AYLMER, ONT. -- A new sustainable stage at Springwater Conservation Area is the first of a number of local projects that will benefit from a large estate donation.

Members of the Catfish Creek Conservation Authority (CCCA) and representatives of the Donna Vera Evans Bushell Estate were at Springwater Day Use Area near Aylmer, Ont. Tuesday to break ground and officially announce the construction project.

The estate committed $335,000 to the CCCA for the "Evans Sisters Stage" which will host weddings and educational events such as the Carolinian Forest Festival and the long-standing Fred Eaglesmith Charity Picnic.

"It's a phenomenal gift," says Rick Cerna, chairperson of the CCCA.

Cerna adds the venue will replace the current stage, which is falling apart. The donation will also allow them to rent the stage to generate much needed revenue.

"We got our government funding cut," Cerna adds. "Our insurance went up by $27,000 so that's $67,000 right there that we have to come up with. When we get donations from something this enormous, it keeps us going, keeps us alive."

Bushell died Nov. 9, 2019 in her hundredth year, the last of her family. She, along with her sisters Doris and Thelma, all shared a love of local history, planting trees, music and education.

Evans sisters
The Evans sisters, from left, Doris Evans, Thelma Joiner and Donna Bushell are seen in the family photo.

The new "Evans Sisters Stage" will be built in their memory and the plan is for it to be open by next year.

With the project within the watershed, the CCCA wants it to have an economic, environmental and social design.

"The stage will be built sustainably including a green roof and tree planting to offset the emissions involved in construction," says Emily Febrey, community outreach technician with the CCCA.

"The stage will not have to travel far either, as the structure will be built nearby at Steelway Building Systems."

It's just the first of a number of projects which will be supported by the Bushell Estate.

"We'll be allocating $2.5M around St. Thomas and Elgin County over the next few months," says Andrew Gunn, the consultant working on the estate with help from teen journalist Maddie King.

"There will be a mix of projects seeking to support environmental conservation, tree planting, urban renewal and education," says Gunn.

He is happy to be able to bring positive news to the community during the pandemic, but admits it’s one of the oddest occasions to work on dividing an estate.

However, he's had a unique perspective on the allocation of funds thanks to his media outlet which uses high school reporters.

"I have a team of teenagers who work with me, so we can get input from younger generations," says Gunn. "We also talked with friends of Donna so we've had a cross-generational approach."