Who’s Who: In the Garden with Alain Belliveau

Who’s Who: In the Garden with Alain Belliveau
By Mike Butler

Are you a gardener? Have a green thumb? Well, I have to say that gardening has never been one of my strong suits. Plants, bugs, mulch, and seeds never found their way onto my hobbies list. However, I do envy those with the patience, the savvy, and the energy to study plants, create a garden, and maintain it. I am fortunate to live close to the Irving Botanical Gardens at Acadia University, and recently I got to meet the new curator (I can’t grow a geranium but I can grow a Grapevine article)! Here’s the scoop on Alain Belliveau!

Alain Belliveau is from the municipality of Clare, Digby County, Nova Scotia. He grew up next to the Meteghan River, and has always had a passion for the outdoors and the biodiversity with which we share this planet. It’s this passion that led Alain to wonderful welcoming Wolfville and Acadia University. Alain, along with his incredible wife, have settled nicely into the Gaspereau Valley.

Alain has a pretty unique job, that I know very little about, so it was a great treat to interview him and learn some new things for myself. After tree-planting for a summer, Alain developed an interest in forest ecology and attended Algonquin College in Ontario, just outside (and often within) the famed Algonquin Park. There, he discovered that his passion was geared towards ecosystems as a whole rather than the harvesting of just a few species of trees, and thankfully the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute, located just outside Kejimkujik National Park, provided ample opportunities for him to explore broader topics including botany, wetlands, mapping, and old growth forests.

That eventually lead to a position as botanist for the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre, where Alain contributed several months of fieldwork in the Maritimes and even Newfoundland each summer, and reported his findings to partner organizations in the winter. This opportunity to explore the eastern half of the Acadian Forest Region proved invaluable, both for partnering organizations using his data to make crucial conservation decisions, and for Alain personally as he sought to expand his knowledge of the region and its flora.

And how did Alain end up here in Wolfville? “Recently, I became the curator of the E.C. Smith Herbarium, which is a part of the Irving Biodiversity Collections at Acadia University” Alain told me. “At the herbarium, I manage a collection of over 200,000 specimens, and add to the collection by visiting some of the most outstanding, exciting, and often threatened ecosystems in the Acadian Forest Region. This opportunity is unique, challenging, and incredibly rewarding, and I’m very thankful for the opportunity to contribute this service to society.”

The herbarium, along with a seed bank and botanical gardens, are located at 32 University Avenue, and most of the time someone is present to offer a guided tour of the facilities, which include flowering plants at almost any time of the year. I was lucky to have Alain as my guide for a little jaunt around the grounds, but the vastness was too much for my first visit so I do plan to go back and encourage you to do the same. This is a wonderful way to introduce yourself, friends, and visitors to what’s happening at the gardens.

Alain, who is one smart cookie, says his main goal is to contribute as much as he can to biodiversity conservation because these contributions are needed more than ever. Globally, the loss of biodiversity is at an all-time high, and our current path only makes the situation worse. Biodiversity is an excellent indicator of societal well-being, therefore a healthy environment means a healthier people. Luckily, and much less grim, this field of work is exciting for Alain and he finds it very rewarding, and full of amazing personalities that are eager to help him along his path. He is motivated by these personalities, by the next seven generations, and by the natural world for its intrinsic values.

As long as he doesn’t bark up the wrong trees, he’ll be just fine!