In June 2005, Nelson and Jean were honoured with a lifetime membership of the OSFN in recognition of their contribution to nature conservation and education. For years Jean and Nels led the FON summer camp program on the Bruce Peninsula. In recent years Jean, a former teacher and Nels, a former printer, have become known across North America and beyond for their knowledge of where to find those elusive and unusual ferns and flowers that are scattered throughout the Bruce Peninsula. Jean is OSFN’s archivist and is on the board as Member at Large. She has led many outdoor programs at their farm near Durham .
Nels joined the Boy Scouts as a cub in 1945 and later, as a young leader, started what has become an annual tradition – the winter camp in Harrison Park. (Winter camping is now an international event among Boy Scouts.) From the first camp in 1963 until shortly before his death in August 2005 he never missed camping with the boys.
As a young man he worked in his father’s print shop and went on to become co-owner of Stan Brown Printers Limited. He put his printing knowledge to good use in what some see as his crowning achievement, the publication of “A Guide to the Ferns of Grey & Bruce Counties, Ontario”, in cooperation with the OSFN. Ferns were his passion and his knowledge of their identification and habitat was encyclopedic. Known as “The Fern Man”, Nels could show the many professional and amateur naturalists who came from far and wide to seek his assistance practically every one of the 50 ferns listed in just one day’s excursion.
Over his lifetime, Nels received many awards in recognition of his community service with the many clubs, committees and boards that he served on. These included St. John’s Ambulance, the Owen Sound Rotary Club, the Knights of Columbus, the Owen Sound Chamber of Commerce, Grey Sauble Conservation Foundation, Bruce National Park Advisory Committee, Canadian Fern Society and many others. The awards include:
- The Governor Generals Serving Brother Award
- The Ministry of Citizen & Immigration Outstanding Achievement Award
- Owen Sound’s Senior of the Year Award
- The FON’s W. W. H. Gunn Conservation Award
- The North American Native Plant Society’s Conservation Award
The Nels Maher Print Shop at Grey Roots is named in his honour and a tree was planted in his memory in the garden adjacent to The Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre.
Nels & Jean Maher have worked to protect the natural habitats in Grey and Bruce Counties and the sharing of their passion for nature with others over the years has done much to put “The Bruce” on the map for many naturalists and nature lovers.