Edgar E. Smee : Environmentalist of the Year – 1983

When Ed Smee returned, after a 30 year absence, to his home town of Hamilton in 1968, he was anxious to show off the beauty spots he’d remembered to his wife Frieda. The first stop was the Red Hill Creek where as a boy he used to swim. There, the outlet for a storm sewer had dumped a foul-smelling mess. Well, just wait until you see our beaches, he said. There, a large sign warned that the lake was unsafe for swimming.

The incident sparked a “deep anger” in Ed, who had been raised to treasure, not squander, the earth’s resources. He resolved to do something about Hamilton’s pollution.

Ed joined CHOP (Clear Hamilton of Pollution) when it was formed in late 1969 and in 1984 was one of the few original members still with the group, now re-named the Conserver Society of Hamilton and District Inc.

He marched in what was probably Hamilton’s first environmental demonstration in 1969, a protest against air pollution staged at the top of the Jolly Cut. Though an inversion blocked the view of the city below, many motorists saw only radicals out to destroy jobs and spat or yelled at the demonstrators.

The following year, Ed organized the Federation of Environmental Groups and chaired a committee of that organization that investigated fluoride emissions from Stelco. He was instrumental in a CHOP-organized recycling project that set up bins for separated wastes throughout the city for two years.

President of CHOP between 1972 and 1974 and again since 1980, Ed organized a 1979 conference, on environmental health in the workplace, and organized the first Environmentalist of the Year dinner!

When the controversy over urea formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) erupted, Ed, who had had UFFI installed in his Ancaster home, found there was no local organization of homeowners and got CHOP’s blessing to create one. He became its president and then assumed the presidency of HUFFI Ontario.

He has worked with various community groups, giving advice and assisting them in developing their own leadership. In his spare time, he’s been a Bruce Trail captain, grows this own fruit and vegetables — without pesticides, of course — and has worked with human rights, disarmament and social planning organizations.

Now 71 [in 1984], Ed was working with the Conserver Society of Hamilton and District to create an environmental research foundation to provide funding for independent investigations of environmental problems and solutions.

Ed has applied his organizational skills, his ability to inspire others, and convince them that their efforts matter in every task. Perhaps, most important, his punful sense of humour refuses to be defeated by the often slow pace of change in actions and attitudes affecting the environment.

Today, though much remains to be done, the view from the Jolley Cut is clearer more often and the motorists driving down it are probably more conscious of the value of the natural environment than 15 years ago. A share of the credit for that certainly belongs to Ed Smee.