. E. The charming white Victorian clapboard home, edged with green gingerbread trim, has four rooms.

A black and white photo on the wall shows a wedding party on the porch in 1904. For years afterward, newlyweds came here for pictures on the veranda.

Restaurants

Kingsville has several restaurants. One of our favourites is the Victorian Rose Tea Room on 64 Main St. E. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Don't miss the grilled Lake Erie pickerel for dinner or the afternoon tea with baked scones, strawberry jam and clotted cream.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Windsor Essex County & Pelee Island Convention & Visitors Bureau: www.visitwindsoressex.com

More things to see and do in Ontario:

Point Pelee Bird Watching Tours

Book of North American Birds

Couples Resort Romantic Winter Getaway in Algonquin Park

Hiking Mississagi Provincial Park Trails Near Elliot Lake Ontario

Ojibway First Nations Culture, Crafts and Ceremonies