One of Alberta’s leading ecotourism attractions now has a new teahouse kitchen and expanded pier area that cost more than $105,000.
Ellis Bird Farm, located 15 km southeast of Lacombe, heralded a new season on Monday that includes interior and exterior upgrades, as well as a new program through wildlife artist Robert Bateman and Dow Chemical Canada.
Myrna Pearman, biologist and site services manager, said the teahouse got rid of its old kitchen foundation made of large boulders installed by Charlie and Winnie Ellis, the children of the original homesteaders.
“They had insulated a part of that foundation with (Charlie’s) old coveralls, so the foundation was extremely porous,” Pearman said. “And over time the rocks weren’t holding up the kitchen, so it was starting to lean.”
The 300-square-foot kitchen, which would reach close to 40C on hot summer days, was ripped out last November to make way for one almost double the size.
Pearman said about $100,000 was spent on the new kitchen, which includes new cupboards.
“It’s brightly lit and we’ve used all the old appliances, but the kitchen is now efficient space,” Pearman said.
The province’s Communities Facility Enhancement Program (CFEP) gave a matching grant of $77,000 towards the kitchen upgrades, as well as a new water well and septic system.
Ellis Bird Farm then used dollars from its reserve fund and private donations, and received equipment and labour support from Lacombe County staff to take down the kitchen.
A $6,000 Environmental Wellness grant through the Red Deer and District Community Foundation paid for an expanded pier landing that includes a resting and viewing area near the water.
The farm, known for its conservation of mountain bluebirds, was among those selected to participate in Robert Bateman’s Get to Know Virtual Hike program in partnership with Dow Chemical Canada. Bateman, an internationally renowned Canadian wildlife artist, initially launched a Get to Know program in 2000 to help youth connect with nature.
The virtual hike program, which will be officially launched today, will allow youth to explore Ellis Bird Farm online before actually visiting.
“It’s not to replace a visit, but to make the visit out here more meaningful because you’ll be able to learn more about the species and the gardens,” Pearman said. Calgary ecotourism consultant Carol Patterson described the bird farm as a provincial leader in ecotourism, thanks in part to its school groups programs and now the Robert Bateman program.
The bird farm recently unveiled its new website, www.ellisbirdfarm.ca. It is open to Sept. 6, Tuesdays through Sundays and holiday Mondays. Hours are now extended on Saturdays until 7 p.m. Regular hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entry is by donation.