Outdoorsman, Friend and Nature Advocate
Ralph Wheadon, 92, of Timberlea, passed away a few weeks ago. He was a valued former Trust Board volunteer and Board Advisor, who knew the wilderness area very well after working and being the first fire chief in the area. As an elder of our community and an outdoorsman who held great respect for our natural environment, we share this tribute to a remarkable friend.
A dear friend of Ralph’s, Beth McGee, shared this speech at his 90th birthday party celebrated joyfully with family and friends in March 2019.
Ralph has been my trusted mentor for over 15 years. In that time, I have had the good fortune to have many a visit and natter with Ralph on a variety of topics. It is my great privilege to be asked by his family to say a few words today
Back in 2001, when the environmental group Five Bridges Wilderness Heritage Trust began, my father suggested I go see Ralph, as he knew more about the public lands on the Chebucto Peninsula than anyone my father could name. As soon as I made my acquaintance with Ralph and we started talking together, I quickly knew he was a wonderful source of information about the Five Bridge Lakes Area. Ralph and my father Wilfrid Creighton had worked together back in the days when the former Department of Natural Resources was called the Department of Lands and Forests. My father did not talk a great deal about his work when he was at home. However, Ralph’s name was legendary to us children. Ralph was known as an excellent worker, chief at the Lewis Lake Fire Depot and overseer of the building of the Lewis Lake Fire Road. With his long legs and agility in the woods, he was famous for his ability to cover vast tracks of land on foot, especially during fire season.
Here is one of my favourite stories about Ralph.
My story about Ralph features his excellent memory for detail, his ability to draw maps of an area, and to share that information with others. Over the years, Ralph has told me about interesting stands of trees in what is now known as the Five Bridge Lakes Wilderness Area. Ralph had not been to the site of two of these areas of interest in over 25 years. In 2003, Hurricane Juan had descended and who knew if these stands were still standing? I told Dave Patriquin, retired biology professor at Dal, about a stand of old red oak in the Big Five Bridges Lake area, and a stand of old red spruce near Lower Trout Lake. Dave, and his colleague Nick Hill, also a Biology professor, visited with Ralph in 2009. Ralph told Dave and Nick Hill how to find some “overmature” oak stand deep in the Five Bridge Lakes Wilderness Area. Ralph drew a map of each of these areas. The following summer Dave and Nick walked from Glen Margaret east along the four miles or so, of the Old St. Margaret’s Bay Road to the area where they had to turn off the road and travel in a southerly direction. They were getting close to their destination. It was falling light. They needed some advice on whether they were off-track, so they called Ralph on the phone. Fortunately the cell phone connection worked. So clear as a bell they hear Ralph asking, “you just came across a little stream about 100 yards back?. Yes… and he told them exactly where they were and how much further they had to proceed and what they would encounter along the way.”
As I can attest, Ralph has been a long-time steward of the Five Bridge Lakes Wilderness Area. He knows the back country like the back of his hand. He is a mentor to many and a strong promoter of the beauty of the lands and water of this wilderness area. In 2016, he was honoured by the NS Government and its decision to re-name the portion of the Lewis Lake Fire Road as it passes through the Wilderness area. That portion of road is now named the Ralph Wheadon Trail.
Thank you, Ralph, for your generosity of spirit.
Beth Creighton McGee