Dr. Anne McDonald, seated, and World Parrot Refuge Rising Wings Memorial Project chair Gloria Fantin meet at the memorial bench they helped install at Parksville’s railroad station park in February, 2018. — J.R. Rardon photo

Coombs parrot refuge birds gone but not forgotten

Volunteers fund memorial bench in Parksville park

The hundreds of birds that once graced the World Parrot Refuge in Coombs may be gone, but they won’t be forgotten.

Gloria Fantin and a dozen like-minded supporters have made sure of it.

Earlier this month, Fantin and some of those friends, who created the WPR Rising Wings Memorial Project, unveiled a memorial bench at the small park adjacent to the former Parksville railroad station off the Alberni Highway. Together, the project’s members raised more than $1,500 to have the bench built and installed in the location after it was approved by Parksville’s city council.

“It was originally $1,500, but we went a little wordy on the memorial plaque, so we had to pay a little more for that,” Fantin quipped.

There was good reason for all the wording.

Initially conceived as a way to remember the birds that did not survive their time at the centre, Fantin and her group also wanted to honour all those in the area who helped volunteer at the centre or with the birds’ move when the centre was closed in June of 2016.

Nearly 600 birds were removed from the parrot refuge over a two-month period, many to shelters in Nanaimo and Vancouver that have since adopted hundreds of them to families or individuals. Many others, however, were ill or injured at the time of the move, and did not survive.

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Fantin also wanted to recognize Anne McDonald, a Vancouver-based avian veterinarian who was instrumental in the care and treatment of the birds, as well as preparing them for transport from the shuttered facility in Coombs.

“During that time, I came over (to Vancouver Island) every week for one or two days, to get the birds ready to move,” said McDonald, owner of the Night Owl Bird Hospital in Vancouver. “I used to come to this park, see? And it was such a nice place to come to.”

McDonald’s enjoyment of the park led to Fantin and her group to request the location for the bench’s placement.

The supporters range from across Vancouver Island to as far away as Alberta and Ontario, she said.

“Certainly for Gloria and myself and for the people involved in this, we didn’t want the birds who died prior (to the centre’s closure) to be forgotten,” said McDonald. “And some of the birds have died since, and we didn’t want them to be forgotten, either. So, I think we wanted to do this to commemorate them.”

Approximately 120 birds, most being housed at Grey Haven in Vancouver, still need to be adopted, said McDonald.

She added the Rising Wings group also wanted to recognize everyone who worked at the refuge or simply went to visit and help out where they could.

“There were many people who, while they’re peripheral in the whole story, it was very important in their lives,” said McDonald. “For them, we wanted there to be a place that they could come and that they could reflect back on those birds and wish the birds well in their travel to wherever that is beyond.”

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