“Nature was more important than some stupid money in my pocket. This is something [that’s] got to be preserved, and I kept my word.”
Thor Vikström, 93, bought the island in the late 1960s and refused to sell it to the parade of developers who knocked at his door. Nature Conservancy of Canada will protect Île Ronde habitat for birds and vulnerable turtle species
For most of his adult life, Thor Vikström has watched the seasons change and the birds come and go from the small Quebec island he’s owned that sits opposite his riverside home in Laval, Que. At 93, he says he’s at peace knowing the land — nestled between Montreal and Laval — will remain protected long after he’s gone now that he’s donated it to the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
Furr-Holden said the revelation that even this group of “risk-averse” and “super responsible people” could have let their guard down enough to become unwitting vectors of COVID-19 shows just how vulnerable even vaccinated people remain to the virus when indoors and in groups.
Called Île Ronde, the seven-acre island is a nearly untouched habitat in the middle of an urban centre. It sits in the middle of Rivière-des-prairies, near Lake of Two Mountains, where the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers meet. Wedged between two major cities, it’s easy to miss. But its forest and marshland are teeming with biodiversity.
As urban development in the area progressed over the years, many of the surrounding shores were built up — but the island has remained in its natural state. Vikström has owned and cared for the land since the late 1960s, when he built his family home in Laval and fell in love with his view of the island. He convinced its former owner to sell, so he could keep it untouched.
Vikström is the sort of person who knows what he wants and goes for it. He cracks a joke as he introduces himself. “My name is Thor. And you know what that means? The Thunder God.” Vikström says he knew he was going to marry his late wife the moment he met her — and told her so.
The couple moved to Canada from Sweden with their first-born son in 1962 and built a life in Quebec, eventually founding Scanada, a successful family company. As an entrepreneur in the hydraulics industry, Vikström was in the business of building up; he was even consulted on the construction of the CN Tower. But he has refused to let city sprawl onto his treasured island. Though an incessant stream of developers knocked on his door over the years, asking him to sell, Vikström turned them all away.
“I bought the island because I couldn’t see it destroyed,” said Vikström. “Nature was more important than some stupid money in my pocket,” he added. “I said, ‘This is something [that’s] got to be preserved,’ and I kept my word.”
For the Vikström family, the island was a getaway over the years; they had a cable ferry built to access it, and often invited neighbours and friends to join them there. Hans Vikström, Thor’s son, says instead of a cottage up north, they had the island next door. “We’d camp there. We kind of grew up on the island and it was our getaway place — a place to relax and enjoy as kids,” he said. “We’d go over there with our friends and we’d make a little fire. And [my dad would] get mad at us because we left a Coke bottle on the island.”
At one point, they kept sheep on the island for grazing. Thor Vikström said he had the idea that the animals would keep the bushes and weeds at bay, and remembers how he would hear them calling in the distance. Nowadays, Île Ronde has mostly been left to its natural state. Strolling in his backyard and gazing out at the island, Thor Vikström points out the small cabin and birdhouses that he built. Though winter has now set in on the island, Vikström said he is already looking forward to watching the migratory birds return in the spring — as he has for more than 50 years.
Image courtesy Claude Duchaîne / Nature Conservancy of Canada and Jaela Bernstien / CBC