The decades-old, worldwide movement to ban the use of thin plastic bags has finally reached Vancouver Island — but not the Comox Valley.
From Uganda to St. John’s Newfoundland. And from Denmark to California, cities, states and entire countries have banned the distribution of the thin single-use polyethylene plastic bags.
And the trend is moving north on Vancouver Island. A Victoria bag ban goes into effect on July 1. Nanaimo has voted to ban the bags, and Parksville and Qualicum Beach are in the process.
But the topic has barely crossed the radar of elected officials in the Comox Valley.
What’s the problem?
One trillion lightweight plastic shopping bags are used worldwide every year, according to the Earth Policy Institute. That’s two million every minute.
Americans use about one of these bags per person per day. Canadians use one to two bags per week. In Denmark, where the world’s first plastic bag ban was implemented in 1993, Danes use only about four bags per person per year.
Based on a rough estimate of our current regional population (67,000), and if Comox Valley residents are typical Canadian consumers, we’re using and discarding somewhere between 9,000 and 19,000 plastic bags per day.
That’s a big problem. Most of these bags contain polyethylene and therefore do not biodegrade. They will last virtually forever.
And, unfortunately, fewer than 3 percent of the bags get recycled. The rest end up in landfills or fly away to wallpaper fences and trees and often will ultimately wash down rivers and streams into the ocean.
Among the common trash items found on beaches, the bags rank second, contributing significantly to the massive patch of garbage swirling together in the Pacific Ocean. When the plastic eventually breaks down into tiny bits, it’s consumed by marine life and then works it way back up the food chain to humans.
To address this issue, governments across Canada and around the world are curtailing the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags .
Comox Valley elected officials
It’s surprising that the Comox Valley, a region with such a strong environmental reputation, has not yet banned non-biodegradable bags. Especially because there are plenty of documented benefits and practically no downside to a ban.
But from a quick email survey of Comox Valley elected officials, it appears that only the City of Courtenay has ever discussed the topic of banning single-use plastic bags.
Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula said, “Our council dealt with this issues several years ago and at that time choose to convince retail outlets to push for cloth shopping bags, which has been done.”
Councilor Bob Wells said he recalls that discussion and he subsequently supported the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce’s successful initiative to encourage retailers and consumers to use reusable shopping bags.
Still, Wells said he could support a city bag ban.
In Comox, Mayor Paul Ives doesn’t favor a municipal ban, although Councilor Maureen Swift said “It sounds like a great idea.”
“It would be best to come from the retail sector rather than top down,” Ives said.
That sentiment was echoed by Cumberland council members, who feel it’s a non-issue in their village.
“Many of Cumberland’s vendors are already doing it (not offering plastic bags),” said Council Roger Kishi. “We don’t want to be ‘big’ government, so we don’t want to intervene where we don’t need to.”
Councilor Gwen Sproule agreed.
“Not sure why it would be discussed, because I can’t think which business gives out single-use bags,” she said. “Certainly not Seeds Organics supermarket.”
But Sproule added that possibly the convenience stores are using them, and that might warrant some discussion.
A Chamber effort in 2009
It’s somewhat surprising that the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce has been the leader of a movement to eliminate single-use plastic shopping bags. It’s generally — and wrongly — assumed that businesses oppose banning the bags.
But Chamber Chief Executive Officer Diane Hawkins said there was a “terrific response from the business community … to our well-run marketing plan.”
Promotion poster from the 2009 Chamber initiative to reduce use of plastic shopping bags
Starting on February 13, 2009, more than 60 local businesses and agencies participated in distributing 75,000 reusable shopping bags to customers through businesses and local schools in an effort to reduce plastic bag use. There was an accompanying education campaign to explain why the bags are harmful and how people could get involved.
“We had terrific community engagement,” Hawkins said. “People still ask us if they can buy the chamber Eco-Bags. It was a wonderful project that embraced the entire Comox Valley.”
The chamber also lobbied their B.C. chamber colleagues to adopt a “Bagless BC policy.” But the initiative for a provincial bag ban didn’t get much traction.
As good as it was, the chamber’s program relied on each individual business to voluntarily stop using plastic bags. Many, perhaps most, locally-owned businesses still do not offer plastic bags.
But the biggest source of plastic bags in our environment have not complied. Many big box stores, convenience stores, grocery stores and others still offer them. And some of the worst bags come from specialty clothing store chains that give out large plastic bags with purchases.
Yet, Costco has proven that big volume retailers can thrive without offering any shopping bags whatsoever.
Meaghan Cursons, who was contracted to manage the chamber’s initiative, said the biggest problem is changing the behaviour of consumers.
“Until we change, in a significant way, how we as a culture consume, the bag issue won’t go away,” she said. “But removing the ones that don’t actually get recycled, float away in the wind, end up in the water and look like seaweed and sea life is a great start.”
Worldwide bag bans
Leaf Rapids, Man. was the first community in Canada to ban plastic bags in April 2007. Since then, hundreds of large and small Canadian municipalities have followed suit.
Toronto was the first major city in Canada to ban plastic bags effective on Jan. 1, 2013. A Montreal ban begins Jan. 1, 2018.
St. John’s Newfoundland voted in a ban on Nov. 15, despite council members pleading for a province-wide ban.
“Come on, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, get this done for all of us,” said Councilor Debbie Hanlon to CBC News.
A high school student in Fort McMurray, Alberta, created a widely supported petition in 2008 that persuaded the City Council to adopt a ban in 2009.
So in the epicenter of the Canadian oil sands, fossil fuel industry workers carry reusable bags into their grocery stores. If it can happen there, surely it could happen in the Comox Valley.
Denmark was the first country to enact a nationwide ban, but many others have followed: Ireland, Italy, Iceland, Brazil, Bangladesh, Belgium and the list goes on.
It will surprise many that Africa has been a global leaders in the bag ban movement. The flimsy bags were a blight on the African landscape, and many people resorted to burning them, which contributed to the 23 percent of all African deaths linked to environmental factors.
Uganda, Somalia, Rwanda, Kenya, South Africa and Ethiopia all have total bans in place.
Why not have a Valley-wide ban?
We used to package fast food in Styrofoam boxes, because it was cheap and easy, or so we thought. Once consumers and businesses realized the true costs of the environmental cleanup, it was a painless transition back to paper containers.
No one misses Styrofoam, certainly not our city sewers or the mid-ocean garbage gyres.
There is simply no good reason to continue using the plastic bags in the Comox Valley when there are constructive alternatives available: reusable bags or five-cent paper bags.
Several elected officials told Decafnation that a Valley-wide ban would be too difficult to coordinate between municipalities and the regional district. But it’s been done successfully in other communities that encompass multiple jurisdictions.
And those who use the harmful plastic bags for garbage or picking up dog poop would just have to buy biodegradable versions.
As Meaghan Cursons said, our “culture has to shift its thinking in general about consumption, and waste.”
Besides, when did shoppers become entitled to free plastic bags? It’s a convenience we’ve come to expect, but which our planet can no longer afford.
Further reading: Stop being a bag lady (or bag guy), St. John’s wants province to ban bags, Which countries have banned plastic bags?, What’s so bad about plastic bags?
Photo: A view of the Campbell River estuary as it was in 1989, before restoration. Courtesy of Tim Ennis
The importance of the planned restoration of the Fields Sawmill site may well go beyond repairing a blight on the Comox Valley’s image. It’s likely to influence the prospects of a coast-wide approach to replacing multiple forest industry eyesores with ecological assets.
The remnants of early-20th century logging practices can be found all up and down Vancouver Island’s coastlines in the persona of abandoned sawmills, which were almost always located in estuaries.
These shuttered mills that once buzzed around the clock, cutting logs into usable lumber, have fallen victim to government policies that allow the export of raw logs, and to changing industry practices.
In the early 1900s, timber companies moved their logs by rail to larger rivers where they were dumped into the river, boomed, then towed by tugboats to sawmills located in estuaries. While booming adored our beaches with interesting collections of driftwood, it was inefficient and slow.
That practice still goes on in the Fraser River and in the Nanaimo and Ladysmith areas. But most Island logging has now moved toward truck-based transportation. It’s flexible, less expensive more reliable.
The change means sawmills no longer need to be located in intertidal environments. And that, in turn, means there’s an opportunity to restore those shorelines and estuaries to their natural habitat, and create functioning ecosystems for fish and other wildlife.
A view of the Campbell River estuary in 2016, after restoration
If Project Watershed — the nonprofit leading Field Sawmill project, called Kus-kus-sum to honor an ancient First Nations village across the river — succeeds in raising the $6.5 million it needs to purchase the property and restore it, other communities will be inspired to seize their own opportunities.
And there are plenty of them.
In Tahsis, there are concrete slabs where two former sawmills once operated on the estuary. They closed down in 2001 and 2003. The Gold River Bowater pulp mill, also located on a river, closed in 1999.
In Port Alberni, the Somass sawmill officially closed in August, but has been essentially shut down for a year. The APD mill there is down to just one shift of workers per day. Both are located on the Alberni inlet.
The Campbell River pulp mill sits empty on about a mile of prime shoreline.
While the loss of jobs devastated those small towns, they have reinvented themselves as destinations for tourism and sport fishing. Reclaiming the abandoned mill sites would help, not hinder, their economic prosperity.
Tim Ennis, senior project manager for the Kus-kus-sum project, believes there may be many opportunities on the B.C. coast to restore former sawmill sites located in estuaries, without negative impacts to the forest economy.
That’s because trucking has replaced marine-based transport as the preferred method of transporting logs and newer government regulations are more restrictive in estuarine environments. So the forest industry doesn’t rely on the use of estuaries as it did in the past.
Campbell River led the way
Project Watershed has viewed the restoration of three sawmill sites in the Campbell River estuary as a model for their Kus-kus-sum project.
Ennis managed the Campbell River project. At the time, he was the director of land stewardship for the B.C. region of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which purchased the former Raven Lumber sawmill property as well as two smaller operations in the estuary.
He is now the senior project manager for Kus-kus-sum, as well as the executive director of the Comox Valley Land Trust, and brings his experience from much larger restoration projects.
“Compared to the Campbell River situation,” Ennis said. “The Field Sawmill site does not appear to be nearly as complex to restore and offers a huge potential benefit for the community.”
The projects are similar, he said, in that both are being led by nonprofit organizations. One of the Campbell River mills, known locally as Ocean Blue, closely resembled the Field Sawmill site, including a solid wall fronting the river.
But there are also critical differences.
The Campbell River City Council was committed to de-industrializing the river estuary. The city created an estuary management commission, which developed an estuary management plan. That plan included a conscious effort to relocate industrial operations away from the estuary.
So there was considerable political support in Campbell River, which was matched by the city’s financial contribution of approximately 25 percent of the land acquisition costs.
The City of Courtenay, on the other hand, was not the source of inspiration for restoring the Fields Sawmill site. Kus-kus-sum has been primarily driven by NGO and First Nations leadership.
And the City Council has not yet committed itself to any degree of financial support toward acquisition costs.
They have waived property taxes for two years while Project Watershed raises acquisition funds. But the eventual title will name the city as part owners of the property.
Nor has the Town of Comox or the Comox Valley Regional District made commitments, both of which stand to benefit as much as Courtenay from eliminating this eyesore on a main transportation corridor.
Fortunately, the K’omoks First Nations are committed and strong partners on the Kus-kus-sum project.
Not only are the K’omoks chief, council, band administration and Guardian Watchman department onside, nearly every K’omoks band member has signed a petition supporting the cause.
The Campbell River Indian Band was not as active.
If Kus-kus-sum succeeds, it will build on the restoration momentum from Campbell River, and set the stage for a much grander opportunity: to inspire and support the restoration of other abandoned sawmill sites throughout the B.C. coast.
How you can help
Kus-kus-sum needs community financial support in order to leverage the millions of dollars needed from granting organizations and the federal and provincial governments. Their website makes it easy to donate.
The Ocean Blue site in Campbell River before restoration
The Ocean Blue site after restoration
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed Canada to aggressive reductions in our annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. It will take a coordinated national effort to get there, and that means small communities across the country, like the Comox Valley, must be constantly thinking of new ways to reduce its carbon footprint.
And yet, that doesn’t appear to be the dominant mindset among Comox Valley municipal staff and elected officials. They’re fixated on keeping taxes as low as possible.
A meeting this week of the Comox Strathcona Waste Management board’s special committee to explore the benefits of converting municipal waste to energy (WTE) provided a case in point.
According to a consultant’s report, which compared three different WTE technologies, if the north Island continues to bury its garbage in the Pigeon Lake landfill, we will produce 821,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) over the next 40-year period.
The worst (highest) CO2e emissions from any of the three reviewed WTE technologies was only 179,000 tonnes.
And one of the technologies would achieve a net reduction of CO2e by -777,000 tonnes.
In other words, by implementing WTE technology, the entire north Island could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from solid waste by at least 80 percent, and possibly by roughly 200 percent.
So it should boggle the mind of anyone concerned about climate change that those facts weren’t the main topic of discussion.
Instead, the committee members and staff spent two hours debating the confusing cost comparisons in the consultant’s report. And the report was confusing, if not seriously flawed.
It’s important to have an accurate comparison between the cost of the existing landfill operation and any new WTE technology. Elected officials need that data to make informed decisions, and seek federal and provincial funding.
And the public wants cost information, too. Of course.
But, holy cow, the environmental benefits of any WTE solution for disposing of household and commercial garbage are overwhelming and undeniable.
It should have been the main topic of discussion, had the consultant’s report not obfuscated the monetary issues.
Landfills account for 20 percent of Canada’s methane emissions, which are 25 times more potent in accelerating global warming than other greenhouse gases. It may be the single largest impact that regional districts can have on the national GHG reduction target.
That’s why the recommendation by Comox Valley Regional District staff was so shocking, and out of step with the mission of the WTE committee.
Staff recommended the committee discontinue looking at WTE solutions until 2022, primarily because landfilling was portrayed as the least expensive option.
But until CVRD staff prepare more accurate cost comparisons, that’s not a proven fact.
In either case, the recommendation sends the message that although landfilling may pollute more and accelerate global warming, it will keep our taxes lower.
And that, unfortunately, appears to be a common mindset among too many within Comox Valley municipal governments.
We expect our elected officials to spend our tax dollars wisely, and make prudent decisions. But there’s a new paradigm that injects environmental factors into the definition of prudence.
And that’s the kind of thinking that will save this planet from the disastrous effects of climate change.
Related topic: Did the waste-to-energy committee discussion miss the point?
The tension between staff and elected officials of the Comox Strathcona Waste Management board (CSWM) ramped up another notch this week.
The friction has increased since directors openly criticized Comox Valley Regional District staff at a full CSWM board meeting two weeks ago. They accused staff of manipulating the wording of an engineering contract to disregard the will of publicly elected officials.
At that same meeting, CSWM directors also accused staff of giving more weight in their recommendations to the views of a staff advisory board than to the elected board.
This breakdown of trust and struggle for power erupted again this week when directors rejected a staff recommendation to set aside the committee’s interest in technologies that convert solid waste into energy.
A select committee of the CSWM board has been exploring the latest technologies that transform undiverted municipal solid waste into energy or recyclable materials, rather than burying it in a landfill.
The committee’s chair, Area B Director Rod Nichol, said the committee’s goal is to extend the useful life of the Pigeon Lake landfill and to not squander the inherent energy contained in undiverted waste.
And to dispose of solid waste in a manner more friendly to the environment.
But when consulting firm Morrisson Herschfield tabled its evaluation of three companies that offer varying WTE technologies, it quickly became obvious that staff and elected officials were at odds again.
Directors privately wondered if they had received the full consultant’s report, or whether they got a version amended by the staff advisory committee.
Marc Rutten, the CVRD’s General Manager of Engineering Services, recommended that the CSWM board stop its consideration of WTE technologies, and take it up again in 2022 as part of the 10-year update of its 2012 Solid Waste Management Plan.
That didn’t sit well with directors who instead ordered staff to use the consultant’s data to provide a more accurate cost comparison between the status quo of burying undiverted waste in a landfill and two of the different WTE technologies.
Rutten based his recommendation on the consultant’s conclusion that continuing to bury undiverted waste was less expensive and less risky than any of the three WTE technologies.
But directors questioned the validity of the consultant’s report, saying it didn’t give a true “apples to apples” comparison of costs.
The report only compared the cost of the CSWM landfilling operations to the costs of the three WTE technologies. It didn’t take into account the CSWM’s cost of source-separating recyclables and organic composting, which is already included in most processes that convert waste to energy.
Campbell River Director Charlie Cornfield was adamant that the cost comparison was flawed, and other directors agreed they didn’t have enough information to make a decision about whether to pursue one of the WTE solutions.
Directors asked staff to prepare a more detailed analysis of what would change for the CSWM operation with the implementation of each technology, what wouldn’t change, and what that would cost.
They also want a breakdown of the cost of each of the CSWM current operations, such as source-separating materials, composting organics, education programs, dealing with hazardous refuse, etc.
Director Roger Kishi of Cumberland urged the committee to eliminate incineration technology as a third WTE option.
Incineration involves direct burning of undiverted waste. It’s a technology commonly used in Europe and at B.C.’s only WTE facility in Burnaby.
And while the emissions from incinerating waste are minimal, according to the consultant, Kishi said the public could never support the optics of a tall smokestack.
After more than two hours of debate, one thing became obvious: The consultant’s terms of reference conflicted with the elected officials goals and weren’t adequate for them to assess cost comparisons between the status quo of landfilling and new technologies that convert that waste into energy.
It’s important for the CSWM committee to fully understand the cost of undertaking any new technology. And to do that the committee must have accurate comparisons if it hopes to convince the CSWM board, the public and the provincial government that moving to a WTE solution makes sense for taxpayers and the environment.
Photo: A view of Allen Lake, in the Perseverance Creek watershed. Courtesy of the Village of Cumberland.
While Courtenay and Comox residents suffer through another boil-water advisory this week, clear and drinkable water flows freely in the Village of Cumberland.
For Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird that fact alone justifies her council’s decision to not join the Courtenay-Comox water system. But she also likes to point out that the village will save millions of dollars for its taxpayers.
Because while those other Comox Valley elected officials search for the financing to build a $110 million water filtration plant, Cumberland has already received a $4.9 million grant to fund the $6 million first stage of its long-term water quality and supply system improvement plan.
Joining the Courtenay-Comox system would have cost Cumberland taxpayers $26.7 million upfront and annual operating costs of $600,000.
Bringing their own system up to current provincial standards will cost $6 million now (80 percent funded by the provincial Clean Water, Wastewater fund), another $6.5 million for further improvements through 2066, and annual operating costs of $255,000.
It was a clear-cut financial decision, Mayor Baird said, and it provides the village with water security for the next 50 years.
How the water system works
Cumberland Manager of Operations Rob Crisfield said the village’s water supply comes from five lakes in two separate watersheds — Allen Lake in the Perseverance Creek watershed, and Hamilton, Stevens and Henderson lakes and Pond. No. 2 in the Cumberland Creek watershed.
The five lakes in two watersheds that comprise the Cumberland water supply. The village has a license for future use of Vanwest Lakes.
A deep well drilled in Coal Creek Historic Park opened in 2013. It adds a groundwater supply to the watersheds’ surface water sources.
The system operates on nine water licenses, some issued as early as 1897, and serves Cumberland and everyone in the Royston water service area. The village owns all of the land around the lakes, but not all of the land in the watersheds.
That means the system is less susceptible to harmful logging practices in terms of the turbidity issue that plagues the Courtenay-Comox system. Cumberland has not issued any boil-water advisories.
However, some of the infrastructure in the hills above the village is more than 100 years old. While it’s been maintained well, many upgrades are necessary and underway.
Henderson Lake has the lowest elevation of the four lakes in the Cumberland Creek watershed, so its outflow makes the connection to the village’s water supply. It merges with a line from Allen Lake.
Where water lines from the two watersheds come together, the water is treated with chlorine. It then descends down to Cumberland via a single, one kilometer long 300 mm diameter pipe, before splitting again into two main trunk lines servicing different parts of the village.
What’s happening now
The village is installing a second “twinned” 300 mm pipe so it can regulate the flow from each watershed based on the amount of water stored in the lakes. That work should finish in mid-December.
Future work will include adding a new facility that will provides both UV and chlorine treatment. It will also switch from chlorine gas to sodium hypochlorite, which poses fewer risks for operators.
The village will also construct two new reservoirs to increase water storage capacity. One will go out to tender in the spring, along with the new UV treatment facility. The second reservoir will be built by the year 2040.
Sediment washing into Comox Lake through Perseverance Creek after a major rain event in 2014
Crisfield said the village will repair and replace some of its dams, most importantly the Pond No. 2 dam, which failed in December of 1972, causing a washout of the Henderson Lake dam. Both the Henderson dam and No. 2 dam were rebuilt in 1973, with a spillway out of Cumberland Creek watershed and into Perseverance Creek.
It was this spillway that undercut a kilometer-long 50-foot high bank during a major rain event in 2014. The ensuing slide washed sentiment, including clay particles, into Perseverance Creek and ultimately into Comox Lake, the source of drinking water for Courtenay and Comox. Following the slide, a the Comox Valley Regional District issued a boil-water advisory for Courtenay-Comox residents that lasted 49 days.
Crisfield said other dams will get either seismic stabilization, such as Stevens Lake did in 2014, or be completely rebuilt over time to meet the Canadian Dam Safety Guidelines in future years.
How residents benefit
When all the projects are completed, Cumberland and Royston will have a secure supply of water through 2066 that meets B.C. Drinking Water Guidelines. The more reliable and controllable system will reduce risks to human life, the water supply and the environment from a major earthquake.
The village was able to lift its moratorium on development in 2014 after opening the Coal Creek deep groundwater well.
It will surprise some that Cumberland is the fastest growing community in the Comox Valley. According to the 2016 Census statistics, the village grew by 5.6 percent to 3,600 residents. That beats Courtenay, Comox and all three regional districts, which each grew by 4.7 percent.
It’s even more surprising that during that same period of growth, Cumberland has reduced its demand for water by 41 percent, according to the June 2016 study by Koers & Associates Engineering Ltd. Cumberland residents used 49 percent less water and Royston residents used 17 percent less.
The lower water usage resulted from a new rate structure and the installation of water meters at all residential and commercial connections. People just naturally used less water. And the meters revealed many service leaks, which have been repaired.
Crisfield said once all these surface supply improvements are in place, Cumberland will have improved redundancy and reliability on water delivery, improved water quality and greater flexibility in how they can operate the supply system.
- The biggest challenge confronting Cumberland is how to rebuild the Pond No. 2 dam; specifically where to direct its spillway. If it goes toward Cumberland Creek, it could affect water quality in the village’s system. If it goes into Perseverance Creek, it could erode more sediment into Comox Lake. Crisfield hopes that a study underway by Tetra Tech consulting engineers, of Nanaimo, will find a solution to that problem.
- Meanwhile, Crisfield is interested in the possibility of generating hydroelectricity by adding turbines into the system’s water lines. Due to the large elevation drop, there may be sufficient pressure to power the water treatment operations.
Editor’s Note: This obituary was submitted by the family
Ruth Jessie Masters was a war veteran, avid hiker, historian, naturalist, environmentalist, protester but maybe most importantly she was one of ours – born and raised in the Comox Valley. She was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Comox on May 7, 1920. She passed away peacefully at the new North Island Hospital in Courtenay on November 7, 2017. She was 97 years old.
Ruth lived almost her entire life in her own home, which she built on her parents’ property in Courtenay. She served in the Canadian Air Force as a clerk in England during World War II and was promoted to Sergeant. In Courtenay she worked as a legal secretary from 1952 until 1992. Ruth was an avid hiker throughout most of her life. She made her first hike up Mt. Becher with her family in 1933 when she was just 13 and five years later climbed Comox Glacier and became one of the first members of the Comox District Mountaineering Club.
Ruth was a dedicated local historian. She never forgot her time spent oversees during the War and she never forgot the many who did not return. She spent countless hours researching names on the local Cairn and then lobbied the provincial government to name lakes and mountains in the area for many of the soldiers who served in both the first and second world wars. Her detailed compendium, “Lest We Forget” is on display in the Courtenay Museum.
Ruth also compiled other local history books that are on display at the Courtenay and Cumberland Museums – ‘Courtenay’, ‘Forbidden Plateau’, and ‘Ginger Goodwin’, each one leather-bound and engraved by Ruth. They are all probably best thought of as loving gifts from Ruth to the people of the Comox Valley.
Ruth was an environmentalist before the word was invented. She was passionate about the need to protect wildlife and the natural world. She always spoke up for those without a voice and always fought to protect the natural beauty of her homeland, especially Strathcona Park and the Comox Valley.
Ruth was known to put her body between bears and trophy hunters. She was on the beaches in Tofino in 1989 to clean up after the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill. She carved up road-kill and drove them in her little red truck to wildlife rescue centres for food in both Parksville and the Comox Valley.
She could always be counted on to help out with blockades, protests and rallies to protect the environment. When mining threatened Strathcona Park she blew “Oh Canada” on her faithful harmonica at almost every arrest during the three-month standoff at Buttle Lake in the middle of the winter in 1988. She was a ‘master’ sign-maker, making directional signs for alpine trails and protest signs for her numerous causes.
Working side by side with her good friend Melda Buchanan around 1990, Ruth played a key role in lobbying to add forestland to Seal Bay Park. On a rainy, windy day in December 1994, along with Carol Neufeld and Fran Johnson, Ruth put her body in front of chainsaws to protect the trees in what we now all take for granted as MacDonald Wood Park in Comox. She donated 18 acres of her own land in Courtenay for the Masters Greenway and Wildlife Corridor.
Ruth ‘walked her talk’ and that is why so many remember her. She set an example for all of us for how to live on the Earth and leave it in better shape. Growing up ‘church-mouse poor’, as she would say, she always lived a modest life but was generous to a fault, giving to environmental organizations, wildlife protection groups, the SPCA, the NDP and many, many more.
Ruth was predeceased by her father, William Edward Masters, her mother Jessie Smith, and her only brother Bill. She is survived by her nephew James Edward Masters, distant relatives in Victoria and Ontario, and her God-daughter Lorrainne Dixon.
Lorrainne was tasked with making health care decisions in Ruth’s declining years and did an admirable job. Ruth was always firm that she wanted to live out her final years in her own home. As her health declined this was not always easy but Lorrainne held firm in respecting Ruth’s wishes and ensuring that Ruth was safe in her home.
Although she had few living relatives, Ruth built a huge family around her in the Comox Valley and in her declining years a small inner circle of that family helped Ruth stay in her own home.
Thanks must also be expressed to Ruth’s primary care giver – Yolanda Corke. Yolanda was Ruth’s daily lifeline, checking on her early each morning and afternoon and calling on volunteers when extra help was needed. More than anyone Yolanda provided the day-to-day care that allowed Ruth to remain in her home in her final years. Yolanda was at Ruth’s side when she passed away in hospital.
There will be a Celebration of Life for Ruth from 1 pm to 4:30 pm on Sunday December 10 at the Florence Filberg Centre – Conference Hall in Courtenay at 411 Anderton Avenue. Doors will open at 12:30. Donations may be made to the Ruth Masters Hero Spoon Award online at foundation.nic.bc.ca or by mail to North Island College Foundation, 2300 Ryan Road, Courtenay, BC, V9N 8N6, or to a charity of your choice.