Hal Hannaford’s passions run deep. As headmaster of Selwyn House School in Montreal, he is a devoted hands-on educator of K-11th grade students. He blissfully plays into the wee hours on his cajon (a Peruvian percussion instrument), and leaps at the chance of joining a popular local band called the Windmills when they perform gigs at Kennebunk Beach’s Trinity Chapel.
Other than his wife, author Susan Doherty, and two grown children, Alisse and Reid, Hal’s major love is preserving and maintaining the open-to-the-public half-acre bird sanctuary his father built nearly 30 years on a marsh in front of their summer home on Great Hill Road, Kennebunk. Hal enjoys telling how and why his dad, Derek Hannarford, decided back in 1990 “to become the new Rachel Carson.”
“We were standing on the deck of our house one sunny morning, looking out at the wet swampy area between us and the ocean,” Hal says. “Dad turned to me and my brother and asked, ‘What do you call those people who look after the earth?’”
Hal answered, "An environmentalist?’”
“Nope,” his dad said.
“A naturalist?” Hal’s brother offered.
“Right! And that's what I’m going to become,” Derek Hannaford said. Despite not knowing a crow from a bluebird, and even less about landscape architecture, Derek had a vision. He put his arms around his sons’ shoulders, and said, “Boys, if you see it, it will happen. And I happen to see a bird sanctuary across the street.”
Two years later, having dug and planted the plot by himself, Derek Hannaford hung a sign at the public entrance to the sanctuary. “Private, please,” the sign reads. Hal explained, “The sign actually means the sanctuary IS open to the public, but please treat the property with respect.” In the 28 years since the first swallow swooped in, not one item has been damaged or taken from this special turf.
The maze of paths winds by 25 different birdhouses. At the entrance, there are two birdhouses honoring both the United States and Canada — one with a white star, the other with a red maple leaf. Two country flags flap in the ocean breeze. Hal said, “We are guests in your country so the American flag flies above the Canadian flag.”
Children especially enjoy discovering the “piskey house,” or faerie garden house, nestled next to a split rail fence. A jar of pixie dust (courtesy of Hal) is available for making wishes. Before he died, Derek Hannaford laid two stones in front of the piskey house. One reads “believe” and the other reads “love.”
“After Dad died in 2004, I took over the sanctuary and have savored every minute I spend clipping back the rosa rugosa or mending the birdhouses,” Hal says. “Like my Dad, I’m not a birder or a landscape architect, but I enjoy sharing this sanctuary with visitors and with anyone who appreciates nature.”
The Hannaford bird sanctuary has been on numerous garden tours and has also been highlighted in several horticulture magazines. It’s impossible to miss if you drive along Great Hill Road in Kennebunk Beach. In these turbulent days when even America’s friendship with Canada is being threatened, this sweet little spot offers nothing but peace, love and harmony. Thank you, Hal Hannaford. Thank you, Canada.
And thank you, Ken Janes, for these wonderful photographs!