Bertie Historical Society Event in Fort Erie Honours Niagara, Ontario political icon and ‘eco-justice champion’ Mel Swart

Be there for this Event on Wednesday, September 20th at 7 p.m. in the Fort Erie Public Library

A Submission to Niagara At Large from  John Bacher

Posted September 6th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

Mel Swart in the 1990s, celebrating the designation of the Niagara Escarpment as a World Biosphere Reserve.

Much of the history of the protection of the environment in Niagara, Ontario is the result of the bonds of friendship between a few people working patiently to defend the earth over decades. Nowhere else is this history as vivid as the ties between a handful of Fort Erie residents, Edmund Zavitz, and a great disciple of this rescuer of Ontario, Mel Swart.

  Many of these people are members of the Bertie Historical Society, based in the Niagara municipality of Fort Erie.  

One of the dedicated volunteers of the Bertie Historical Society is Beverly Jewsen. She is the only person to have attended both the 1969 tree planting ceremony at the Ridgeway Battlefield to honour Zavitz, and the 2011 ceremony to unveil his memorial cairn at the St. Williams Tree nursery. This was coordinated with the release of my book, “Two Billion Trees and Counting: The Legacy of Edmund Zavitz”. (Dundurn Press) It describes how through thoughtful conservation measures he persuaded the Ontario government to adopt, our province was rescued from the blight of desertification, flooding and massive, human created, forest fires.

A Conversation Park named after Mel Swart, owned and maintained by the City of Thorold in Niagara, where Mel Swart lived.

I decided to write Edmund Zavitz’s biography after being stunned how important he was as an advisor to Mel Swart in the 1950s, during his efforts to bring a tree protection by-law and a conservation authority to Niagara. Swart journeyed to St. Williams at this time to meet with Edmund Zavitz, his close friend Monroe Landon, and his cousin, Harold Zavitz, to accomplish these ends over great local opposition.

One of the most important accomplishments of Mel Swart was to launch with his close friend Francis Goldring, a successful campaign to create the Short Hills Provincial Park. On April 17, 1956 they persuaded Welland County Council to move a motion recommending that the provincial government establish a park to safeguard “some of the best waterfalls of the Short Hills.”

Swart’s call for a Short Hills Provincial Park has particular relevance following the recent sit in to establish a provincial park in the Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls. The need to do so is compounded by the fact that had the provincial government in 1977 actually implemented the Preliminary Proposals of the Niagara Escarpment Commission, instead of gutting the plan area, this remarkable refuge for endangered wildlife would not be threatened by development.

John Bacher will be speaking on his book, “Mel Swart Ecojustice Champion 1919-2007”, at the Wednesday September 20th, 7 p.m. meeting of the Bertie Historical Society. It will be  held at the the Ridgeway-Crystal Beach branch of the Fort Erie Public Library.

John Bacher is a veteran conservationist in Niagara, Ontario who has worked on the Greenbelt Review for the Sierra Club of Canada and for the Niagara-based citizens group, the Preservation of Agriculture Lands Society.

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 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders




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