Gary Birch, M.Sc.Ed. : Environmentalist of the Year – 1980

Gary Birch was born in 1940, the son of second generation Hamiltonians, and received his formal education in the schools of Hamilton. He began his teaching career in 1960, while continuing evening studies at McMaster University. He received his B.A. degree in 1966 and continued his studies at Buffalo State University. In 1981, Gary was Vice Principal of R.A. Riddell School. He was married to Irene Copeland of Hamilton and they had two children, Erin age 13 and Kyle aged 8 years.

There were rumours as early as 1972 of a dump site in Glanbrook. The action began two years later when George Hanson took Gary to his first meeting of the Glanbrook Anti-Dump Committee. Gary was invited to be chairman of that committee in February of 1975.

Gary was a newcomer to citizen action, and his choice involved him with others in many activities. They lugged refrigerators out of the basements for auction, sold tickets, attended meetings, travelled to other parts of Ontario, wrote letters including to contacts in Europe and USA, and submitted briefs to government including the Cabinet of Ontario.

Initially the attitude was “don’t put garbage in our backyard”. Time brought a new attitude. The committee realized there had to be a better way. Urban Ontario produced enough garbage to cover all of southern Ontario to a depth of one foot per year. Burying it was unacceptable regardless of whose backyard was desecrated.

The committee early recognized the need for legal counsel and for money. Several lawyers were interviewed and a unanimous decision was made to engage Roger Yachetti. A target of $25,000 was established and then later extended as the bills came in. To raise money, the whole community became involved in bake sales, dances, auctions and other money raising projects.

The activity drew the community together in a powerful expression of public resistance to what was perceived as a bad choice of a dump site; with all the dangers of destroying the Welland River, just as the Ottawa Street dump has destroyed the water quality of Red Hill Creek for years to come. Under Gary’s leadership, the committee thoughtfully pursued its goal all the way to the supreme court of Ontario. This chapter of the episode ended with the committee’s appeal being quashed by the court.

It is unusual for an organization to remain strong and vibrant around a single project for so long a time. There were good reasons for this unusual accomplishment. First of all, Binbrook was an old established community with proud roots deeply embedded in its history. Gary Birch was sensitive and appreciative of that history. There was a quiet assurance expressed in Gary as he went about his work. One was left with an impression of massive integrity and strength. These qualities of his leadership, melded with the strength of the community of Old Binbrook Township, created the staying power of the organization. A strength that exacted concessions from the government on the status of the dump site. The site would be smaller, and its life span shortened.

In the meantime the struggle went on. The people elected Gary to Council to represent their interest. Hundreds of alert citizens were monitoring the site, ready to act if threatened.

The Glanbrook Anti-Dump Committee was right! DUMPS ARE OBSOLETE! There had got to be a better way. The Gary Birchs of our community are not only desirable, they are absolutely essential to make sure that this mistake does not happen again.