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County taxidermist’s remarkable collection officially unveiled for public viewing

By Andrea Harrison with photos by Tom Harrison
A one-of-a-kind exhibit by a distinguished County taxidermist is now open to the public at the Ameliasburgh Heritage Village.

The initiative was first imagined 13 years ago when the family of Jake de Vries inherited more than 500 items he had crafted over more than 50 years. Members of the Jake de Vries Collection Group, including his wife Johanna (who died in 2017) and children John de Vries and Jane Moon, began the drive to preserve his significant taxidermy. Friday, the family was joined by a number of others who got involved over the years to witness the long awaited grand opening at the museum, Friday, Sept. 10.

“I’m happy that the collection is here to share and keep the legacy going,” said Janice Hubbs, the museum’s curator, who hosted the opening of the Jake de Vries Natural Heritage Collection. Among about 40 people in attendance include County mayor Steve Ferguson, several councillors, naturalist Terry Sprague, and many friends, supporters and family of the late taxidermist.

“Jake always wanted the collection to remain in the County,” said Sprague, adding that it’s remarkable to have such an important collection here. Sprague observed that “Jake had a gift for doing all species” and that is reflected in his collection which ranges from waterfowl and song birds to mammals, reptiles and fish.

Jim Moore, longtime friend, explained Jake’s collection may be considered the most complete in private hands in Ontario and possibly Canada, due to the variety of animals represented and the liveliness of his subjects.

De Vries was a first-generation Dutch immigrant who came to Canada as a labourer after the war. In the 1960s he took up taxidermy and in addition to his own finds, many others supported what started as a hobby, but later became something of a passion. As one of only eight licensed taxidermists in Ontario at the time he was often gifted species from a wide variety of sources.

Andy Margetson recalled that what he saw driving de Vries was the amazing response his work received from the public, photographers and artists, especially school groups who were frequently invited to view his collection, then located at his home.

“The initial reactions of kids was intense and priceless,” Sandy Latchford recalled, adding that de Vries was delighted with the genuine praise and thanks he often received from children and groups after their visits.

The collection is now at the Ameliasburgh museum in a renovated, humidity-controlled building that once housed carriages and plows.

Latchford, an original supporter of the project and current chairperson of the Prince Edward Historical Society, recalled that the collection helped bring the animals to life for children.

His own children, John and Jane, were pleased their bequest will continue to educate and delight children of all ages.

The collection includes a wide range of Ontario species; a bear, birds, deer, wolves, a boar, reptiles and fish. One of the smallest specimens is a ruby-throated hummingbird. The collection also has a number of exotic species including cockatoos, amazons, and parrots.

The Prince Edward County Stewardship Council, County Foundation, the Women’s Institute and the Stark Foundation were just some of the many contributors to the substantial fundraising required to display the collection properly and to preserve it for generations to come. In 2018 the John M. & Bernice Parrott Foundation also made an $85,000 donation toward the more than $150,000 necessary.

Mayor Ferguson told the crowd the municipality was “happy to have been able to support such an excellent addition to the Ameliasburgh Museum which had been a long time coming,” adding “the collection will showcase and educate residents about our natural heritage” and give people one more reason to visit the museum, and Ameliasburgh.

de Vries family members Arlene, John and Jane

Daughter-in-law Arlene noted that “when a few come together and stick with it, it comes together”. The parents, she said, would be very happy to see the collection in its permanent site, here in the county.

“We are privileged to have the results of such wonderful work displayed here in our community in the Jake de Vries Natural Heritage Collection. Without the substantial efforts, and contributions of many, this project would not have been possible.”



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