News – Last September, a local festival worked to put Amherst Island on the map culturally and now its organizer is being recognized for her hard work.
On Feb. 26, island resident and member of Dry Stone Canada, Andrea Cross, will receive the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Excellence in Conservation. The award is administered by the Ontario Heritage Trust and Cross is receiving it for her work on the Amherst Island Dry Stone Festival that was held last September.
“I didn’t even know I was being nominated, so it was a big surprise,” said Cross, who was nominated by Loyalist Township Deputy Mayor Ric Bresee. “I’m happy he didn’t tell me because I would have been so nervous.”
The award works to recognize a specific conservation activity or a project that is a contribution to natural or cultural heritage conservation. The project must be located in and benefit Ontario, and demonstrate leadership, commitment, creativity and a positive impact on the community.
“The event really worked to create new historic features on the island,” said Bresee. “It was a wonderful festival. I saw the amount of work Andrea was putting into it and wanted to recognize that.”
The focus of the Dry Stone Festival was to showcase the existing Irish dry stone walls on the island, learn how they were created and create new walls to add to the old.
“We wanted to educate people about the importance of these structures and the significance of them,” said Cross. “It resulted in the legacy structures being built, but it also resulted in us documenting and creating a self-guided dry stone wall map and tour guide so that people who come to the island can experience these walls and read about them.”
The festival was held over a weekend in September and attracted a lot of attention from locals, people with Irish heritage and even wallers from Ireland.
“We wanted to introduce Amherst Island and the dry stone walls to wallers from around the world so they could come and look at these historic walls and realize that their trade is something that is recognized as significant and important and celebrate the work that they do,” said Cross.
The event also worked to teach younger generations about dry stone walls and even allowed them to build their own walls out of potatoes.
“It worked so well and we were able to build arches and walls out of these potatoes and then we donated them afterwards,” explained Cross.
The main accomplishment from the event was a Celtic Cross legacy structure with an ocular design. The wall has an opening built into it that allows a shaft of light from a setting sun to shine through onto another carved stone – an event that only happens at certain times of year.
“It is really beautiful and I’ve had numerous people who attended contacting me to find out when the light will shine through next,” said Cross. “They want to come back to see the wall and really celebrate the cultural heritage of the island and Canada and that is what this was all about.”
Bresee is happy that Cross is being recognized for her hard work with the award and above all, he is happy that Loyalist Township is being recognized too.
“The award is well-earned and well-deserved,” said Bresee. “This is an opportunity for us to say thank you and for the entire province to say thank you to Andrea for what she has done. The island is in some ways an entity to itself and in other ways it is the heart of Loyalist Township and this just enhances that.”