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Thorold mourns environmentalist who inspired 'Mickey Gardens'

Community says goodbye to legacy conservationist Dominic 'Mickey' DiFruscio, 95, who was famous for telling colleagues: 'Long live the monarch butterfly'

The city of Thorold is saying goodbye to a longtime resident and a legacy conservationist.

On Feb. 22, Dominic (Mickey) DiFruscio died at age 95.

DiFruscio had done environmental conservation work for decades in the Niagara region, including joining the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) in 1993, where he stayed as a board member for 25 years and was appointed the representative for city of Thorold, a position that he held through the governance of eight different mayors.

“Mickey showed that by giving back to your community, you can make a difference,” said Thorold Mayor Terry Ugulini.

Ugulini said DiFruscio’s dedication to conservation, enjoyment of the outdoors and love for his family will always be remembered.

He particularly recalled DiFruscio’s advocacy for the protection and restoration of habitat for monarch butterflies and other pollinators.

According to Ugulini and others who knew DiFruscio, “Long live the monarch butterfly” was a message he often promoted.

Kerry Royer, community outreach and volunteer co-ordinator at the NPCA, said that DiFruscio often signed his emails that way too.

“Mickey was particularly interested in the plight of monarch butterflies—he started growing milkweed plants in his backyard greenhouse and gave them away to anyone that was willing to plant them,” Royer said.

She said that in 25 years, he had nearly perfect attendance at NPCA meetings and that his passion, dedication and true appreciation of nature and the outdoors were always evident in his role as a board member.

“Mickey was never afraid to speak his mind and stand up for conservation,” Royer said.

“He was a strong advocate for restoration, the conservation of NPCA lands and for the dedication of the staff at the NPCA,” she added.

Royer said he treated other staff well, often bringing in baked goods, homegrown vegetables, basil plants and milkweed. He would also donate trees to restoration projects across the watershed and money to support community events.

In 2021, DiFruscio was the first and so far the only member of the NPCA to be awarded a lifetime honorary membership.

According to Royer, DiFruscio’s legacy will continue through the Mickey DiFruscio and Family Legacy Pollinator Project, sometimes called “Mickey Gardens.”

The project started in 2017 in honour of DiFruscio and his efforts to protect and restore the habitat of pollinators across the NPCA watershed by establishing a series of pollinator gardens on public lands, including municipal parks and conservation areas.

“Mickey Gardens” can be found in the following locations:

• Fairview Cemetery, Niagara Falls

• Mel Swart Lake Gibson Conservation Park, Thorold

• Virgil Dam Conservation Area, NOTL

• Ball’s Falls Conservation Area (near the Centre for Conservation)

• Terry Fox Trail, St. Catharines (between Carlton Street and Russel Avenue)

• HH Knoll Park, Port Colborne

• LaFortune Park, Haldimand County

• Morgan’s Point Conservation Area, Wainfleet

Moosa Imran is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Grimsby Lincoln News. The Local Journalism Initiative Program is funded by the government of Canada.