1999 Owl Award
Helen Harris

RDRN awards Helen its first Owl Award – an award that recognizes someone who does so much in such a humble way.

Helen was a “naturalist” from the moment she was born. By the time she started school, she had produced a little notebook with drawings and pressings of the plants around her home.

As with many organizations there are tough times to weather and these times came to a head in the 1960’s. To survive, the Alberta Natural History Society had to attract more members and refocus its mandate. Here is where Helen’s tact and diplomacy, her generosity and her genuine belief in the natural world came to the fore.

She was named President of a small group of naturalists, including her husband Herb, and they reworked the bylaws and changed the focus from an organization that looked mainly at the agricultural aspect, to the modern day focus where the knowledge, love and respect of nature in its entirety – the plants and the animals, the air and the water – were understood to be an interconnected whole.

Countless hours went into this re-organization with Helen assuming responsibility for her greatest love – the native plants. She would lead the Wednesday evening flower walks, a gentle teacher, naming the plants, describing their uses, highlighting the habitat each one required in order to thrive. This knowledge had been acquired over the years by walking the pastures and ditches and hiking and packing into the mountains observing what was around her. She didn’t just go walking, she looked and saw what was underfoot.

As an ardent photographer, Helen captured what she saw on slides and used these slides as teaching tools. RDRN is the grateful beneficiary of these slides today. She also studied the recognized floras of the time including an old English flora. Her books are well thumbed, attesting to her years of quiet study. And Latin came into her vocabulary.

It was Helen who helped develop programs for the Kerry Wood Nature Centre and accompany the groups, sharing her extensive knowledge about the natural world, who identified the Innisfail Natural Area as native land worth preserving, who would phone Red Deer County about the yellow lady slippers, grotesquely overgrown, in a ditch that had been chemically sprayed.