Dan McDermott: Great Hiker and Defender of Ontario’s Rural Landscapes
The following is a tribute to Dan McDermott, Sierra Club Ontario’s Former Chapter Director, written by a long time friend and colleague, John Bacher.
Although I had the pleasure of knowing Dan McDermott for 40 years, it is in the last four that I came to develop a close friendship. It was forged in the difficult struggle to rescue the rapidly growing area of south central Ontario from urban sprawl. This came to involve long phone conversations, intense thinking walks down Toronto streets and cafe mind storming sessions.
It is revealing of Dan’s passion for our threatened landscape that the diagnosis of his fatal medical problem took place out of his determination to have a hernia problem remedied so he could hike again in Ontario’s countryside. This passion helped me in my own analysis of the ecological significance of our threatened landscapes.
I sent Dan a draft of an article of a battle Sierra Club was engaged with in Niagara Falls in co-operation with the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society. He told me that since he had actually hiked here, on the most easterly section of the Bruce Trail, he could tell the article was inadequate to describe the wonders of the at risk landscape we were struggling to defend. He told me I know this area and you don’t do justice to it.
Dan’s criticisms were an important turning point in my evolution as a writer. I thought seriously how to make the spectacular natural areas and farmlands south of the Niagara Escarpment in Niagara Falls seem more compelling. In this Dan’s suggestions helped greatly. The revised article was part of the ultimately successful battle at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) which did protect the last remaining wildlife corridor south of the Niagara Escarpment in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The battle however, is still not won since the City of Niagara Falls is trying to overturn this OMB victory through an appeal to the courts.
In the past year Dan and I were deeply engaged in exposing to the broader environmental protection community in Ontario, the dangers of proposed changes put forward in a document popularly known as the Crombie report. We did with great difficulty succeed in having a wake up call before the various public consultation deadlines were completed. In his illness, Dan’s success resembles one of his famous western films Shane. Here the hero dies slowly but only after the foe is slain. This fate was actually shown in the image of the cowboy riding into the sunset which was used to promote his retirement tribute from the Sierra Club.
Dan and I were able to seriously strategize together even as late as Boxing Day of 2016. Considering the seriousness of his condition, it is astonishing that we were able to cover so many serious issues, including the threat to Woodland Caribou habitat from mining schemes in northern Ontario, such as the Ring of Fire. Dan’s dedication came out by the fact that rather than tiring him, the exchange made him look much better than when I first arrived.
As every day passes I miss Dan more and more. Outside of my family circle, friends in Niagara, and Danny Beaton, who was the best man at the wedding to my wife, Mary Lou, there seems to be nobody that I can have a frank and serious discussion with about the threats to south Central Ontario posed by proposed policy changes any more. I hope that others step forward to this new challenge and make the protection of our precious landscape a tribute to Dan’s enduring compelling vision.