Wildwood founder leaves sustainable legacy

Merve Wilkinson, founder of Wildwood in Yellow Point, died last week at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. He was 97.

Merve Wilkinson looks over a portion of his Wildwood property in Yellow Point in 2008. The outspoken advocate for sustainable forestry practises died last week. He was 97.

Merve Wilkinson looks over a portion of his Wildwood property in Yellow Point in 2008. The outspoken advocate for sustainable forestry practises died last week. He was 97.

A man who stood defiant on a logging road to block clearcutting in the Clayoquot will see his legacy of sustainable forestry continue.

Merve Wilkinson, founder of Wildwood in Yellow Point, died last week at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. He was 97.

Jay Rastogi, the site steward at Wildwood, remembers Wilkinson for his stories about Nanaimo and how the community changed since Wilkinson purchased the property in 1938.

“He had a passion for a whole range of things,” Rastogi said.

Paramount was Wilkinson’s love of nature and the 55-hectare forest he logged sustainably, never taking more than the forest could naturally regenerate.

Wildwood became a source for university students and educators from around the world interested in researching Wilkinson’s practices. He was less popular with local politicians and forestry experts, who disagreed with his philosophy for forest management.

“He was a strong personality,” Rastogi said.

Wilkinson was one of 850 protestors arrested in the War in the Woods in 1993, defying a B.C. Supreme Court injunction to allow logging to continue in the old-growth forest.

The sentencing judge at court described Wilkinson as unrepentant.

Rastogi met Wilkinson soon after moving to Victoria in 1997. Wildwood attracted Rastogi’s attention and interest, having been part of a similar operation owned by his uncle in Ontario.

“I started to do more of the work around the place,” Rastogi said.

A lasting friendship soon formed over the pair’s discussion of forestry practises, Rastogi sharing his science background with Wilkinson’s intrinsic knowledge of the forest.

“It was a great partnership,” Rastogi said.

To preserve Wildwood for the future, Wilkinson and his partner sold the property to the Land Conservancy in 2000. The land protection organization manages the forest and the workshops available for the public and university students hosted throughout the year.

Bill Turner, executive director for the conservancy, said in a statement that Wilkinson was a visionary, a teacher, an inspiration and a great friend.

“I will always remember the many opportunities I had to sit and talk with Merve, to listen to his stories and to share in his determination to make things better,” Turner said. “A man like Merve comes around very rarely and I am honoured to have known him.”

Wilkinson, who was named to the Order of Canada in 2002, will have his land continue to educate people for years to come.

“There’s still so much to learn,” Rastogi said.

Wilkinson is survived by his three children and multiple foster children.

arts@nanaimobulletin.com