RDRN Owl Awards
Owl Awards: At the September meeting, RDRN gives the owl award to a member of the organization who has shown a long-time commitment to education about environmental issues, unsung support of the organization, and has worked to advance the objectives of the society.
The recipients are:
Don Wales came on the RDRN Board in 2006, jumping right into the fray as Vice-President. He became President in 2008, Past President in 2010, Director in 2012, and President again in 2014. He will be ending his presidency at the next Annual General Meeting in January 2016 which, by natural progression means he again becomes Past President.
Don has assumed responsibility for the Flower Focus meetings: which meet on the third Wednesday of each month. This involves organizing the program, making sure the room is set up and conducting necessary field trips. He organized and conducted a Flower Focus field trip to Waterton Park last spring and at that time conducted a special auxiliary trip for the RDRN’ers who were present. He has also helped with the inventory of Butcher Creek flora.
He has twice spoken at RDRN general meetings. In fact, one of his talks had 115 people present, the largest crowd we’ve ever had for a speaker.
Don has been a wonderful resource for RDRN in that he closely monitored what the City of Red Deer was doing environmentally. His views are well respected and sought after. Don’s soft-spoken approach with City of Red Deer Administration and his tireless vocal support for the City of Red Deer Parks has helped to shape the policies that have made Maskepetoon Park what it has become. Some refer to him as , “The Champion of Maskepetoon.”
He has also been champion of the natural area behind Red Deer College, an area about which he is especially passionate. There, he has conducted field trips for RDRN and other individuals and organizations, all to make sure that others know what a treasure is located there. This fit very well with his previous career as an instructor at Red Deer College.
He has also personally kept an eye on mountain bike parks, both legal and illegal, so that damage to the environment would be minimal.
He has been working hard this year at restructuring the RDRN Board.
He is one of those people who never tires of gaining new knowledge and of going to new places. He is a true naturalist and as such I am pleased to be able to present Don Wales with the 2015 Owl Award.
Apparently Keith’s interest in natural history goes back a long ways. Periodically he will mention something he did years ago, something that obviously made an impression on him.
He now lives in Red Deer where he has a birds, and other critters, friendly yard with large trees and a garden area. He likes to post his visitors on the RDRN Facebook page.
Keith joined RDRN many years ago and has served on the Board for a lot of those years. Keith, I think, could be called the quiet voice of reason when it comes to making decisions. His advice is sage and worth listening to.
Keith has conducted early morning spring birding walks for several years. His love and admiration for the parks in Red Deer becomes abundantly clear when you stroll with him on the pathways, even if it means rising at 6:00 in the morning.
He has also attended several of the RDRN outings, especially to the various natural areas and in that regard helps with our inventories.
More recently, Keith has been a mover in terms of getting our social media presence going. He has started an RDRN blog called Natural Wise and would be most happy to have anyone contribute to it.
Keith has served as 2nd Vice-President, Vice-President, President, and of course, Past President. For many years, Keith has acted as one of our auditors to check up on the treasurer.
Keith has been acting as one of the administrators for the RDRN Facebook page. In that capacity he gets to “thumbs up or thumbs down” on people requesting membership. It is quite interesting to check the backgrounds of those wanting to join. Sometimes you have to wonder just what their motivation is.
So, now it is time to recognize Keith’s long time support for RDRN and its activities by presenting him with the 2014 Owl Award.
For many years Tony worked as a conductor for the CPR. While plying the rails between Red Deer and Edmonton, he would keep an eye peeled for plants that “shouldn’t be there” along the right-of-way. Stands of invasive weeds were reported to the appropriate county officials and I suspect that if reasonably prompt action was not taken, follow-up calls were made until the offending weeds were removed.
Away from work, Tony found time to join the Red Deer River Naturalists. He took on the job of President for two years and is waiting in the wings to be reintroduced to that position.
He is an avid advocate for the parks in Red Deer and of the natural and protected areas of Alberta. He does not back down before engineers and politicians that would desecrate or give away even a small part of the parks. In fact, he is one of the few people I know who will look a planner, an engineer, or a politician straight in the eye and say, nicely but firmly, and I am paraphrasing, “You really haven’t a clue what you are proposing or doing.”
He has kept a watchful eye on the Maskapatoon Park and was a staunch critic of “stabilization” of the river bank undertaken a few years ago. He took a very critical look at the development proposals near the Lions’ Campground. Tony has actually read the City of Red Deer’s Environmental Master Plan and other plans which lead the direction the city will move in the future. He is not adverse to appearing before City Council to voice the environmental perspective and to point out where new initiatives do not meet even the basic requirements of the planning documents.
Tony has been an advocate for the establishment of a provincial database for the purpose of keeping track of where flora and fauna are resident now, so that there will be a benchmark in the future. To this end he has been a supporter of, among others, the Weaselhead Foundation, the Alberta Native Plant Council, the Alberta Wilderness Association, the Alberta Rare Plant List, and the Alberta Stewardship Organization. For several years, he acted as a “steward-at-large” for the Government of Alberta natural areas, creating inventories and erecting signage at a variety of sites. A few years ago under the sponsorship of RDRN, he created a weed map for the parks in Red Deer. He used a few environmental studies students to assist, thus allowing them to gain valuable field experience.
Tony has worked with farmers along Highway 54, west of Innisfail, to protect the water running into the Red Deer River from further gravel pit development. He advocates for support of the Environmental Law Centre, an organization that provides legal advice and action for environmental protection. He has in recent years been RDRN’s representative on the Nature Alberta Board.
When he retired from the railway, Tony did what perhaps many of us should do, but never get around to it, that is go back to college and take some courses, specifically, botany and geography. Armed with his new knowledge and credentials, Tony has embarked on a second career working for and with the Nature Conservancy of Canada. He is making more inventories of plants and checking on the progress or, more likely the lack of progress, in reclaiming abandoned oil well sites.
To go for a walk with Tony is an educational experience. Tony will tell you the names of plants, which ones are invasives and which are native species. If you do not recognize a plant he will show you how to identify it. He will also explain who is responsible for controlling the different kinds of weeds. He has also been known to swear at some plants although it doesn’t seem like it does much good.
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.”
The recipient of this year’s Owl Award is Myrna Pearman, a long-time member of RDRN who has contributed so much to the organization. Myrna was very, very young when she first got involved. She has the distinction of being the youngest President ever to hold office in RDRN. This was from 1989-1991. She sat on the Board for approximately 10 years.
Besides her years on the Board, Myrna has made other valuable contributions. During her time at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre in 1986, she initiated the Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program, which encouraged urban landowners to create habitat in their yards and gardens. This then morphed into NatureScape Alberta; Creating and caring for wildlife habitat at home. This book, which she co-authored with Dr. Ted Pike, was published in 2000. Most of the approximately 8000 books that have been sold were sold personally by Myrna who goes out to conferences and manages to sell boxes of the books at each conference. Since that time RDRN has also published her Mountain Bluebird Trail Monitoring Guide, another great selling book.
In the past, she was in charge of setting up our monthly speakers. She has returned to this job and has been bringing in excellent speakers for us.
In years past, she produced our newsletters . When another person was doing it and got overwhelmed, Myrna said, “I can do the newsletters again.” And a good thing that she did. Our newsletters have never been better. It has been suggested to us that we send our newsletters in somewhere to be judged because we’re sure they would win awards. They are such fine quality and all due to Myrna.
Other contributions made by Myrna: She was one of the members responsible for getting RDRN’s Habitat Steward program up and running in 1986-1987. She has been RDRN’s representative on the Ecotrust Board. In 1986-87 She and Cleve Werschler produced the Central Alberta Bird Checklist. That checklist was revamped by her (with a little help from Judy Boyd) in 2004. And the list could go on and on.
Try this to describe this year’s winner of the Owl Award: Birds, birds, birds, birds, birds. Well, I’m sure most of you have figured it out by now. Of course, I refer to our friend Judy Boyd.
Judy is one of the hardest-working people we have. She has been on the Board of RDRN for at least a decade serving as President, Secretary outlasting several Presidents, representative to the Federation of Alberta Naturalists, now called Nature Alberta, Chair of the 2006 Nature Canada/100th Anniversary of RDRN Conference, driving force for the Peregrine Falcon Web Cam Project, local coordinator and co-author of the Young Naturalists Project, coordinator of the Monday Birding Focus Group, room arranger for our monthly meetings at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre, and main author of the Central Alberta Birding Trail and has had her finger in far too many other projects than we can mention here. For RDRN, Judy is truly a once-in-a-lifetime catch. We appreciate what you do, and anticipate that you will be supporting the organization for at least another century.
Bill served as President in 1996 and then continued to fill most of the other executive positions over the years. From 2000 to the present he has filled the role of treasurer for most years.
As president, he created and has helped revise the RDRN handbook and policies. Shortly thereafter he acted as treasurer and financial advisor for the NatureScape and the Mountain Bluebird Trail Guide projects. Then for a period of two seasons, he helped write and produce the manuals for the Young Naturalists Club. From 2004 – 2006, he acted as treasurer, advisor, and general go-for person during RDRN’s hosting of the Nature Canada Conference. As treasurer he is also required to fill in Revenue Canada and Casino reports, prepare the annual audit and oversee same, and generally keep everyone on their toes.
In addition to keeping the finances in order, he keeps the membership list up-to-date, prints receipts for income tax purposes, and prints renewal forms. He also acts as the RDRN purchasing agent when it comes time to replenish office supplies, buy a new computer. He creates and prints tickets for events requiring them.
He has attended many meetings on behalf of RDRN, not the least of which was as our representative during the creation of the the Special Place in the Red Deer River Valley.
He acts as our webmaster and is currently helping RDRN get into the electronic world via Facebook and Twitter.
He creates Powerpoint presentations for us and can be called on to set up the equipment for same when needed.
Bill also acts as our lead steward for the Butcher Creek Natural Area and tries to support RDRN outings and field trips, especially Monday birding trips, when possible.
Eileen Ford joined the Board of RDRN in the mid-1990’s and has quietly, but forcefully helped to guide and direct our society ever since.
She was one of the original pushers for the formation of focus groups and has been active with them ever since. Going with Eileen on a field trip to observe plants is an education, both mentally and physically. She has unlimited patience with those who merrily trample down rare orchids while charging through the bush after some bird that turns out to be robin. But she really comes into her own when she identifies a plant for the tenth time for those of us who can’t remember the difference between Thlapsi arvense and Rosa acicularis.
The third Wednesday of the winter months has seen Eileen at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre chairing yet another session of the Plant Focus Group and sharing more of her knowledge.
She has represented RDRN in other organizations, especially the Alberta Native Plants Council, Invasive Weeds of Alberta, the now defunct Normandeau Board, and the Shell Foundation. She has organized weed pulls at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre so that we can now recognize Astragalus cicer, or Cicer’s milkvetch.
Eileen helped to organize the 2006 Nature Canada Conference, taking on the huge task of arranging the tours. It was a monumental task done with finesse and little fanfare.
We have no idea how long she’s been helping to arrange the summer tours, but it must border on forever.
Eileen, through her many contacts, also arranged for the creation of the fantastic centennial mural that proudly hangs in the RDRN office.
She offered her ability to raise money when she became the leading force for building the RDRN room at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre; in total over $65,000.
But, in spite of her seemingly unbounded energy while contributing to RDRN, she is at her happiest when sharing her vast knowledge of plants and nature in general with two other lovers of the outdoors, her grandchildren.
RDRN has been and continues to be very fortunate to have Eileen Ford as a member.
After seven years acting as RDRN’s speaker coordinator, Bertha resigned from the Board. She did an excellent job of bringing in interesting, high-quality speakers to our monthly meetings. Not only did she contact, schedule, and make the logistical arrangements for the speakers, she went the extra mile by meeting them for dinner at a local restaurant before the meeting. Most of the speakers she was able to attract had wide public appeal so many of our meetings were attended by non-members as well.
“I met many interested and talented people from different parts of Alberta as well as one from Saskatchewan and one from Nunavut,” Bertha explained when asked to summarize her years as coordinator. “Having dinner with the guests was always pleasant, and provided me with a unique opportunity to learn about them and their topic.”
She was so dedicated she even arranged holidays and personal events so she would be available for the presentations.
Bertha is also an ardent supporter of the Bird and Flower Focus Groups having become an excellent spotter and identifier.
Thank, Bertha, for a job well done.
If the definition of leader is “one who goes ahead or in advance,” Margaret certainly meets that standard. For 10 years, the RDRN, the Federation of Alberta Naturalists, the Alberta Environmental Network and many other organizations have been privileged to have a leader in the person of Margaret Coutts. She worked diligently in Alberta and farther afield with naturalist groups as a champion of the environment. And equally important, she has been constant with her message that groups must form partnerships if they hope to have a strong voice for biodiversity and increased habitat preservation.
Due to Margaret’s efforts, the profile of RDRN and other organizations has been raised on local, provincial, and federal levels through her service on many committees, at conferences, and by individual consultations. Whether assuming an Executive Chair, acting as a director, or as supporter of a cause, she has raised the awareness of naturalist groups and the public on a variety of issues surrounding water, air, and land. RDRN is increasingly being asked for representation from the City, County and other groups and this is in no small part due to Margaret’s efforts.
During her term as President of RDRN from 1999 – 2002, Margaret saw to the formation of the very successful Bird and Flower Focus Groups. She assisted with the reorganization of the Habitat Stewardship Group, and tirelessly wrote letters on behalf of RDRN. She provided RDRN with the background materials that led to the creation of the Young Naturalists Program. She represented RDRN on several Boards and organizations. She served on the Heritage Ranch Management Committee, the South Saskatchewan River Basin Review, the Parkland Air Management Zone, the Federation of Alberta Naturalists, AWA, CPAWS, and the Normandeau Cultural and Natural History Board.
Being awarded the RDRN Owl Award is about working to make a contribution towards our goals and helping to protect the natural environment we all enjoy. Jennifer was born on a farm in Alberta and says she always took delight in the flowers and other wildlife around her. Later, she and her husband, Michael, went North and spent five years teaching in Aklavic and Cambridge Bay before coming to Red Deer in 1969. One of the first things they did was join the Alberta Natural History Society (later, the Red Deer River Naturalists) and greatly enjoyed the field trips and the speakers. Friends recall how they were influenced by Jennifer’s infectious enthusiasm and delight, as she found and photographed flowers in the mountain meadows.
In1991, she agreed to take on the huge task of registrar for the Nature Canada Conference that would be held in Red Deer. Highly organized and conscientious, with ever-cheerful common sense, she dealt with the public and the other volunteers for over 18 months with never a cross word or complaint. She says she still regard that event as one of the most exciting she has offered to so. To top it off, she volunteer to do it all again for the 2006 Nature Canada Conference.
In May of 1998, Jennifer became RDRN’s representative on the Ellis Bird Farm Board and continued in that position for six years.
Being generous with her time and efficient in all she undertakes describes Jennifer well and have helped her to be effective in anything she has undertaken for RDRN.
Joan has always loved the outdoors and the things one finds in Nature. As a child, she roamed around on her own and in the company of others, always looking and being amazed by the variety of life that was to be found on her journeys.
She and her husband, Don, lived in Edmonton and the Northwest Territories before moving to Red Deer. She got involved with RDRN shortly after that and was drawn to work on the issues of the Dickson Dam, the creating of Waskasoo Park, and the Kerry Wood Nature Centre.
Joan also became interested in forestry issues and worked on a committee that produced a document that met with acclaim by the environmental community.
She became President of RDRN in 1995 and held that position for two years. During that time, she introduced information seminars for new Board members and was one of the first to start talking about getting focus groups started. It was at that time the Myrna Pearman approached the Board about publishing NatureScape Alberta, a project to which Joan gave full support.
She also helped out by serving on the Citizen’s Advisory Group on the Environment for the City of Red Deer, and after leaving the President’s Chair was frequently called on for advice and assistance.
Rod is one of those “quiet men” who work diligently in the background, often without recognition or praise, and for whom this award was created.
For the 1991 Nature Canada Conference organized by RDRN, he was a hands-on practical assistant for publicity and AV. When problems arose in the early 1990’s and Board attrition reached high levels, Rod assumed the job of President, a job he was de facto already doing.
Rod stepped in for Michael O’Brien at several meetings, sometimes with less than a day’s notice, when Michael was becoming too ill to carry on.
After leaving the Board in 1997, Rod became our representative on the Eco-Trust Board, a group of corporate appointees who assess and select environmental projects for grants. He never missed an opportunity to educate that group about environmental issues.
2002- Maxine O’Riordan
The success of a society such as the Red Deer River Naturalists is entirely dependent on the skills and commitment of its members. Year after year, without compensation or significant recognition, many people contribute time and expertise to further the aims of our organization. Once every year, we try to give back in a small measure by presenting the Owl Award, this year to Maxine O’Riordan.
Maxine has quietly served this naturalist group in various roles for more than three decades. She was there in the early 70’s when the remaining handful of Alberta Natural History Society members were struggling to redefine and revitalize Alberta’s oldest natural history society. Maxine knows how to smooth the way for change and acceptance of new ideas and new leadership. She suggested a nominating committee, found a fresh venue and accepted executive position as the need arose: secretary, program committee, field trip director, newsletter editor, representative to FAN, refreshment coordinator, and others.
With respect to environmental issues, Maxine has written letters, presented briefs, worked with CAGE and as the RDRN representative on the Gaetz Lake Advisory Committee, played a constructed role at a crucial time in the 80’s when pressure from the province and city threatened the Sanctuary’s boundaries and protection.
Maxine still volunteers in various capacities. Maxine’s life is one of service, and the RDRN has been fortunate to get a significant portion of her time and attention. RDRN has been enriched as a result.
Much of the time, Carol and Eldon are just quietly there in the background, and yet, when needed, they obviously have real drive and determination. We are very luck that they have, for so long, used their skills and perseverance for the benefit of the Red Deer River Naturalists.
Fred became a member of the Alberta Natural History Society in 1969 and it didn’t take long for the members to recognize his expertise. He was asked to speak at the group’s March meeting that year, the topic being, ‘The Snowshoe Hare or Bush Rabbit.” That presentation was the first of many that Fred would do over the years.
Fred became a director in 1972, a time when serious work was being done to revitalize the organization. One issue at the time related to the establishment of Natural Areas in Alberta. Fred identified one potential region near Bluffton, then did the necessary research and correspondence to ensure its designation.
Other issues on which Fred had strong and informed opinions included zoning and policy for the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies – especially poisoning of wolves, Gaetz Lakes protection, and rumours of a dam on the Red Deer River to enable petrochemical development in the area. He was never afraid to express his opinions through letters to appropriate government departments or briefs at public hearings, and encouraged others to do likewise.
Fred became Vice-President in 1974 and President in 1976. This was the year the Society changed its name to avoid confusion with the Federation of Alberta Naturalists. Thus was born the Red Deer River Naturalists.
Fred is well known for his broad and intimate knowledge of natural history, mostly gained through experience and careful observations. He is also a fabulous storyteller, with many fans acquired through the three thousand or so columns he wrote under the heading of Tales of the Blindman. His interest, congeniality and willingness to contribute time also led to his participation on boards of other organizations, including the Federation of Alberta Naturalists, Ellis Bird Farm, and the Rimbey Historical Society.
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.
RDRN awards Helen its first OWL award – an award that recognizes someone who does so much in such a humble way.