People passionate about nature

Alice Chambers

Prairie Crocus Award Recipient 1999

On February 8th, 1999, Alice Chambers was presented with a Manitoba Naturalists Society Prairie Crocus Award. The following is the text of the remarks that Roger Turenne gave on the occasion.

Ten months ago I stood in the same place to present the MNS Service Award to Alice Chambers. Here I am again to present Alice with an award, this time the Prairie Crocus Award. Are we repeating ourselves here? Nope. Tonight’s award is to acknowledge and celebrate the remarkable contributions that Alice has made in the 10 months since the previous award.

Let me give you some examples of the range of Alice’s involvements and commitments.

She dealt with officials of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to lobby for the establishment of a National Wildlife Area in the lands belonging to the Whiteshell Nuclear Research Station. She prepared a detailed report on the dangers inherent in the importation of exotic species such as wild boar and reindeer, and forwarded this report to the federal agriculture minister, the federal environment minister and the provincial ministers of environment, natural resources, and agriculture. 

She wrote to the federal Coast Guard in Sarnia, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, concerning their responsibilities with respect to the unauthorized bridges put up by the Pine Falls Paper Co. over the rivers flowing into the east side of Lake Winnipeg. She circulated a statistical report on elk ranching, and depredation of moose caused by unauthorized use of old forestry roads. 

She obtained autographed copies of the book “Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba” by Hap Wilson and Stephanie Ackroyd, and sent them on to the Premier, and several cabinet ministers and members of the Legislature, along with a heartfelt plea to protect those natural wonders depicted in the book.

She travelled to Ottawa to participate in the Canadian Environment Network forest caucus meeting, as the Manitoba representative of that caucus. And after that, again in Ottawa, she took part in a workshop on Model Forests and protected areas. While in Ottawa, she established new contacts and lobbied on a number of issues, in particular for the establishment of a national park in the Manitoba Lowlands. She returned from Ottawa last night.

And that covers only the things she has done in the last two weeks, and those I know about! I am sure there was more; Alice does not tell me everything!

In the past year, Alice has been vice president of the Manitoba Model Forest, and has served on its Science and Technology, Social Issues, Education and Communication, demonstration woodlot, moose management, woodland caribou strategy, and Heritage Region committees. She carried on the thankless but necessary task of representing the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Committee (CPAWS) on the Pine Falls Paper Company’s Sustainable Forest Management Advisory Committee. She was a board member of Resource Conservation Manitoba, has been the Manitoba contact for the Canadian Environmental Network Forest Caucus, the Network’s Toxics Caucus, and the Canadian Endangered Species Coalition.

She has had extensive input into Canada’s national forest strategy and endangered species legislation. She has led the CPAWS initiative to establish protected areas linking Manitoba, Ontario and Minnesota. She has sat, as public representative, on the provincial government’s consultation group under the Sustainable Development Act. Throughout the year, she has been the driving force and inspiration to the MNS Parks Committee. She has also served as vice-president of CPAWS Manitoba chapter.

The Crocus Award is given “for outstanding service in preserving a part of Manitoba in its natural state”. The area of Manitoba that has been closest to Alice’s heart, for which she has worked hardest to preserve in its natural state, and for which her Crocus Award is especially dedicated, is the boreal forest of eastern Manitoba including the Whiteshell, Nopiming, and Atikaki provincial parks. For years she has worked to make the federal and provincial governments, and Pine Falls Paper Co. accountable for their actions on the east side, including trying to unscramble the mess regarding numerous unauthorized bridges.

Last fall, she compiled a massive case on the non-enforcement on the federal environmental laws and regulations, and sent it to the federal Environmental Auditor, along with 129 supporting documents. I would’ve liked to have seen their faces when they opened that box!
She fought the establishment of a mining development by Canmine Resources in Nopiming Park, the development of a private road to Florence and Nora Lakes in the Whiteshell, and is providing assistance to the group trying to reroute the Mantario hiking trail. She continues to fight the development of an all-weather road along the east of Lake Winnipeg, which is being pushed through without the proper environmental assessments.

Her work on the Manitoba Model Forest and all of its committees, as well as her participation in the Pine Falls Paper Co. advisory committee, are all directed at protecting the east side from harmful development. Alice has also strongly supported aboriginal communities in the area in their quest for a voice in decisions that affect them, for the right to clean water and clean air, and for their right to carry on traditional activities on their ancestral lands. She has been the voice of the people, and a strong, clear voice for nature, on the east side of Lake Winnipeg.

Ten months ago Alice was, in a sense, on a roll. She had waged many successful battles to preserve our natural environment, and she had also waged a successful battle against the cancer that she had contracted a few years earlier. After undergoing many treatments and radical surgery, her cancer was in complete remission and she was looking forward to many more years of pursuing the passions of her life. Tonight, I am sad to say, the situation is very different. Alice’s cancer has returned, and is rapidly spreading through her bones.

While we fervently hope that, once again, she will beat the odds, the MNS wanted to make sure that it could offer this public tribute while she can still accept it publicly in our company. Some might say that this is being defeatist, but I don’t think so. I am reminded of what Alice told me a few weeks ago when I expressed surprise that she was flying down to Ottawa for those meetings I talked about earlier. Don’t worry, she said, I’ve taken out cancellation insurance!

When Alice first informed me of her illness a few years ago, her reaction was not one of self-pity or resignation, but rather of disappointment and frustration. “This is so annoying!” she said. She would have to miss meetings. She would be missing opportunities to be helpful and to further the cause of conservation. More recently, she wrote to me: “The most disappointing thing is not to be able to do what I want to do – there are just so many things that one could do but they all take energy.” How wrong she was about her own capacity to overcome such a huge setback! If anything, she became even more involved and productive. Meetings were scheduled around her bouts of therapy. On those rare occasions when she could non attend the meeting she would send a multipage memorandum outlining those issues that we needed to deal with, and practical suggestions as to how we should proceed. Even in her absence, Alice turned out to be the most important, informative, and appreciated member of a meeting. She is going back into the hospital next week for more treatment.

That is likely to slow her down, but only a little. She will still have her phone, the networking will go on from her hospital bed, and there will be no respite for politicians who shirk their responsibilities as stewards of our natural areas.

While the Crocus Award is the highest honour the MNS can bestow, there is an even greater tribute that we, as fellow naturalists, can offer Alice, and that is to assist her in her mission of protecting our natural areas for as long as she is with us, and if she were to be taken away from us, to carry on her work after she is gone. So when she asks us to write a letter, write a letter. And when she suggests more people should go to a public function to demonstrate that people care about conservation issues, let us go. And to those who say: “I don’t know how to proceed” or “I don’t know enough about these issue to do anything useful”, I have a suggestion. It is entirely coincidental, but also appropriate, that the MNS Environmental Action Committee has scheduled a workshop on environmental lobbying this coming Wednesday at the MNS offices on Albert Street. If you really want to show Alice your appreciation for all she is doing, come to that meeting, and find out how you can help carry on her work.

It is said that no one is irreplaceable. Alice is the exception to that rule. I know of no one who has such a razor-sharp mind, an encyclopedic knowledge, a vast array of contacts from one end of Canada to the other, an unflinching devotion to a cause without any sign of dogmatism or intolerance, a generosity of spirit toward friend and foe alike, boundless patience and boundless energy, rock-solid integrity, and a wicked sense of homour no matter what the frustrations and setbacks. Those of us who work with Alice are sometimes exhausted and overwhelmed just trying to keep up our understanding of what she is doing. As a rule, human beings are given only 24 hours to live in any given day, How Alice manages to squeeze in another 12 hours on top of that, I don’t know.

She is one the most selfless persons I have ever met, and one of the most humble. She never seeks the limelight, and is quite happy to see others take the glory for some of her achievements. So…many letters and briefs are written by Alice, but signed or presented by someone else. On many occasions I have taken the credit for speeches and interviews which were based almost entirely on material provided to me by Alice, and felt guilty when complimented on my knowledge of the facts! And I never have to check those facts, because I know them to be unfailingly accurate. She is, quite simply, one of the most extraordinary persons I have met.

Before handing her her award, I would like to give Alice herself the last word about her vision for our province and especially for the east side. This quote is taken from the letter that she sent the Premier and ministers last week, along with Hap Wilson’s book:

We are deeply concerned about the future of wilderness protection in Manitoba, including the protection of our incredibly beautiful river systems in eastern and northern Manitoba. These areas are significant for many reasons, including their diversity of wildlife, high water quality, cultural and archeological history, contributions to clean air and water, recreation, fisheries, carbon sequestration, etc. As remaining wilderness areas across the world are lost to developments, the value of these Manitoba wilderness areas will increase. There is still an opportunity to make decisions on the east side of Lake Winnipeg that will allow for land use planning and public consultation with Manitobans as a while, on how to protect and develop these public lands and waters.

Alice, please accept this award as a token of our appreciation, our admiration, our friendship and our love.

Service Award recipient 1998

More than any single MNS member, Alice has been these last several years – and especially this past year- the voice of conservation for this organization. Alice is a member of the MNS Parks Committee, while at the same time involved in many other campaigns and sitting on a myriad of committees and advisory boards. Her accomplishments are many.

She took a leading role in the Clean Environment Commission hearings on the establishment of the Louisiana-Pacific OSB mill, with the result that some of her recommendations were accepted and incorporated in the license. She provided leadership to MNS and the environmental community as a while during the public consultation phase leading up to the proclamation of the new Manitoba Parks Act and Park Systems Plan by providing other interveners with the research information they needed to make their own presentations. She is presently leading the campaign to minimize the environmental damage as the whole east side of Lake Winnipeg opens up to roads, bridges and development, bringing to light the dangers which threaten the Bloodvein Canadian Heritage River. She represents the Manitoba environmental perspective in numerous conservation-related conferences from Victoria to Halifax, often at her own expense.

Whatever the cause, Alice plays a major part in educating Manitobans about the environmental consequences of developmental decisions through numerous articles and letters in environmental publications and the Winnipeg media. Perhaps the most telling commentary on Alice’s effectiveness in raising awareness of environmental processes in Manitoba, and the respect she earned even from her adversaries, was her recent nomination by the Minister of Environment to the Manitoba Environmental Council. When she asked why the government would want a “troublemaker like her” on the Council, the Minister’s office replied, only half-jokingly, “we like to have you where we can see you”. Whether they see her or not, Alice is there to keep them honest or, if they are not, make them pay a price.

Alice is a credit to the MNS and a deserving recipient of the Service Award.

President’s Award recipient 1997

Those of you who know Alice know that she works tirelessly to keep the province environmentally intact. As a member of the Parks Committee, Alice spends thousands of hours reading and analysing endless reports from government and industry and presenting briefs, trying to encourage our province to take a greater stewardship role.

Alice has overcome many personal challenges in the past year, challenges that would have sent most into early retirement. Alice has persevered, however, working as hard as ever. I am fortunate enough to be able to call Alice a friend as well as a colleague and have valued her advice and support during my time as President.