August 22 marked the one-year anniversary of federal New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton’s death. The NDP asked Canadians to participate in paying tribute to the man who spent years working for the social justice principles espoused by that party.
In Calgary, a “Dear Jack” event was held at Melrose Café and Bar, where attendees could also learn about the NDP campaign for the federal byelection set for Calgary Centre later this year.
On August 15 another man died who could be claimed by the NDP, having run for that party in the 2012 provincial election, but is more appropriately described simply as an activist. Seventy-one year old Rick Collier was climbing Mount Geikie in B.C.’s Mount Robson Provincial Park when the rock face gave way. Of the four who fell, Collier was the only one to die.
Though famous only among Alberta’s relatively small activist community, his absence will be noticeable to anyone involved in campaigning for the protection of Alberta’s wild lands.
“He was kind of a role model for a well-rounded citizen,” says Dianne Pachal, the Alberta wilderness director of the Sierra Club of Canada. She met Collier in the 1980s and worked with him often on environmental issues.
“When it came to doing conservation work or environmental work, Rick was wherever you needed a hand,” says Pachal. “He was one of these indispensable people who really knew the places from on the ground — every detail of them.”
Pachal says Collier was instrumental in convincing the provincial government to reject the 1999 Spray Lakes Genesis proposal — a plan for a 400-room resort complex in the Spray Lakes Valley — and to apply a moratorium on development. In 2004, his efforts resulted in the area being designated a provincial park. She says Collier’s philosophy was: “Stand by your principle. I enjoy the outdoors, and what needs to be done to protect it, I’m going to be there.”
Collier’s latest battle was to prevent a clearcut-logging project in the Castle-Crown Wilderness Area near Pincher Creek. He stood on the picket line at the logging site and was later one of four arrested for trespassing alongside the highway.
While spending the afternoon in the Pincher Creek jail before charges were dropped, Collier and his cellmates, Mike Judd, Jim Palmer and Reynold Reimer, wrote a letter to Premier Redford:
“Around the world people have been fined and imprisoned for rejecting industrial clearcut logging and the ecological devastation that it eventually brings to a nation.... 13,000,000 hectares of forest disappear annually around the world....
“We’ve already seen over four decades of industrial logging in the Oldman Watershed and particularly in the headwaters of the Castle-Carbondale part of that drainage. We’ve seen the miles of stumps, windrows of waste wood, eroded skid roads, collapsing stream banks, weeds, escalating off-road vehicle abuse, and of course the 22,000-hectare fire that took place in all of that....
“So here we sit today, four old men who have joined the thousands of voices in Alberta and around the world, the voices for wilderness, wildlife, water conservation, forest integrity, sustainability, healthy recreation, and everything that is good and beautiful in the Southern Alberta Eastern Slopes.”
The logging project proceeded as planned.
“I think he expected to lose,” says Mary Nokleby, a friend and fellow activist.
“When they started up the [logging] bulldozers, Rick sat in front of them.... He said to me afterwards, ‘I was terrified Mary,’” says Nokleby. “Rick and I, we had talked about the fantasy [of] writing letters, the liberal fantasy that ‘I’m an educated person, if I could just talk to these politicians and explain to them the error of their ways they’d see the light,’” says Nokleby. “Rick really got that writing letters is a great way to keep us busy while they continue to plan the destruction of the world we live in.”
Collier wasn’t finished. On August 2 he spoke at a public meeting on the planned logging project in West Bragg Creek, calling on people to oppose the government’s line if they didn’t believe in it.
Those who know him say his death will affect the flavour of activism in Alberta’s Eastern Slopes, as they feel like the number of locals willing to make the same commitment are dwindling.
“It takes endless pressure, endlessly applied. A lot of our parks and protected areas, you know, they were a decade or more from when people start working on trying to keep the place intact to when legislation actually comes to making a park or wilderness area,” says Pachal. “It would be interesting if someone said you were wrong for [creating] this park or this wilderness area. I haven’t seen it. ...Development could come back time and time again, but parks you can only lose once. Because once that authentic natural landscape is gone, it’s gone.”