Heartland Forest started with Dan Bouwman and his beautiful granddaughter, Sydney Burciul. The daughter of Jacqueline and Ken Burciul, Sydney was born with a rare brain disorder, Lissencephaly. As result of her adversities, Dan was determined to provide a peaceful, accessible and inclusive place to enjoy nature. With a mandate of preservation, education and accessibility, Heartland Forest opened in 2004. Founder Dan Bouwman, purchased the land in 1999, rescuing it from industrial development. Over the years, Dan’s dedication has led to the Heartland Forest of today and the beauty that it reveals to its guests. Sydney’s disability eventually led to her passing on October 28th, 2009.
Even though Sydney is no longer with us, her energy and her beauty will always shine at Heartland. Her legacy burns bright in our hearts and motivates us to grow more and more every year. In her memory, our trails, scenic areas and outdoor learning centers are free and open to the public year-round as a natural gift to our community.
The building that you see in the picture above is our tree house that is the largest accessible one in all of Canada – built by many dedicated volunteers in 2010 – and is one of the most popular sites on the property. One year after the tree house was completed, our educational camps had begun. It all started out in one portable classroom, and we now have eight camps through our Nature Centre that run throughout the year.
Our Nature Centre had its grand opening in July of 2013 -- one of the largest steps for Heartland – and is now our brick and mortar on property that is home to many animal friends. It is also home to our locally famous Woodshop, as well as many day programs for all abilities.
We are proud to say that Heartland is a place cherished by many. We have the pleasure of changing so many people’s lives for the better every single day. There is no question that the whole Heartland Team is here for one reason: To better our beautiful community and all of those who live inside of it.
And it all started with one man and his vision.
Thanks Dan, for all you have given to this community. Because of you, Heartland Forest is a natural beauty. It is people laughing, learning, growing and playing. It is unique. It is for everyone.