Medicine River Wildlife Centre (MRWC) began in the basement and barn of a rental property
MRWC began in 1984 with no thought of a long-term plan. The vision was that a few wild animals might come to the Red Deer SPCA each year and MRWC could help to care for them in the founder’s (Carol) rented home.
First year saw 14 patients admitted mostly through Red Deer Department of Fish and Wildlife (F&W)
First two years the Centre was not allowed to advertise as a “wildlife” hospital but had to call it an “animal” hospital
Next few years the Centre operated with a contract from Red Deer F&W that paid $1.00 annually but there were no province-wide regulations, guidelines, or standards. Rules were decided by the officer and biologist in charge of the Red Deer office.
By the third year the Centre was given permission to call themselves a wildlife centre; Red Deer Advocate did a one-page article; patient load increased to 284
Wildlife Rehabilitation was a new concept in Alberta and although we had many supporters we had more who questioned what we were doing, criticized our efforts, and some were outright against us. Fund raising was very difficult. The home, vehicle, and many supplies came from Carol’s family. The children’s play room became an intensive care room and the barn served as a flight area.
Carol contacted numerous organizations and people to help increase her knowledge and create a network. She joined two international wildlife rehabilitation organizations and began attending conferences. Eg: Calgary Zoo, F&W biologists, Morris Flewwelling, Kerry Wood Nature Centre, Coaldale Birds of Prey Centre, and many more.
In 1989 a Banff Park Warden offered to sell the current home quarter to MRWC for $50,000. He carried the mortgage and we began a permanent facility. With the help of Morris Flewwelling we found three co-signers who helped us secure a $15,000 loan as a down payment for the mortgage.
In 1990, a grant for $175,000 was received from the federal government to build a facility, thanks to a Board member who introduced us to the concept of funding applications. The Centre was built with home-grade materials, and no blueprints or contractors. It was far ahead of most rehab centres at that time and seemed far too big to ever fill. Little did we realize what was coming.
Outdoor cages and compounds were built for recovering animals and birds with much donated time and labour
A nature trail and observation tower was constructed
About this time Carol assisted in the formation of the Alberta Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (AWRA).
Requests for services began to come from many areas; schools, organizations, the public, correctional institutions, foster care, social services, and the list goes on. The MRWC kept saying “yes”, stretching the resources and energy much too far.
Debt began to build. MRWC had a banker who, when asked how to meet budget, would just give a bigger loan.
MRWC entered a dark time in its growth when the bank’s head office began a forecloser.
Finding money to operate was always a stress. Staff worked long hours, many of which were physically taxing. Each day seemed to bring another problem.
Finally, Carol called time out, took some time away to think, consulted with numerous people and decided on a direction for the Centre.
The priorities for the MRWC other than the wildlife hospital became:
Applying for grants to grow the Centre
Improving the MRWC’s visibility in the community
Acquiring a new logo and visual identity
Looking for ways to increase income
Looking for ways to be more efficient
The next few years the MRWC operated on budget, continued with minimal staff, and could see an improvement annually
Things began to change – debt was brought down from $443,000 to $150,000. This was accomplished in part since Erin and Carol were wearing all the hats, without any other full-time staff. The MRWC was able to hire a couple of summer staff through government grants.
Volunteers were very important to the success.
The remaining outstanding debt of $150,000 was covered as a short-term loan by a local businessman
When the time came to pay the debt off, Vic Walls, owner of Border Paving stepped in to take over the mortgage.
Patient load continued to increase along with requests for education programs
In 2000 a committee of the AWRA met with the provincial government F&W to ask for provincially standardized permits, minimum standards, and a better working relationship with F&W. Until this time permit rules were dictated by the local officer and had no provincial regulations or standards. This all led to confusion and conflict between F&W and rehabbers. A working committee composed of AWRA and F&W began the work to set down standards, an inspection check list, a facility plan template, and permit application.
Some senior members of F&W attempted to restrict 22 species from rehab and refused to approve the standards that had been developed by the committee. Carol became the spokesperson for the group and negotiations began but moved slowly.
Thirteen years after the committee had been formed the goals were nearly met. Five restricted species remained when the talks stalled. Steps toward creating a new committee began in late 2017.
2018 began the start of a new working committee and new plans for wildlife rehabilitation in Alberta
Things took a new turn when the idea of unpaid staff was introduced in 2006. Accepting International volunteers as summer staff increased the workforce while reducing operational costs and saw increased recognition from the community. There was a steep learning curve to develop protocols to guide and teach 15 young people each summer, but the benefits outweighed the work.
Just as things were really improving, the quarter section of land to the south of us that had been virtually untouched in the years we had been here, came up for sale. Panic set in when it was learned that an offer had been put on the land from a Calgary group who planned to use it to run recreational motorized vehicles. The owner of the land said she preferred MRWC to own it and would give us a little time to find the funds. We went to the media and in a very short time had raised $100,000 in cash and the balance in “no interest accruing” loans from two individuals. We began coming up with ideas to pay it off.
A couple of years later the west quarter section of land came up for sale and an offer from a group of oil men to turn it into a shooting range was tendered. Vic Walls of Border Paving once again stepped forward to lend the funds to purchase the land. His interest is paid annually with a tax receipt, so no interest is accruing on the loan. TD Canada Trust donated $45,000 towards the new property and the owner took $50,000 of the price in a tax receipt. Both lowered the mortgage needed.
The MRWC and its surrounding wetland and forest are now safe from development and the MRWC has more property to carry out operations.
F&W restructured the job descriptions for officers and biologists and neither they nor Alberta Animal Services in Red Deer wanted to deal with problem wildlife in the Red Deer area. This left people with “problem wildlife” concerns and nowhere to turn. The MRWC hired a staff member to fill this gap. The MRWC now responds to approximately 450 wildlife / people conflict calls annually.
The physical infrastructure of the MRWC began to crumble and staff began to look at renovating the building.
A heavy snow load severely damaged the eagle compound, killing two eagles when the roof caved in. Other cages began to show their age.
The next challenge was to build a new facility.
This brings us to today where we continue to fundraise for the new hospital and interpretive centre.