Save Our Seine ‘forest protectors’ honoured
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/10/2022 (213 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On Oct. 16, Jules Legal and Marcel Ritchot were recognized as “forest protectors” of the Bois-des-Esprits. They are long-serving volunteers with Save Our Seine and held the respective positions of president and vice-president from 2000 to 2003.
“During a walk through the Bois in 2019 with Jules’ wife, Gladys, I was inspired to honour the leadership, tenacity and vision of these two gentlemen in saving these iconic, historic woods,” said Wilma Sotas, an SOS board member from 2011 to 2020.
At the root of this forest story lies a river. For more than a century, the Seine River was used as a dump. By the 1990s, the Seine would run dry from all the pollution. Throughout that decade, clean-up efforts and awareness campaigns generated publicity and funding to bring the Seine back to life. SOS was established to preserve and protect the river.
Long-time St. Vital resident Jules Legal and Marcel Ritchot, who grew up along the Red River, joined SOS. The organization’s hardest fight lay ahead, as Royalwood’s second phase of construction threatened over 100 acres of ‘virtually undisturbed’ habitat along the Seine.
“Jules and Marcel worked almost to the point of exhaustion, attending meetings, speaking to elected officials, connecting with media and fundraising to save the forest,” Gladys Legal recounted.
“SOS never opposed Royalwood,” Ritchot explained. “Our concern was that the now-Shorehill Bridge would bisect the wetlands, river bottom forest, upland forest and tall grass prairie, disrupting the wildlife and vegetation of the Bois.”
On Apr. 1, 2002, a holiday Monday, Ritchot received a phone call. The developer’s bulldozers were clear-cutting a swath of oak trees to allow surveyors access to the bridge site.
“I didn’t hesitate,” recalled Ritchot. “On my way to the Bois I phoned (the late) Jim Gyselinck, another SOS volunteer. Together we stood in front of the bulldozers but we couldn’t stop them. I had also called the French CBC and they filmed the carnage.”
SOS’ actions marked a turning point. By 2005, the City of Winnipeg announced the entire Bois-des-Esprits would be preserved.
“It was a crusade for this precious place,” Ritchot declared. “Innate, visceral love drove us.”
“Winnipeg owes Jules, Marcel and Jim a debt of gratitude” said Michele Kading, who served as executive director of SOS from 2013 to 2021. “Their courage and swift action prevented further destruction and galvanized the community to save the forest.”
Murray Watson, who has been carving wood spirits in the Bois since 2009, was commissioned to create a wood duck image for Legal and a red-tailed hawk for Ritchot. Both birds are Bois residents.
“These carvings hold special meaning for me,” Watson acknowledged. “Without the sacrifices of Jules, Marcel, and many others, the spirit of the Bois would be gone.”
“To leave a legacy for future generations by saving this forest has been a reward beyond measure for Jules,” Gladys Legal said.
Wilma Sotas has a message for readers: “When walking in the Bois, visit these beautiful pieces of art and appreciate how Jules and Marcel truly are ‘Forest Protectors’.”
To learn more about SOS and how to support their work, visit www.saveourseine.com
Royalwood community correspondent
Tanya Misseghers is a community correspondent for Royalwood.