As told to Jim MacInnis
I worked as an electrical engineer for the Turnbull Elevator Company for forty-five-and-a-half years, but I can’t boast an attendance record like the one I’ve maintained at Ontario Nature’s Annual General Meetings (AGM). Having been to 49 of the last 50 AGMs I have a ninety-eight percent attendance record. This means, among other things, that I did miss one. It was 1978 and Ontario Nature (then the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, or FON for short) was holding its meeting in Thunder Bay. At the time I couldn’t justify a trip that far across the province for the yearly gathering of my naturalist friends. As luck would have it, of course, 1978 was the year I was nominated for a second four-year term on the FON Board of Directors (I’d already served on the board from 1968 to 1972). For all the time I spent at these meetings I wasn’t around to hear my own nomination.
If it wasn’t for my love of a popular radio music program that broadcast every Sunday afternoon on CJBC in Toronto, I may never have taken up an interest in nature at all. When I was in my 20s I used to listen to a show that came on right before the Audubon Outdoors program. Occasionally I’d leave the radio on long enough to hear the gravelly-voiced host go on about all things nature. It was from this program that I got the idea to participate in my first nature walk with a group led by the legendary Jim Baillie, the long-time assistant curator of ornithology at the Royal Ontario Museum. He was a really humourous man and brilliant ornithologist, though he had no formal training. Jim could recite the exact details of other peoples’ bird sightings going back years and years across the entire province. I vividly remember seeing my first horned lark. What a thrill! Even though I didn’t even own my own binoculars at the time I was hooked.
I’ve been a member of Ontario Nature since 1959. My two terms on the board of directors were filled with great accomplishments. The achievement I recall most fondly is the creation of the Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment (CONE) in 1978, which was established to protect the Niagara Escarpment. Lyn MacMillan was the heart and soul of CONE’s formation, and I often wonder how she managed to put in so many hours of hard, trying work. I remember an FON board meeting in the late 1970s during which Lyn stood up and made an impassioned plea for the board to raise funds for CONE. Her speech was so convincing that I wrote out a cheque for 100 dollars on the spot and handed it to her. She reminds me of that whenever we run into each other.
I think it’s extremely important for people interested in the environment to join a club, and not just because I met my wife, Mary, during a Toronto Field Naturalists (TFN) gathering. I am a member of clubs at various levels: locally (TFN), provincially (Ontario Nature), nationally (Nature Canada) and internationally (World Wildlife Fund). Ultimately it’s the people outside the political realm who are going to steer us toward a more sustainable future and Ontario Nature is an excellent example of how willing citizens induce change. Ontario Nature and its members continue to do great things with regard to endangered species campaigning and protecting large swaths of Ontario’s boreal forest. Their nature reserve system is also a terrific example of the benefits of setting aside sufficient lands.
I hope to make the trip to Sarnia in May for my 50th AGM. Just like the first meeting I attended in Richmond Hill in 1960 I expect to meet some interesting people, engage in good conversation and maybe take a field trip with binoculars at the ready just in case I see something I haven’t seen before.