- Champion of the Rouge
For more than half a century,
Lois James was actively involved in the preservation of the
Rouge Valley area - the only viable wilderness watershed remaining in the Toronto Area.
History shows the establishment
of Ganaraska Forest during WWII was the first model for the
Rouge and other watersheds which followed it - and led to the
establishment of the first conservation authorities.
Although there were many other volunteers, no one worked as hard, for as many
years, as Lois James to save the Rouge Valley.
2003, Lois James was awarded the Order of Canada with the following
James is a champion of the environment and a nemesis to
those who seek to destroy it.
She rallied and sustained
public and political support in order to safeguard the Rouge
flora and fauna, watershed and wetlands. She
inspired others to become involved in preserving
delicate habitat and natural beauty that is home to many
endangered and rare species of
plant and animal life. For
over 50 years, this mild-mannered Canadian homemaker has
protecting the planet, one corner at a time."
Office of the
Governor General of Canada
on the appointment of
Lois James to the Order of Canada - August 5, 2003
More than any other single person,
Lois helped light the fire which led to one of
the largest urban wilderness parks in the world. In 2012, Rouge
Park became known as Rouge National
- Canada's first national urban park.
James educated politicians and the public and made them aware
of the environment at a time when most people did not
give it much thought. Her work in the environment,
community planning, waste reduction, pollution, foodland, soil and water conservation, transportation and
other environmental issues showed great breadth of view that were years ahead of
Not only knowing
but having nominated this remarkable woman for the
country's highest honour was a great privilege. Her tireless efforts
have helped perpetuate the urban wilderness experience for millions
When Lois James settled
in Scarborough in the mid-1960s, the Detroit native
had never heard of the park that surrounded her
family's new home.
Today, almost four decades later, the 79-year-old
dynamo is credited as being the mother of the that
park, which many say would never have come into
existence had it not been for her efforts to
preserve the local watershed.
"I thinks she's one of those lightning rods that
comes every now and then to a community and does so
much, selflessly too," said Murray Johnston,
president of the Rouge Valley Foundation. "She's
Over the years, James has been involved with
countless community groups and organizations
including Pollution Probe, Earth Week Scarborough,
The Green Door Alliance, the Green Party of Ontario,
People or Planes, the Rouge Park Alliance and the
407 Action Group.
She is also a founding member of the Rouge Valley
Foundation, Save the Rouge Valley System and the
Scarborough Environment Alliance.
ORDER OF CANADA
Last month it was announced that James has been
named to the Order of Canada in recognition of her
work to preserve the Rouge Park.
And those who have worked with her throughout the
years say there is no one more deserving of the
"We all appreciate her for the work she's done,"
Johnston said. "I can't think of anyone else who has
even half her stature in the Rouge."
In a recent interview at the Meadowvale Road home
she bought with her late husband Bob almost 40 years
ago, James said she never set out to become an
But, she conceded, it's not a role she fell into
"When you see things that are terribly important
to the world, you get active and you bring some
others with you," she said.
Thinking back, she said her love affair with
nature began at the age of 21 when she enlisted in
the U.S. Navy as an aerologist during the Second
"They made a weather man out of me. That was
marvelous," she said.
"Actually, that put me in touch with nature ... I
never thought of that before. I never did."
James hadn't been living in the Rouge long before
she became involved in the community.
"That's why we have a Rouge Park, because we
settled here in 1965. Very quickly we knew no one
was in charge of this river," she said. "The Beare
Road landfill was coming in and we knew something
It was through her research at the University of
Toronto's Scarborough campus that James first became
familiar with the issues in her community and the
inner workings of local government, she said.
James and her husband Bob, a sociologist whom she
met at Wayne State University in Michigan, moved to
Scarborough with their four children in 1965, after
spending time in Nevada, Montana and then Alberta.
"I loved the desert, just loved it. The spicy
smell of the desert," James said of her years in
"It was 1950 something, three or four, and we had
the McCarthy era starting up and we had a really
conservative president of the university. He was
having everybody sign loyalty oaths ... this was a
call to arms for the social scientists," she said.
"We were blackballed so we moved up to Montana ...
The couple stayed in Montana for a short period
and then moved on to Alberta in 1956.
"I loved Alberta and they were ready for
sociology so we brought American sociology up (from
the U.S.)," she said, noting by then the University
of Toronto was developing sub-campuses.
"Bob thought he would take a part-time position
for a year and come to Toronto," she said.
"So he moved us all. He took the job to set
sociology up at Scarborough."
James said she and her husband got a map of the
area and drew a circle around the campus. It had
always been a rule that they would live no further
than five minutes from work.
That's when the family found the bungalow in
Scarborough where James still resides.
"We didn't know the Rouge. We had never heard of
it," she said. "I've been here 38 years and I can't
believe it. I've never been anywhere that long in my
It wasn't long after her husband, who died about
three years ago at the age of 75, took the job at
UTSC that James began helping out with a
socioeconomic study at the campus.
"I kind of knew my way politically when I
finished that study," she said. "I thought I did a
great job. It just makes you ready to tackle things
U.S. NAVY TRAINING
James' initial foray into the world of public
activism came in Oregon when she joined the League
of Women Voters.
"That was my crash education really," she said.
James also said her training in the U.S. Navy was
"I learned a lot, not about the environment. That
kind of creeps up on you," said the woman who ran
but was defeated in the mayoralty race in
Scarborough in 1978 and as a candidate for the Green
Party in the Scarborough-Rouge River riding in 1988
"I've never seen any one person so concerned
about the environment ... I hope she'll be with us
another 50 years," said Ward 42 Councillor Raymond
Cho (Scarborough-Rouge River), who was James running
opponent in 1988 as the NDP candidate for the
riding, which was won by Liberal Derek Lee.
Cho, who's worked with James on a number of
issues since he was elected to city hall 12 years
ago, said he was "exceedingly happy" to hear James
is receiving the Order of Canada.
"She is to me, and to a lot of people, the mother
of the Rouge Park," Cho said.
Marian Martin, who nominated James for the
national honour, said James is one of the most
remarkable people she's ever met.
"It's my opinion that without Lois James, there
wouldn't be a Rouge Park," she said.
"Years ago I was in India and I met Mother
Teresa," Martin said. "Lois reminds me of her. She
gives and gives so much without any compensation."
She added, "Lois, we can't get into sainthood,
but we got her the Order of Canada."
James herself said she hasn't thought much about
the significance of receiving the honour.
"I think it's very nice," she said.
When asked where she found the determination to
tackle one project after another over the years,
James said, "You just take it as it comes."
A LOT OF WORK
James said the establishment of the Rouge Park in
1995 was the realization of a lot of work, by a lot
of people in the community.
"We had to campaign every inch of the way," she
James, who admitted her days of protesting in
front of bulldozers are likely over, continues to
work with the Green Party as well as several local
environmental committees, including the Community
Resource Centre of Scarborough, for which she is
campaigning for a new headquarters.
James is also active in the La Belle, Florida
where she spends her winters.
"We used to go to Florida every year," she said.
"It's a totally different ecosystem.
"My father retired there," she said, adding the
couple would visit him on holiday.
"I was stationed there during the war, isn't that
an amazing chance?"
Despite the many years she's been visiting the
Sunshine State, James has never been to Disney
"I like tenting and being with nature," said the
woman who shows few signs of slowing down.
In recent years she has started an Earth Day
program, launched a citizens group and brought the
Green Party to La Belle, located between West Palm
Beach and Fort Myers.
Last year, at 78, James travelled to South Africa
to attend her first Earth Summit.
"I loved it. My first Earth Summit ... it was
A Common History (Ganaraska and
History shows the establishment
of Ganaraska Forest during WWII laid the early foundation for the Rouge and
other watersheds which followed it. For the first
time in Canadian history, the Ganaraska study provided a holistic rather than a
piecemeal approach to conservation.
Selected as the first test project in
Ontario, The Ganaraska Watershed Report (1944) provided a conservation template for
not only Ganaraska, but for the Rouge and other watersheds in Southern Ontario. Its recommendations
set in motion a whole series of events which transformed the approach to
conservation in Canada. This included the creation of the conservation
authorities in Ontario; the passing of the Conservation Authorities Act (which
enabled the authorities the power to acquire lands) the establishment of
watershed natural boundaries (instead of political), etc.
The most significant master plan
and core document to
protect the Rouge Valley was a huge publication entitled the R.D.H.P.
Conservation Report (Rouge-Duffin-Highland-Petticoat) published in 1956 -- more than a decade after the Ganaraska report and two years after
Hurricane Hazel (which really got things moving).
According to Lois, the
conservation report was a wonderful thing because "there was no other model to follow" and it provided
for her citizens group. (she was one of the founders of Save the
The blueprint in the R.D.H.P.
Conservation Report (1956)
large-scale wilderness parkland and nature preserve"
in the Rouge Valley
half a century before Rouge Park was created:
"This area contains the
choicest block of natural unspoiled
wilderness in the lower
reaches of any of the valleys…
This conservation area (Rouge) offers the best possibility
of any of the valley lands immediately adjacent to
Metropolitan Toronto for the development of
wilderness parkland and
A. H. Richardson,
R.D.H.P. Conservation Report (1956)
Department of Planning and Development
Today, Ganaraska Forest and Rouge Park are
similar in size (each 11,000 acres+). Ganaraska Forest and Rouge Park also
an important part of
Ontario's Greenbelt (2005)
- the world's largest greenbelt - which might
not exist without the far-reaching recommendations first set down
in The Ganaraska Watershed
Conservation Report (1956)
In both the Ganaraska and R.D.H.P.
Conservation Reports, V. B. Blake wrote the historical backdrops
the lead historian.
Lois James - Bio.
Lois James was born October 11,
1923 in Cleveland, Ohio. She was the second daughter of Owen and Mildred
Fowler and of British and Welsh ancestry. From a young age, her parents
and grandparents left an imprint which would follow Lois James
throughout her life.
Her father was a Chiropodist and keenly interested
in politics as a political delegate. He loved the great outdoors, or as
Lois described "Papa’s love of wilderness and country." Her
Grandfather was a congregational Minister.
Lois James graduated from Alma
College, Michigan in 1944 with Honours - Bachelor of Arts degree
including three majors in Music, Biology and French.
During World War 1, she enlisted
with the U.S. Navy as an Aerologist (1944-1945) and was placed at
Lakehurst, New Jersey in the singing platoon - bootcamp. She was then
sent to the torpedo bomber base at Opaloca, Florida for further training
in aerology, flight plans and weather maps until 1946.
Under the G.I. Bill, Lois James
received her Master’s Degree (1948) in Music at Wayne State University,
Michigan. While studying at this university, she fell in love with
Robert James who would become her lifelong partner and husband. Lois
Fowler and Robert (Bob) James were married September 3, 1948. They would
later adopt four children, Katherine, John, Delores and Michael.
Prof. Robert James
(1924 - 2000)
half a century, Bob would be her "rock and support" who provided
Lois with her "car, food, shelter, encouragement and ideas"
her many causes. A great loss, Robert James passed away quietly as he
had lived, at his home on March 6, 2000.)
In 1949, Lois James joined
United Nations Globe of Citizens and this association would become the
foundation of what was to come. It gave her the right vocabulary and
understanding of citizenship, the world, and the role of citizens in all
levels of government.
Lois James worked as a Research
Assistant for various Professors at the University of Oregon where her
husband was studying at the same university until 1950 when he graduated
in 1950 with a PhD in Sociology under a Carnegie Fellowship. She was
introduced to his fields, namely Sociology, Economics and History and
found "she had a mind that seemed to go for science and research."
In 1950, Lois James and her
family moved to Reno Nevada, where she became extremely interested in
the democratic process, women’s rights, and non-partisan issues at all
levels (international, national and local). From 1951 to 1956, Lois
James joined the League of Women Voters in Reno, Nevada, and later in
Montana. The League was given a grant to fill in all chapters of the
west. Lois entertained Eleanor Roosevelt at the University of Nevada,
who she described as
"a great lady – a
pioneer with the United Nations in her work for human rights."
A pivotal point for Lois James
came in 1956. The James family moved to Canada when her husband, Robert
James accepted a post with The University of Alberta. Their move to
Canada was prompted by the rise of "McCarthyism" in United States:
"The rise of McCarthyism in the 1950’s prompted the move to Canada…
People were asking people to sign their loyalty everywhere, and for
social scientists this was not tolerable..."
(Robert James, 75 fought for the Rouge Sociology Pioneer
set up university departments - The Toronto Star, March 15, 2000, GT05)
In the early years in Canada,
Lois James provided great support to her husband as he established the
field of sociology . Robert James was the first professor of sociology
at both the University of Alberta and at University of Toronto’s
Scarborough campus. "He was ahead of his time" according to his
colleague, John Alan Lee:
(then) an American field and it
hadn’t really come to Canada as itself; it
was always attached to the departments of political economy."
In Edmonton, Lois James worked
as a music teacher (choir and vocal) from 1956 to 1964. The
natural talent and beautiful voice of Lois James was recognized from the
time she was 4-1/2 years of age. In 1958, she sang with Robert Shaw in
the Brahm’s Requiem in San Diego, and opera in Edmonton. In Toronto, she
sang with the Mendelsson Choir and joined its European tour in the early
1970’s. She also sang with the Orpheus Choir in Toronto. Her beautiful
voice is still heard in the United Church, where she remains a choir
member. She has also published the Outreach Newsletter for the United
Church on international and social issues.
The James family moved to
Toronto in 1964 when Robert James joined the University of Scarborough’s
campus. After spending the first year in the Don Valley Village area of
Toronto, they moved to a forested property on Meadowvale Road by the
Rouge Valley in 1965, where Lois James continues to reside. On their
move to the Rouge Valley area of Toronto, Lois felt "God put Bob and I here
accidentally. We didn’t know where we were, or why we were here… but we
soon found it."
In their new home, the James
family had hoped to live a quiet life in a rural setting but it was not
to be amidst some of the regions top environmental controversies.
"They hoped to live a quiet life in
what was then farm country,
but almost immediately, the area became ground zero
of some of the region’s top environmental controversies."
Making a Difference –
Activist ‘couldn’t avoid’ role in defence of Rouge
honoured for her 30-year fight against the valley’s development…
Scarborough’s Lois James is as vigilant and enthusiastic as ever
The Globe and Mail – December 21, 1999 by Wallace Immen
Lois James was well suited for
the path she would follow:
"I was trained to keep my eye on government…
I grew up in the United States and was trained as
a citizen in the League of Women Voters which operates at
a local, state and municipal level. When I moved to Canada,
there was no league, no movement of that nature."
Lois James as quoted in
with a cause – Council Watchdogs
keep a close eye on local governments across the GTA
The Toronto Star – August 1, 1996 – NY1 by Tracy Hanes
Her campaigns over the
next 35 years in the environment and community would be many. Even
though she never intended to be an activist, she demonstrated amazing
perseverance and selfless voluntarism.
"I never intended to be an activist. I
couldn’t avoid it.
Especially since I lived in the middle of it."
Lois James -
Making a Difference
The Globe and Mail – December 21, 1999
The garbage crisis has
always been a serious issue for Lois James. In the 1960’s, she joined
Pollution Probe and started questioning the throwaway society in a time
when it was unpopular, because few could see the need.
For the next 30 years,
Lois James and her group would be shunned while plans were developed for
highways, subdivisions and a garbage dump in the last untouched
greenspace in the Toronto area.
"We’re the last river system in the Metro area that isn’t a sewer.
It isn’t the amount of development but the fallout from it
that will lead to the degradation of the park."
quoted in Stay out of the Rouge, developer tells Crombie
The Toronto Star – September 14, 1989 – E2 by Daniel Girard
The first big campaign for the
Rouge was triggered in 1967 when Lois and her husband saw a dump built
(Beare Road) in a gravel pit next to the Rouge River. She helped
organize protests against the plan to dump garbage at the edge of the
Rouge Valley. The dump was finally closed around 1984 and is now
replaced by a methane plant generating electricity.
Another fight came with the
dumping of radioactive soil at the Reesor Rd. dump and gravel pit in the
1970’s. Lois and her community helped to raise $100,000 (a huge amount
in those days) to hire David Estrin as Legal Counsel (co-author of
Ontario Environmental Law book entitled "Environment on Trial"). This
trial resulted in longest court case of the time by a coalition of
groups. The radioactive soil was never brought to the site.
Soon after, Lois James began
challenging the loss of good farmland by the Rouge Valley with a big new
Zoo for Toronto. With development of the zoo, the contour of the entire
landscape was changed as many trees were cut down and heritage homes
destroyed. "The citizen
protestors won some environmental concessions to safeguard the Rouge
River, which ran through the site. But the zoo eventually went ahead
bringing the traffic with it." (Making
a Difference – Activist ‘couldn’t avoid’ role in defence of Rouge
honoured for her 30-year fight against the valley’s
development…Scarborough’s Lois James is as vigilant and enthusiastic as
ever - The Globe and Mail – December 21, 1999 by Wallace Immen)
An even bigger
challenge came in 1972 when the Federal Government began expropriating
massive amounts of land for the proposed Pickering Airport, also located
by the Rouge Valley. Lois James recalls the time as one that
"nearly killed the community."
Some of the expropriated land
was near the James’s house. The Province gave the James the choice to
sell immediately, or to hang on with an uncertain future.
Lois James did not want
to see another Mirabel…
"Imagine what it would have been like with an airport here. It would
have been a mess."
chose to fight the proposed airport and became an officer of the citizen
group "People or Planes".
In 1975, the airport plan was shelved. (In 2001,
the federal government announced its intention of giving much of the
expropriated land to Rouge Park).
What would soon follow in its
place was no better. Suburban
developments and industrial areas were beginning
"to take the guts right out of the best
farmland" according to Lois James.
The alumni of "People or Planes" formed the
"Green Door Alliance" to try save disappearing farmland in the Greater
In the early 1970’s, Lois James
saw the need to put together an advocacy group to protect the Rouge
"We can’t keep
getting killed like this one community at a time. We need a watershed
A full-time group was formed in
1975 named Save the Rouge Valley System Inc. (SRVS) with the mandate "to
preserve and enhance the Rouge watershed". Lois James and her husband
were two of the founders - Lois James was the inspiration behind SRVS.
They united a lot of good people (3,000 members) to preserve and enhance
the Rouge watershed. One of those people was Fran Sainsbury who later
became the Mayor of Whitchurch/Stouffville.
Lois James pioneered the concept
of establishing a wilderness nature preserve. She wrote extensively and
lobbied all levels of government. With a little ingenuity and a lot of
hard work, she and her small group (SVRS) overcame the lack of
"The fervour was for
the whole planet, but
we had our corner to defend."
- Making a Difference
The Globe and Mail – December 21, 1999
In her fight for the Rouge, Lois
and her group began to lean heavily on the Ministry of Environment and
The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority because she discovered
nobody was in charge.
like a swinging door going in and out of that Ministry of
Environment office, every environment minister had to learn his job.
They knew nothing."
as quoted in The Band of Rebels who saved the Rouge
Toronto Star – March 3l, 1990 – D5 by Lisa Wright
Lois James was vocal at
countless federal, provincial, municipal, planning and other meetings.
She was a lead council watchdog at the municipal level. It was a
thankless job with countless unpaid hours making presentations, slogging
through council minutes and consultant’s reports.
"Councillors, I find, all over the world with issues can’t become an
any one. Citizens have to to it. It’s hard work but very rewarding.
no big victories, but day to day little ones that build to
You don’t win many battles, but the educational process makes it
worth the fight."
as quoted in Rebels with a cause
Council Watchdogs keep a close eye
on local governments
across the GTA
Toronto Star – August 1, 1996 – NY1 by Tracy Hanes
By 1985, the tide began to turn
when Canadians in general were starting to give high priority to
environmental concerns. But there was yet another obstacle from an
unexpected source to be overcome.
two full decades of losses of wetlands, forests and farmland
before the protection movement began to develop some muscle
and have some heartening successes."
Lois James -
Making a Difference
The Globe and Mail – December 21, 1999
In 1988, the public agency that
should have been fighting for protection of the Rouge Valley, namely The
Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, took the
position that the plan to preserve a large tract of tableland beside the
Rouge River Valley (now Rouge Park) was "not technically necessary,
practical or affordable as an environmental protection measure."
The characteristic response of Lois
James, a Co-Founder of Save the Rouge Valley System was:
be up to us to make the politicians and government agencies
the Authority) change their vision and widen
the greenbelt corridor beyond the flood area."
as quoted in No need seen to conserve it all
The Toronto Star
- July 19, 1988, E2 by Sterling Taylor
In the summer of 1988, nearly a
thousand people filed into the Scarborough City Hall to ensure council’s
unanimous vote to zone 5,100 acres of Rouge land for natural and rural
uses only. The concept of a natural heritage park started to snowball
after this victory.
When Lois James ran for the
Green Party of the riding of Scarborough-Rouge River in 1988, she was
considered to be the "emotional choice" in her riding, for among other
"James was fighting to preserve the
Rouge Valley…when most
Metro residents thought Rouge was women’s
swing next Monday?
The Toronto Star – November 15, 1988, E1 by
Raymond Cho (NDP) and Derek Lee
(Liberal) who were then her running opponents, would later become her
staunch supporters in her cause to preserve the Rouge Valley.
When Ontario Hydro proposed its
power line to be strung across the Rouge River Valley in 1989 to serve
Metro Zoo, Lois James called it:
"A callous disregard of the
environment – a three-wire line
on heavy poles… a blight on the Rouge Valley. It’s
obscene and we want something done about it."
Lois James as
Hydro Line called "obscene"
The Toronto Star –
January 17, 1989, E2 by Stan Josey
The power lines were
subsequently installed but Ontario Hydro, the politicians and public had
listened to Lois James.
learned the compromise is not the way to protect the
environment…as soon as you begin to compromise, it is
Making a Difference
Active Magazine, Spring/Summer, 1994
During the garbage crisis in
1989, she raised the specter on the Rouge National Heritage Park lands
being considered and studied for a garbage dump site:
"To save these lands, Scarborough must set the highest standards
for garbage reduction among its own people. Society must
receive a clear message from its elected leaders in keeping with
the changes required for reduction of garbage… We are all in
this garbage crisis together… I, for my part, do not want to be
ashamed of my city’s leadership falling behind in doing
all that must be done toward reduction…. We have allotted extra
money to garbage collection, but let us not use it for unsorted
waste. Let’s use it for setting up composting sites for
residents… for educational materials on how to reduce waste. Let
us give a clear indication we know what this garbage crisis is
Lois James as
quoted in Councillors
shunned recycling program
The Toronto Star – April 4, 1989, E4 - Lois James
Shortly thereafter, the proposal
for a new garbage dump on Rouge area lands was scrapped.
When Scarborough’s Social Planning
Council held a panel in November of 1989 to discuss ways to reduce
garbage in Metro before it reached a crisis point, speakers included
representatives from the Ministry of Environment, Scarborough Works
Dept., Solid Waste Environmental Assessment Plan and Lois James as
Secretary of the City’s Social Planning Council who said:
"People must change their habits to conserve in order to control
the trash crisis… The first and last line of defense in the war
against garbage is reduction."
Lois James as quoted
Social planning council seeks
The Toronto Star – November 23, 1989 –
E9 by Lisa Wright
In January of 1990, a 250 unit
condominium development was approved by Scarborough City Council at the
entrance to the Rouge Valley along Twyn Rivers Dr. (formerly known as
the "Glen Eagles" site). It was the first highrise development in an
environmentally sensitive area which Lois and her group (SVRS) tried to
get set aside as part of the park:
"This is one of a long list of degrading developments on the
edge of the Rouge. We’ve never been able to save a piece of
that rim no matter how spectacular it was."
Lois James as quoted
Scarborough approves Rouge Valley
The Globe and Mail – January 16, 1990, A17 by
Several years later, with
pressure from Lois, her group, politicians and the public, this
important parcel of land with a panoramic view over the Rouge Valley was
saved for future generations with funds received ($6 Million) from three
levels of government – federal, provincial and municipal. Today, this
important site is part of Rouge Park.
By February 1990, The Toronto
and Region Conservation Authority had come around and adopted the Rouge
River watershed master plan. For the first time, recognition was given
by the Authority to protection of the Rouge Valley on a watershed basis,
rather than piecemeal basis, and to expand enforcement programs to
ensure developers comply with regulations.
start. (The Plan) purports to have policies and
technical standards and it is on a broad watershed
basis. Up to now, it has been just piecemeal fashion…
speedy action on the plan is needed to protect the area,
now under growing pressure from developers."
Lois James as quoted
Authority okays plan to protect
The Toronto Star – February 24, 1990, A4 by
A month later, another
threat north of the Zoo followed as Rouge tablelands were considered as
the site for another public golf course. Lois James as spokesperson for
SRVS was emphatic in the need for environmental protection of the Rouge
stating "the Group does not want a
(14) (Golf Rouge Tablelands
eyed as site for another public course - The Globe and Mail – March
28, 1990 – A18 by Lorne Rubenstein).
The golf course proposal never proceeded.
Through the many obstacles and
years, the vision of Lois James and Save the Rouge Valley System was
simple and it was consistent:
generations must be able to walk in a centuries-old
forest, catch a glimpse of white-tailed deer and swim in
an unpolluted river within Canada’s most populous
Lois James as quoted
The Band of
Rebels who saved the Rouge
The Toronto Star – March 3l,
1990 – D5 by Lisa Wright
With the "vision" and Lois James
to carry the group through many difficult years of being ignored, booed
at public meetings, etc., "the band of rebels" (SRVS) would soon live up
to its name. They had watched and struggled as the Rouge environment
paid the price. Soon, the writing on the wall was starting to be read.
‘70’s, people would make fun of you for your ideas. It
was a terribly painful time… We lost a lot of battles in
the first 10 years because the level of public awareness
and political understanding just wasn’t there…for
instance, many ponds in the Rouge were destroyed over
that decade (with) industrial and residential
development… much of the wildlife habitat disappeared.
The writing was on the wall."
Lois James as quoted
The Band of Rebels who
saved the Rouge
The Toronto Star – March 3l, 1990 – D5 by
In September, 1989, the report
of Commissioner David Crombie recommended the Rouge Wilderness area be
protected as a natural heritage park and attacked the province’s plan to
build an eight-lane expressway and garbage dump. Certain prominent
developers in Toronto like Joe Lebovic noted Crombie’s report and
publicly said Crombie "should mind his own business." Lois James
was emphatic in her response:
"Development of a garbage dump, an expressway and
housing would destroy the entire area, which is home to
white-tailed deer, bald eagles, red foxes and rare plant
species… we’re the last river system in the Metro area
that isn’t a sewer. It isn’t the amount of development
but the fallout from it that will lead to the
degradation of the park."
Lois James as quoted
Stay out of the Rouge,
developer tells Crombie
The Toronto Star – September 14,
1989 – E2 by Daniel Girard
The Developer (Lebovic) was
with the proposal to create Rouge Park because it would interfere with
his plans for executive housing in the Rouge Valley. He threatened to
erect a huge sign along Highway 401 (Canada’s busiest highway) with bold
letter words which said:
"If it wasn’t for the white tail deer, you
would be home by now."
Celebrating Rouge Park
Nature preserve backers pleased land set aside
Star – August 1, 1996 - OS1 by Stan Josey
The intended highway sign was
probably meant for commuters stuck in heavy rush hour traffic to suggest
the extra distance would not have to be driven if housing were allowed
in the Rouge Valley. Fortunately, Lebovic never carried through on his
threat and eventually his land in the Rouge area was bought by the
In the fall of 1988, the Rouge
Valley appeared to be saved when Ottawa offered the provincial
government $10 million to help create the park. Queen’s Park dragged its
feet. Finally in March, 1990 as a result of the public pressure
generated by the SRVS group to keep developers out of the last
wilderness area in Toronto, Premier David Peterson (Liberal) promised to
save 10,500 acres of the Rouge River Valley as Canada’s biggest urban
Rouge Park was officially opened
on April 5, 1995 under former Premier Bob Rae, leader of the NDP
Government who called the newly opened park:
"A symbol for the future... a place
where nature takes priority… For the first time in Ontario,
governments, agencies, groups, the local community and
volunteers have come together to protect and rehabilitate a
valuable natural resource."
Park hailed as "Symbol for the Future
The Toronto Star,
April 6, 1995, A6 by Sterling Taylor
Scarborough Councillor Ron
Moeser had earlier recognized:
"Anybody who’s walked there
has seen this is a unique area… the Rouge area could be as
important to Toronto as Central Park is to New York, or Hyde
Park is to London."
Stay out of the
Rouge, developer tells Crombie
The Toronto Star –
September 14, 1989 – E2 by Daniel Girard
For her work, in 1995, Lois
James was recognized with the Global Citizen’s Challenge Award by the
United Nations Association.
Even though Rouge Park had just officially opened, within
months, other threats on the newly created park were soon looming.
With the destruction of mature
maples to widen the road along Steeles Ave. in N.E. Toronto in September
of 1995, there was heightened concerns for the ecological future of
"It doesn’t give us much
environmentalist Lois James, whose devotion to preserving
the wilderness sanctuary was a driving force behind the
creation of Canada’s largest urban Park… Now we’re more afraid for the
future of the park than ever."
maples raises concerns for Rouge Park
future as trees
cut down to widen road
The Toronto Star –
September 8, 1995 – SC1 by Sterling Taylor
Demands for environmental
safeguards grew as work was about to commence along Steeles Ave. E.
across Rouge Park between Toronto and Durham Region. A guarantee was
wanted that the traffic increase to the area would not damage the
sensitive ecological balance of Canada’s largest urban park.
"Area resident Lois James wants the
corridor declared a scenic heritage park road. That would
ensure the section of Steeles would follow the contours of
the land and not be just another arrow-straight highway …
It might not
prevent the pollution, but it might instill a consciousness
of the environment in the minds of motorists who travel the
Rouge Park supporters
seeking road safeguards
The Toronto Star – July 30, 1995
– SC1 by Sterling Taylor
With the threat of yet another
major highway across the park, Lois James was instrumental in the
establishment of the "407 Action Group" to try and stop an extension of
Highway 407 across the Rouge Valley:
"Roads are so
macho; they do more damage than almost anything".
- Making a Difference – Activist ‘couldn’t avoid’ role in defence
of Rouge honoured for her 30-year fight against the valley’s
The Globe and Mail – December 21,
1999 by Wallace Immen
Lois James was the organizer of
Canada’s second Earth Day Celebrations in Scarborough (1991) and
continues to help out in varying capacities at its annual events. (Earth
Day was first celebrated in 1970 by Americans, but would not arrive in
Canada until 1990, when it went global).
Earth Day celebrations now last
a week and are important because they promote the need for environmental
awareness and the dangers that threaten it through ecology walks, plays,
as well as a series of other activities across Toronto.
"The goal of
Earth Day Canada is to develop programs to enable people
across the country to reduce their personal environmental
impact… We are building a grassroots network across the
country that can provide individuals with the kinds of help
they require to reduce their impact without radically
altering their lifestyles."
- Take a hike, plant trees on Earth Day
The Toronto Star – April 11, 1991 – E14 by Phinjo Gombu
Politicians from all levels of government have recognized the work
of Lois James including Joyce Trimmer,
the former Mayor of
Scarborough, in 1996 who said:
"A lot of naysayers said it
couldn’t be done, Trimmer recalled as residents gathered
to celebrate the creation of the giant Rouge Park…
Dedicated volunteers like Lois James helped
form the Save the Rouge Valley Group… just coming
off the successful fight to block
a proposed new international airport in Pickering in
the mid 1970’s."
Park Nature preserve backers pleased land set aside
The Toronto Star – August 1, 1996 - OS1 by Stan Josey
(left) and Joyce
Trimmer, former Mayor Scarborough
The dedication of Lois James to
environmental protection was recognized in 1999 when she was awarded the
Rouge Park Award for outstanding contribution, dedication and
extraordinary achievements. On the occasion of the award presentation:
"For as long as I can remember, my
mother has been a Don Quixote figure, tilting at the windmills of
unrestrained urban sprawl in defense of the environment… fortunately
for all of us, she has been much more successful than old Don… I
believe that my Mom’s genius is her ability to hold what are usually
two polar positions, the idealism of youth and the practical exercise of
real politic at the same time, without an ounce of logical incongruity."
"This award is presented to those who have contributed
to protecting, restoring and enhancing the Rouge Park,
and you are an exemplary example of such an individual.
Your tenacity and vision since the early 1970’s has been
a driving force behind the establishment and growth of
the Rouge Park."
The Toronto and
Region Conservation Authority
letter dated November 17, 1999
June 15, 2001, Lois James was honoured with the Paul Harris
Fellowship Award by the Rotary Club of North Scarborough even
though she is not a Rotarian member. The last non-Rotarian
to be given this honour was highly esteemed former Mayor Frank
She has persistently kept a
vigilant eye on the local governments and unhesitantly did battle
whenever there was an issue that needed challenging but never in a
confrontational manner. Lois always stressed the "educational approach".
"Municipal politicians are propelled into front ranks
environmental protection ill-prepared."
mistake was to think someone was in charge…
government to be aware, but after a few months
we realized it isn’t and that the job was ours to do.
thing that makes you irritable is that the government
resources and volunteer groups have nothing."
Lois James as
quoted in Making a Difference
Spring/Summer, 1994 p.33
attended countless meetings at Metropolitan Toronto and City Councils to
alert her interested groups to developments in urban politics, observe
the effects of adopted policies, and comment on the decision-making
"She’s kept a watchful eye on
environmental and social planning issues… and calls her
tangles with governments ‘a great adventure’."
a cause – Council Watchdogs keep a close eye on local
governments across the GTA
Toronto Star – August
1, 1996 – NY1 by Tracy Hanes
James has assisted dozens of groups in setting up own community and
environmental groups. She recognized long ago the smaller groups that
join networks and alliances, allowed the small group to gain the support
of the larger ones. SRVS for example is a member of several groups,
including the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, Canadian Environmental
"For nearly three
decades, her candid views and unstinting approach have been
powerful weapons in her battle to preserve the Rouge River watershed…
she has seen a lot of volunteers come and go, but James… is as
committed as ever."
Difference – Lois James
Active Magazine, Spring/Summer, 1994
One of the
greatest assets of Lois James is the strength and "inspiring faith" she
has given to others. She has amassed a large constituency of like people
devoted to her aims. She has been a mentor and a role model to numerous
view to the "big picture", James took strong positions on major issues
affecting the community, environment and Rouge Park and her achievements
were achieved not by fighting City Hall, but by working with the system.
She never got derailed with minor details. People like Lois James "came not to bury City Hall, but to appraise it,"
to paraphrase a
former president of the Association of Women Electors. With her sheer
force of personality, she is still considered "an institution" at
Scarborough and Metro Councils.
"She (James) is an
institution at Scarborough and Metro Councils, a member of
numerous coalitions who is known for her articulate
presentations and her makeshift "briefcases" – the plastic
shopping bags she uses to carry her papers."
Rebels with a cause – Council Watchdogs
keep a close eye
on local governments across the GTA The Toronto Star
August 1, 1996 – NY1 by Tracy Hanes
More great quotes from and about Lois...
no big victories, but day to day little ones that build to something
significant." (Lois James)
volunteers find us themselves… it’s our job to be visible and o be
available for someone who might say, ‘Hey, I’d like to do that." (Lois James -
Making a Difference Active Magazine Spring/Summer, 1994 p.33)
"We haven't just
inherited the earth from our forefathers, our society continues to
borrow its endowments from our children." (Lois James)
things that need doing, that nobody else will do..." (Lois James)
don’t go to all the meetings – and we do have a lot of them. But I go
where I can. I always want to be there when it gets to the moment of
James as quoted in Making a Difference – Lois James - Active
Magazine, Spring/Summer, 1994 p.33)
"I don’t think anyone could replace
Lois James for what she does because her vision is so broad, and doesn’t
limit her scope… she is involved in so many issues…." (Murray Johnston, President of the
Rouge Valley Foundation)
"Lois is the one that got things going."
(Richard Schoffield, Chief Archivist of the
Scarborough Historical Society)
"We need the Loises of the world. We
can count on her to show up at meetings and make the right points". "She was always there and the one who
got things wrapped up in the community." (Sue Russell, former Co-ordinator of Rouge Park)
With her priorities on
the environment, in human welfare and citizen participation in community
planning, Lois James has been committed to the following organizations
Association of Women Electors (AWE)
Cedar Grove Community Club
Coalition to preserve Foodland in Southern Ontario
Conservation Council of Ontario
Earth Week Scarborough
Federation of Ontario Naturalists
Green Door Alliance
Green Party of Ontario Heritage York
It’s not Garbage
Transportation Plan Review Group
Ontario Committee for World
People or Planes (POP)
Ride For The Rouge Rouge Park
Rouge Park Alliance
Rouge Valley Foundation
Rouge Valley System
Scarborough Citizen’s Task Force on the
Scarborough Environment Alliance
Scarborough Environmental Committee
Social Planning Council of Scarborough
Toronto Field Naturalists
Toronto Pedestrian Committee
United Nations Citizen Member
Association, Toronto Branch
United Way East
University Women’s Club
407 Action Group
On September 14, 2010, Lois
James, recipient of the Order of Canada for
her leadership in saving the Rouge Valley, spoke about work for the
environment as work for peace at the Peace Day celebration in
Mississauga (Canadian chapter of the Registry of World Citizens).
The greatest asset of
Lois James has been her way of giving strength to others devoted to
similar causes, of which there were many. The selfless volunteerism,
dedication and vision of Lois over many years has had enormous impact on
matters of the environment and the community. In her diplomatic way, she
has educated politicians from all levels of government on the importance
of a healthy environment.
Beginning with her work
in 1949 as a citizen member with the United Nations, and throughout her
life, she has demonstrated perseverance, strength and stamina, while
living simply and humbly.
"What you leave your
children and grandchildren
is the result of your
It’s going to take your life, nothing less.
I don’t know any shortcuts."
Difference – Lois James
Active Magazine, Spring/Summer,
Now almost 89 years of
age, Lois remains active with various community organizations and
maintains the optimism necessary to inspire others for societal and
environmental change. She continues to "walk the talk of the long term
vision" giving all any one person can possibly give to the environment,
to the community, and especially, to young people as an inspiration, who
frequently lean on her for advice and support.
not finished fighting. No way."
Highlights of what public officials from
all levels of government have written:
"Lois James has
never given up her dream of sustainable development in Pickering
that respects the natural beauty of its natural world; particularly
in the sensitive Rouge River Valley. Her devotion and dedication to
ecology and the environment in this area goes back a half-century
and is unmatched."
"She was articulate and passionate
in her advocacy for the (Rouge Park) project and doubtless caused
many to pause and begin to believe that just maybe this could be
accomplished, even if unprecedented in size and scope… Lois was not
alone in this endeavour, but she was distinguished by her
persistence, her subscription to rational ecological principles and
her own personal way of presenting a challenge from which there was
no escape. There is a recognition here that our progress in dealing
responsibly with urban development, protecting green space and
educating our community would not have advanced so well and so far
without two decades of dedicated commitment from Lois James."
"I have always
been impressed with her tireless commitment to the preservation of
our natural heritage. Through her work with Save the Rouge Valley
System and a myriad of other environmental action groups… she has
worked, tirelessly, to educate decision makers and the general
population of the need to protect our dwindling supply of natural
resources, particularly in the greater Toronto area".
"I have been
privileged to work with and observe Lois in many activities for over
thirty years and have been inspired by her competence, capacity,
enthusiasm and sensitivity and I feel that her work, particularly on
behalf of the environment, has had province wide implications."
"Lois James is a
woman of vision, a great orator, a writer, a founding member of Save
the Rouge Valley, a teacher, a defender and tireless advocate for
the preservation of the environment in a great variety of ways, and
an inspiration to all Canadians."
and passion for the environment have swayed governments, inspired
other volunteers and most importantly, have resulted in real and
intangible protective action. Lois James is someone who truly
epitomizes the Order’s motto of a desire for a better country."
"I don’t think
there is anyone who is more committed to environmental protection… I
along with many others have learned by examples set out by Ms.
James, as to how everyone can become more involved in protecting our
environment, both for our generation and those that follow us."
"In an age where
an engaged citizenship is too frequently the only defense against
the constant erosion of our natural areas, Lois stands tall as an
example of environmental citizenship in Canada… Lois James is an
ordinary citizen who challenges us to achieve the extraordinary."
"Lois has left an
imprint upon the environmental community that will never be erased.
Arousing a deep understanding of the conservation ethic... she has
steadfastly conveyed the need to preserve the beauty and the value
of our natural and cultural heritage, for our time and for the
generations to come. As a dedicated community volunteer, her
indefatigable, selfless efforts have attained the quality of
The respect Lois James commands among the
politicians she so carefully scrutinizes is testament to the effectiveness of
her candid diplomatic approach and non-partisan philosophy.
Lois James has made a
"She gave all she could."
President of the Rouge Valley Foundation, 2003
Researcher: M. Martin