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    Malcolm Kirk: a man with a passion for Nature


    Two days before my good friend, Mac Kirk, died in late September I visited him at his home in Thornbury. He was not well but he joined in the conversation. How could he not? The subject was ancient trees. Trees were Malcolm’s great passion only superseded by an all pervasive commitment to be an advocate for Nature. This he did with consummate skill throughout our region. We have public access to many of the woodlands and even waterfalls due to this humble man’s vision to create protected landscapes. Malcolm, in my opinion, followed in the steps of John Muir, who also lived for a year in Meaford.

    Malcolm did not like to speak about conservation; he lived conservation to the tune of protecting 27,000 acres for all species to call home and flourish. One day in September I had tea with my forester friend and his wife, Joan. He listened intently to my recent accounts of discovering trees with diameters of eight feet, of sacred Beech groves and of Yew trees purported to be thousands of years old. These tales were what made dear Mac happy: Nature had somehow outwitted the coarse non-seeing blade of a sometimes stupid and violent humanity and had managed to send down roots lasting millennia.  Mac, also with gusto, sent down lasting roots for our area.

    On November 14, 2008 just before Stephen Lewis spoke at a sustainability conference at Blue Mountain Resort, Mr. Kirk was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Conservancy by Bayshore Broadcasting Corporation. It should be noted that Mac is the first person to ever receive this award. This is only one of many awards he was given, including one from Ontario’s government. The introductory accolades before he spoke set the tone and the history of Malcolm’s stewardship activities. True to form, I remember Mac spoke more about the work that was being done by a younger generation than about his successful career. Here is a man who almost single handedly protected many thousands of acres of endangered land by working with local landowners and then bought land for Ontario. As the Resources Manager for the former North Grey Region and Sauble Valley Conservation Authorities between 1957 and 1973, Mac worked tirelessly to buy pieces of land that were treasures of biodiversity. Skinner’s Bluff, Rocklyn Creek, Indian Falls, Old Baldy (The Rock) Sky Lake, Bruce Cave and Bognor Marsh are just a start of the list of his achievements. Mr. Kirk moved on to induce the Ontario Federation of Naturalists to start a land conservation program. He and Fred Bodsworth began a program that now includes nature reserves such as Petrel Point, Long Swamp, and the Malcolm Kirk Nature Reserve. His book, “Islands of Green”, written with S. Hitts and R. Reid, lays out protection strategies for Ontario’s landscapes.

    Those of us fortunate enough to have walked in the woods with Mac have been inspired by his profound knowledge and his effervescent passion for Nature. Typically, he would phone and suggest a stroll to some glade to see a tree that I hadn’t had the good fortune to discover yet. His trusty binoculars in tow, we’d set out on one more adventure. This summer we did the same when he promised me a meeting with a great specimen of an Oak living near the Beaver River. Mac was right as usual. Some farmer years ago had the foresight to plant an English Oak; its circumference was mighty to behold. Its craggy branches lifted up with such unremitting stubbornness for life that it reminded me of my friend’s same lifelong goal. We went back to his house to see his garden and discuss conservation matters, and how he’d like us to roam the countryside and document all of his haunts. (At the age of ninety-two he still rode a bicycle!)

    Malcolm embodied the true spirit of the naturalist. He has profoundly influenced all his friends and colleagues as well as the public to strive for a conservationist’s sense of justice for this planet. Mac remains my greatest mentor. Many will sorely miss rambles with him across this countryside. I know I’ll always hear his voice in the woods exclaiming his joy on seeing a rare flower. Malcolm Kirk was Nature’s warrior.

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