Local Hometown Hero!

Long-time member of Environment North, Graham Saunders, is one of the the three finalists in the Earth Day Hometown Hero award.

This article about Hometown Hero Graham Saunders was first published in the Chronicle Journal in June, 2013

Every year in June, Earth Day Canada recognizes volunteer environmental achievements across the country with the HomeTown Heroes Award Program. We are very pleased to announce that Graham Saunders, board member of Environment North was one of the three finalists in the individual category.

 Graham was nominated because he has shown a long-term involvement in regional environmental issues. Among Graham’s achievements was his role in the protest against nuclear waste disposal near Atikokan in the late 1970’s and early 1980s. As a member of the Citizen’s Committee Studying Nuclear Waste and Environment North, he presented reports to government committees, interviewed technical experts at public meetings and helped to obtain a petition with 24,000 signatures from the region asking the Federal Government to conduct public hearings on nuclear waste disposal.

 The government halted test-drilling and subsequently held hearings in the 1990s. The issue has recently returned to the Northwest and Environment North is monitoring the disposal site selection process. Many of the same technical, economic and social issues of the past remain today.

 In early 2004, Graham, as a member of Environment North, joined with other groups and individuals to form Citizen’s Concerned About Synfuel (CCAS). The group raised concerns regarding the toxic waste and greenhouse gas emissions that would be produced by a proposed petroleum coke gasification power plant on Thunder Bay’s waterfront. The CCAS encouraged the community to ask the Ontario Ministry of Environment to subject the project to a full environmental assessment.

 The Environment Minister at the time agreed. CCAS presented a number of suggestions to improve the environmental aspects of the power plant.  Eventually the company abandoned the Environmental Assessment process and the project. Recent media attention has been drawn to the increasing stockpiles of petroleum coke, in particular across the river from Windsor in Detroit. 

 In the past decade Graham’s efforts have concentrated on climate change and sustainability. As a board member of Environment North, Graham has been a key organiser of three public conferences on climate change and an extended showing of the film An Inconvenient Truth to the public and to high school students. Graham continues to write articles, give talks to community groups and participates in many other initiatives involving climate change in Northwestern Ontario. 

 Sustainable practices such as growing food in your very own garden is a do-able and rewarding practice. With the support of the Lakehead University based Food Security Research Network, Graham wrote the book Gardening with Short Growing Seasons which is particularly useful this year. In many presentations to community groups he shares both his meteorological and gardening skills in describing how to take best advantage of the limited growing season. 

 Perhaps food issues were high in the minds of the judges this year as all three finalists are involved in this area. The winner of the award, Dawn Deydey, is from Fernie, British Columbia.  She founded the community Ecogarden.  At the garden she facilitates a wide range of events including educational workshops for students and families and a school salad bar program that feeds 500 students daily.  She is also involved with Wildsight, Advocates for Local Living, and is founder and coordinator of the annual Earth Day: Trashy but Flashy Fashion Show that creates outfits from trash and recycled materials.

 The other finalist is Julia Lissau from Vernon, British Columbia.  She has worked thirty-three years with the Sustainable Environment Network Society in Vernon on issues of waste reduction and transportation. She helped to create a carpooling program and the establishment of bicycle lanes. She also has a passion for growing food and sustainable agriculture and was involved with teaching skills to youth and initiating a seed swap program. Julia is on various committees including “Vernon in Transition”, which aspires to create a low-energy resilient community with many vibrant local economies.

 The inspiring profiles of current and previous year finalists are available on the Earthday Hometown Heroes website (www.earthday.ca/hometown/en/winners.php). They are all working diligently to help society adopt more sustainable practices…for our own health and well-being now as well as for the future. Sincere thanks to Graham and his fellow hometown heroes for reminding us that every day is Earthday.

 Scott Harris is a board member of Environment North and Kerstin Muth is a member of Environment North.