April 2022

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A Large Scale North American Research Project


One of the deployable weather radars used in the WINTRE-MIX study in a field in Saint-Pie

Photo: Alex Tran


Researchers from McGill University were involved in a large-scale North American study this winter, which spread out across the Saint-Laurent valley in southern Quebec and Champlain Valley in Vermont (USA). What exactly brought all these scientists here? Freezing rain, sleet, and snowstorms. Phenomena we are pretty familiar with in Quebec. The first of its kind in several decades, this study aims to better understand the transitions between these types of winter precipitations, which occur when temperatures are close to 0°C. This knowledge could also help meteorologists make better predictions.


For six weeks in February and March, scientists from five universities and several governmental organizations spent days and nights waiting for what we consider bad weather. Whenever weather forecasts encouraged citizens to stay at home and avoid dangerous road conditions, the meteorologists involved in the WINTRE-MIX project instead went out into the storm to start taking measurements. One of the tools they had at their disposition was a fleet of four deployable weather radars. Normally used to study extreme weather events like tornadoes, these radars had never been on Canadian soil before. The various facilities of the Gault Nature Reserve were able to be used as part of this major project.

A Flash of Rich Brown Amid the Spring Leaves


The veery (Catharus fuscescens) is very common in the Richelieu valley.
Photo: Daniel Jauvin


At sunrise or at dusk, a fluting song trills out in cascading downward runs that echo between the hardwood trees with their unfurling green buds. These calls herald the return of the veery. Soon, the female will set about weaving a nest on a low branch or in vegetation near the ground. The veery’s back is red‑brown from head to tail tip, and its light tawny breast has sparse, faint spots—a useful way to distinguish it from related thrush species, with their much more dramatically speckled chests. Veeries are a common sight in southern Quebec and the Maritimes, but do not venture into the boreal forest. These little songbirds are primarily insectivores, but they’ve been known to munch on fruits and seeds too.


By Johanne Ménard from the Société d’ornithologie de la Vallée du Richelieu. To become a member of the SOVDR: info@sovdr.org (This text appeared in issue 39 Nature sauvage.)


The 24 Hours of Science

May 6 and 7, 2022


Photo: Alex Tran


Come explore the Reserve, McGill University’s living laboratory under the theme The environment it's in my genes. Meet our scientists and find out how science can help us better understand our environment. We’ll have something for everyone, whether you’re young or just young at heart.

- May 6: Only for school groups that have registered for the 24 Hours of Science event.

- May 7: Activities open to the public.


Keep an eye on our social media for more details on the program.



American Beech - Wajoimizi

Abenaki Specialist Michel Durand Nolett on Medicinal Plants


American beech (Fugus grandifolia) leaves in winter.

Photo: Alex Tran


The American beech (Fagus grandifolia) is one of the most common tree species on the Reserve, along with the sugar maple (Acer saccharum). Beeches are “fairly easy trees to spot because their bark is really, really smooth,” explains Michel Durand Nolett. Some people compare their grey trunks to an elephant’s foot.


Unlike most hardwood trees, American beeches keep their leaves all winter long. In the spring, the Abenaki used to gather their dry brown leaves to treat eczema.



This project was done in partnership with McGill University’s Indigenous Initiatives unit and the Grand Conseil de la Nation Waban-Aki. We would like to remind you that, to protect the balance of our ecosystem, you should not remove any natural items from the Reserve.

Spring Trail Conditions: Hike With Care


Photo: McGill University


Now that spring has sprung, many of us are craving some time outdoors. Unfortunately, spring brings with it freeze-thaw cycles that can cause some of the Reserve’s trails to ice over. We encourage hikers to use caution, especially on slopes, and consider using crampons for extra grip.


You may also encounter puddles or mud during your visit. Make sure to wear footwear appropriate for wet conditions so you can stay on the marked trails and avoid trampling the surrounding vegetation. A little foresight can go a long way in helping preserve the flora and fauna along the trail.


We may also have to close certain trails in order to protect more fragile ecosystems. Please obey any trail closure signs that are posted.


The Early Bird Gets the Worm: A.M. Entry for Annual Cardholders


Photo: Alex Tran


May 1 to September 15, annual cardholders hoping to get an early start can enter the Reserve starting at 7 a.m. The washrooms in the Welcome Centre and the cottage will also be open.


Mornings at the Reserve are peaceful and quiet, and we ask that guests keep noise to a minimum in the parking lot and on the trails.


Happy spring!

Reopening of the Welcome Centre


Photo: McGill University


As of April 1, the Welcome Centre is back open for the season. Stop by on your next visit to take a breather, grab a bite or warm up. During the pandemic, we took the opportunity to replace the furniture in the Welcome Centre for the comfort and enjoyment of our visitors. The new modular furniture is colorful, versatile, and modular, not to mention made in Canada.

See you there!

Blast from the Past


The Alice Johannsen Era: A Turning Point for the Reserve


Photo: McGill University


In 1970, McGill began dividing the Gault Estate, as the Reserve was known at the time, into two separate development sectors based on its conservation strategy for the mountain. The private sector would be dedicated to research and preserving the ecosystem. The public sector would be used for recreational, educational and conservation activities. Around this time, McGill named Alice Johannsen (1911–1992) director of the Gault Estate.


Johannsen firmly believed that nature education was crucial for understanding the importance of nature conservation. In 1972, during her term, she founded and directed the Mont Saint-Hilaire Nature Conservation Centre, which would develop and manage the public sector and oversee outreach, conservation and recreational activities.


Always on the lookout for new conservation opportunities, Johannsen became interested in the new UNESCO Man and the Biosphere program. She put together a strong case and proposed Mont Saint-Hilaire as a model region with a protected natural area and an excellent environmental education program. In 1978, the Estate was recognized as the core of the first ever biosphere reserve in Canada.


The Welcome Centre, she helped build, bears her name to this day.

*as the Reserve was known at the time


About our Blast from the Past series

As owner and guardian of the Gault Nature Reserve, we plan to celebrate the university’s bicentennial by publishing a monthly photo in InfoGault. Each photo will capture a moment from the history of this beautiful site.



Réserve naturelle Gault

422, chemin des Moulins

Mont-Saint-Hilaire (Québec) J3G 4S6


Téléphone : 450 467-4010


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