Russell Ward, a masterful storyteller, waterfowl guide and decoy maker at the Delta Marsh in Manitoba, died Oct. 25. He was 93.
Russell Ward, who lived in Portage la Prairie, just south of the famed Delta Marsh, was a well-known decoy carver who made an estimated 2,000 birds since 1964. Many of his decoys have floated at Delta, where he served as a guide for Delta Waterfowl founding father James Ford Bell and many other hunters over the years.
During a 2018 interview with Delta Waterfowl, Russell Ward proudly proclaimed that he’d hunted waterfowl at the Delta Marsh for 81 consecutive years.
“I’ve never missed a year,” Russell Ward said, reflecting on his own remarkable feat and good fortune. “I used to take my shotgun to school and hunt on the way home.”
Russell Ward was the son Ed Ward, who Bell hired in 1926 to establish a hunting camp and hatchery at the Delta Marsh. Bell’s establishment turned into the Delta Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Center, and became the epicenter for waterfowl research in North America. His brother, Peter Ward, worked at Delta most of his life, and retired as station director in 1985.
Russell Ward was born in 1929. From 1949 to 1954, he worked for the Manitoba Department of Mines and Natural Resources as a game warden. Russell Ward patrolled the Delta Marsh by way of a dog team and horse and sleigh in the winter to enforce trapping and game laws. He was specially honored in 2021 by the Manitoba premier as the province’s oldest living conservation officer.
In his later years, Russell Ward carried on the family’s decoy-making tradition. His brother, Peter Ward, had famously painted decoys carved by Duncan Ducharme for the Bell rig, among many others in the area. His brother, Torry Ward, was also a noted Delta Marsh carver. Russell Ward began making decoys later in the mid-1960s, and continued to carve and paint them until 2016.
While he fashioned excellent working decoys for hunting and decoration, Russell Ward might have been an even better storyteller. He quite naturally interspersed good-natured, wry humor into his recollections of past adventures in and around the Delta Marsh.
When asked how to carve decoys, Russell quipped, “You just cut away everything that doesn’t look like a duck.”
Jim Fisher, vice president of Canadian policy for Delta Waterfowl, said Russell Ward always brought a smile to the people he encountered.
“He was always the most cheery guy at the Delta Waterfowl Station,” Fisher said. “Russell was the last one living of that generation, and he will be sorely missed.” — Paul Wait