MARS founder Maj Birch. Black Press file photo

MARS founder Maj Birch. Black Press file photo

Impact of MARS founder recalled on fifth anniversary of her passing

“She embedded a vision within us, but not only a vision, but an inspiration.”

It’s been five years since Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society founder Maj Birch passed away, and those closest to her are reminded daily of her impact on helping wildlife on the north Island.

Pearl McKenzie, vice president of the Merville-based organization says their founder and friend not only created a vision for assisting wildlife but also for educating those within the community.

“We look around MARS and I think about how pleased she would have been. She embedded a vision within us, but not only a vision, but an inspiration.”

Birch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on Oct. 6, 2015, her 66th birthday. She passed away about six weeks later.

At the time of her death, MARS had purchased property for their new location – 1331 Williams Beach Rd. McKenzie notes Birch was involved with clearing invasive plants and some of the preliminary planning but did not see any of the building or infrastructure on site.

The original MARS location (owned by Birch) was not far away from the present property. She was selling the property as she was planning to retire but wanted to continue her work on the board. She lived on the three-acres with her husband, which is where years ago, she earned the reputation of rescuing and rehabilitating animals.

She gained permits from Canadian Wildlife Service for migratory birds and permits for raptors and mammals from the BC Ministry of Environment.

In 1995, she officially registered MARS as a non-profit and the organization began to grow. Birch trained volunteers, and in 2005, they hired their first paid staff member. McKenzie says Birch was always clear about its purposes and mission: education then rehabilitation.

“She wanted to mitigate the harm we’re causing. In the early ’90s, almost all of the patients MARS received were people-related due to population growth and development. (Animals) were losing habitat to vehicles, window strikes and power lines. The caseload was growing and Maj felt strongly about a permanent home for education.”

While McKenzie notes it is possible that similar work in the Valley could have happened without her, Birch truly laid down the grounding principles for rehabilitation work and placed education as a high standard behind everything she did. She says there were two sides to her friend: a warm, loving person but when it came to animal care, “she was steely-eyed like an eagle – she was very, very professional.”

On the same day Birch received her cancer diagnosis, she attended a community fundraiser, where she danced and socialized. That was her fun, outgoing side, she describes. When living on her property, she hosted a number of international students who worked for MARS and was constantly dedicated to assisting them.

“She didn’t get to have a life, but she never complained about it. With that kind of dedication, she was really looking forward to retirement.”

Looking at their facility now, McKenzie says the organization has accomplished everything which came out of their strategic planning session years ago. There is space for education, a flight pen and more on their 11-acre property. At any given time, there are more than 100 volunteers assisting the facility in a diverse number of roles, accounting for more than 24,000 hours of work last year.

“(Maj) inspires us to get it done. We have an amazing community and her values are what we continue to work by every day,” adds McKenzie.

For more information about MARS, visit marswildliferescue.com.



photos@comoxvalleyrecord.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

RELATED: Community mourns passing of MARS founder

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Union Bay voters chose a new direction Saturday. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Union Bay voters opt for governance change

More than seventy per cent support dissolving UBID to roll services into regional district

A small crash in the water south of Courtenay Saturday afternoon. Two men had to be rescued, but reports indicate there were no serious injuries. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Small plane crash south of Courtenay Saturday afternoon

Two rescued from plane that had flipped in water; no serious injuries reported

Rogan is a three-year-old border collie who has an 'incredible bond' between him and a family member. Photo by Erin Haluschak
‘Incredible bond’ credited for dog who assisted in emergency

Three-year-old dog Rogan came to the rescue of a family member who fell

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement forecasting windy weather Sunday and Monday. (News Bulletin file photo)
More windy weather on the way for Vancouver Island

Environment Canada issues special weather statement for Victoria, east coast of Island, north Island

A map of Comox Valley schools. Screenshot, Fraser Institute
Comox Valley schools near mid-pack in Fraser Institute rankings

A few schools went up or down a few points, but most came in with similar marks

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Kevin Bieksa during his days playing with the Vancouver Canucks. (Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)
Bieksa to guest on free Canucks Alumni ‘Hot Stove’ on Zoom app

Former NHL player has become a game analyst on Sportsnet

A photo from 2017, of Nuchatlaht First Nation members outside court after filing a land title case in B.C. ( Submitted photo/Nuchatlaht First Nation).
Vancouver Island First Nation calls on B.C. to honour UNDRIP in historic title case

Nuchatlaht First Nation says Crown counsel continues to stall the case using the ‘distasteful’ argument that the Nation ‘abandoned’ their land

West Vancouver Island’s Ehattesaht First Nation continues lock down after 9 active cases were reported today after a visitor tested positive last week. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Ehattesaht First Nation’s COVID-19 nightmare: nine active cases, a storm and a power outage

The Vancouver Island First Nation in a lockdown since the first case was reported last week

The Blackberry Lane Children’s Centre outgrown its space in the back of the Denman Island Community Hall. Photo supplied
Denman Island to have new preschool with metal roof

Thanks to a local government grant and community support, the Denman Island… Continue reading

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

The Ahousaht First Nation confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on Nov. 26, 2020. (Westerly file photo)
Ahousaht First Nation on lockdown over COVID-19

“Emotions are high. The anxiety is high. We want our community to pull through.”

Most Read