2012 Owl Award
Dorothy Dickson

Dorothy has advocated and worked for the protection of Alberta’s most significant wild areas for over forty years.

If you were to ask Dorothy Dickson’s parents where her love of nature started, they would have told an old family joke about a two-year-old.

“They said that when they were cross with me I went out in our yard and told the banana tree in the garden about it.” said Dorothy.

But the now 84-year-old naturalist and environmentalist considers it a lifetime pursuit that has always been a part of who she is.

“I think I very early got interested in natural history and nature,” Dorothy says. “By the time I was 10, I was getting books and wanting to know the names of things. I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t interested.”

Dorothy was born in Australia, but when she was five her family moved to the United Kingdom. She lived there through the Second World War and came to Canada in 1963. She and her husband and two daughters started in Halifax, but moved to London, Ont,. in 1965 and came west , living in Calgary and Innisfail, and lately in Red Deer.

Within two years of arriving in Calgary in 1970, Dorothy was a co-founder of the Calgary Eco-Centre for Environmental Education and Information and served on the Board of that institution until 1983. Through the Eco-Centre she helped institute one of the first re-cycling projects in Canada in 1972. At first they only took paper and cardboard which was collected in boxes made by high school students and correctional institution inmates and set up at churches. Later they expanded to glass and metal, hiring outside workers to sort and truck the material. Next they set up the first “blue box” type collection in Canada as a 6-month demonstration project, renting a city garbage truck (which she got a license to drive!) to do the pick-ups. It was a success, but the City declined to follow up on the then ‘radical’ idea. At this time she also arranged Canada’s first ‘used pesticide container collection’ with a team of volunteers going door-to-door.

The Calgary Eco-Centre received a Federal “Opportunities for Youth” 6-month grant. Dorothy headed a team of 6 volunteers and 15 university students. With the agreement of the Alberta Department of Education, they went through the Alberta grades 1 to 12 curriculum for science and social studies. For each grade they selected appropriate places to insert information and, where appropriate, simple experiments on water, air pollution, soil conservation, non-renewable and renewable resource use and conservation, the value of wilderness, the risk of species extinction, acid rain, toxic substances and waste disposal, re-cycling and, above all, the interconnectedness of all living things including human beings. Draft Teachers’ Guides and Student Workbooks were produced for every Grade. The Education Department said they appreciated and approved of the work and hoped at some future date to have the money to implement it. The Eco-Centre set about raising the money themselves with financial and logistical help from the Alberta Fish and Game Association. Within a year the Guides and Workbooks were placed in every classroom in Alberta with Government authorization for their use.

Dorothy was one of the original members of the Canadian Nature Federation. She was on the CNF Conference Committee in Calgary in 1982 and Chair of the 1991 Conference in Red Deer. The latter was the first time the CNF had allowed a small centre to hold their annual conference and expected the meeting to be small. With good planning and volunteer work, Dorothy and the Red Deer River Naturalists turned it into the biggest CNF conference ever, still rated the best by many and, certainly, the most financially successful. She also assisted with the 2006 Nature Canada Conference in Red Deer. She suggested theme and title, helped contact speakers and present the RDRN Centennial skit.

Dorothy was on the RDRN Board of Directors for 6 years, including two as President and she represented RDRN at the Federal Green Plan sessions in Calgary.

She was a co-author of the study on the Howse Pass and on a number of talk shows etc. to discuss that proposal. She still works on many issues for them and has led field trips for them and other groups such as the Alberta Wilderness Association and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. Dorothy wrote the text for 5 ‘coffee-table’ type books by photographer George Brybicin – Our Fragile Wilderness, Wildlife in the Rockies, Banff National Park, Jasper National Park and Wilderness Odyssey. She edited the book on Calgary used as a gift for Olympic Committee delegates for the Calgary Olympics, as well as has been editor for publications on feeding birds and was overall reviewer for NatureScape Alberta (2000). She has been the editor of the RDRN newsletter for numerous years.

Dorothy has been involved with planning in several National Parks but especially those in Alberta since 1972. She has taken part in many consultations and hearings on legislation, policy and regulations. She was one of three members of the public invited to join Park superintendents from all National Parks in discussions on the role of Parks in implementing the “Green Plan” recommendations for environmentally sustainable communities. She was on the Steering Committee for the Banff-Bow Valley Study and invited to address the Panel on Ecological Integrity in National Parks. For many years she attended the annual Banff Forum on progress and problems in that Park.

Dorothy has advocated and worked for the protection of Alberta’s most significant wild areas for over forty years. Dorothy was the Volunteer Steward for the Innisfail Natural Area from 1987 to 2003. She also represented the environmental community on the Planning and Management Committee for the Rumsey Ecological Reserve from 1992 to 2003. She led field trips into both these areas.

Because of her experience, she was invited to address the Rocky Mountain division of the International Range Management Society and be on their panel on agricultural leases on public lands in 1999. She also had input into the planning of several other protected areas, including the Kootenay Plains and Tolman Badlands. She has contributed to species inventories of several protected areas, especially Red Lodge Park and Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park.

Dorothy has regularly contributed to the Christmas Bird Counts, May Species Counts, and the Plantwatch phenology projects for over 40 years. She later added butterfly and amphibian counts to her recording activities.

Dorothy has been recognized for the following awards:

  • 1980 Alberta Achievement Award presented by Peter Lougheed
  • 1980 Clean Calgary Annual Award
  • 1997 Loran L. Goulden Memorial Award from the Federation of Alberta Naturalists
  • 1998. Douglas H. Pimlott Award and Honorary Lifetime Membership: Canadian Nature Federation
  • 1999 Alberta Environmental Protection Award
  • 2002 Honorary Life Membership of the Federation of Alberta Naturalists
  • 2003 Alberta Wilderness Association “Wilderness Defenders Award”