John (Jack) Miner was born in 1865 in Dover Center, Ohio (now Westlake, Ohio), the son of a brick maker. In 1878, his family moved to a hundred acre wooded property in Kingsville, Ontario (now 400 acres). In 1879 at the age of 14, Miner went to work with his father and uncle at their brick and tile business. In his autobiography, Miner recounts running around barefooted through the woods and on the family farm where he found a route that was only two miles’ walk to the factory. He spent “three to five hours a day wandering through the virgin forest, visiting and studying all the creatures that lived there…” His observations of wildlife in the woods laid the groundwork for Miner and his brother Ted to find work as hunting guides to help supplement the family income.
Miner and his brother were asked by prominent members of Kingsville society and other towns to be their guide on hunting excursions. In 1922 Miner replaced his humble wood frame house with a brick house, constructed from brick made in the factory. It still stands today at 332 Road 3 West in Kingsville, Ontario and is restored to when Miner lived in the house.
In 1904 Miner founded one of the first private bird sanctuaries in Kingsville, Ontario that helped transform the conservation movement and convince others of the importance of change. Miner recognized “the fowl of the air recognized me as their deadly enemy. Hence the germination of this thought which sprouted and grew in my mind: That they would know a friend if they had one.” The Sanctuary soon became a family passion.
By 1909, Miner had thirty-two Canada geese coming to the Sanctuary for food and refuge. He was the first to start banding migratory waterfowl in North America and to map their migration patterns. In1909, he caught and banded a black duck that was later recovered by Mr. W.E. Bray of Anderson, South Carolina on January 14th, 1910. The recovery of the duck was a pivotal moment: it proved that ducks and geese coming to the Sanctuary migrated south, and that their migration patterns could be tracked through the aluminum bands attached to the birds’ right leg. The bands included Miner’s address and a bible quote, which became of particular interest for hunters and the public. When hunters recovered a bird they would send Miner the information of where, when and by whom the bird was harvested. Over the years Miner received thousands of letters and returned aluminum bands. Many hunters and the curious public also wrote letters asking questions about the birds and visited the Sanctuary.
For his work and role as conservationist, Miner received recognition as early as 1906 when a Minneapolis newspaper declared him the “Founder of the Conservation movement.” Between 1909 and 1915 Miner banded 50,000 ducks and in 1915 he began banding Canada Geese, whose numbers had seen a sharp decline. In 1910 Miner started a 30 year North American lecture tour with all profits directed to the operation of the Sanctuary.
Despite having learned to read and write later in life Miner became a prolific writer on wildlife and sport hunting in magazines across North America. In 1927 he was a guest speaker at the Izaak Walton League’s Annual Banquet in Chicago with President Herbert Hoover as the guest of honour. He was one of the 19 charter members of the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) – an idea that was conceived of at that banquet of 1100 guests. He was also a member and president of many wildlife organizations including one named after him – the Jack Miner League. As a member of the Izaak Walton League he often wrote articles for their magazine Outdoor America and was prominently featured in the September 1928 edition with the article “Lost in the Woods” written by Margaret Wade. In addition, Miner wrote articles for magazines including: Forest and Outdoors, Rod and Gun, Field and Stream, East and West, Northern Sportsman and the Modern Archer.
Miner communicated frequently with American Wildlife Refuge Directors, wildlife experts, nature writers, and government officials. His banding net and sanctuary designs were emulated across North America and the Kellogg Sanctuary in Augusta, Michigan was designed “in the style of Jack Miner’s Sanctuary.” The first two Canada Geese to the Kellogg Sanctuary were a gift from Miner.
Miner’s story was shared through radio broadcasts, magazine articles, books, school textbooks, lectures, film, and through visitors to the Sanctuary. He gave throughout his life what was greatly needed at the turn of the twentieth century – a spirit of determination to conserve nature for future generations and to provide spaces for people to appreciate nature.
This piece was submitted to OWAA by the Jack Miner Migratory Bird Foundation.