Recently, I’ve been wondering ‘what motivates people to go that extra mile to make a difference?’ And naturally, I’ve been wondering, how can people sit on their duff as the world burns and our water turns green? If you want to be inspired by a couple of outstanding people who really went that extra mile for the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition (RLSC), Bobby Eisenberg and Annabel Slaight, keep reading.
The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition was started almost 20 years ago now by some truly remarkable people who made a difference by providing a framework for positive change, and then surrounding themselves with people they respected, and wanted to work with. Two pioneers of our work, Robert (Bobby) Eisenberg, and Annabel Slaight both received one of the greatest acknowledgements of their selfless contributions to the world by being appointed to the Order of Canada, the Governor General’s award! In writing this I discovered that no less than three people who have been on the Board of the RLSC have received the Order of Canada. Wowza! What a legacy! I am really proud to know them and to share with you some of the talent we have had on our team.
What sets these people apart? Let me start with Bobby. This guy is simultaneously one of the friendliest and most tenacious people I know. For Bobby, friendship and loyalty are at the core of everything he does and the way he does it. For instance, we still get together for social visits and reminisce about all the amazing work we have done together: The Lake Simcoe Protection Act (2008), banning corporate contributions to Municipal Election campaigns (2016), and contributing to anti-SLAPP legislation in Ontario in Protection of Public Participation Act, (2015). Whenever we talk, Bob brings up the (dearly departed) gentlemen George Connel (also an Order of Canada recipient) and Jack MacDonald, and my distant relative (and alive) Bob Matthews, all of whom led the Board with dignity, calm, and such grace. The manners and the lack of ego, despite their massive accomplishments, that these men brought to the organization are something to really cherish. Bob always reflects his deep respect for these mens’ intellect, hard work, and friendship. In a word: teamwork.
What these guys had in common was a real clarity of purpose, and absolute reliability. At a time that almost pre-dates the wide use of email and lost links and the chaos that all of that brings, it makes me wonder if we weren’t better off meeting in a room together once a month to talk, be passionate, argue our points, then go away, do our work, and report back, rather than firing off dozens of emails a day.
Being a good friend of mine, Bob has continued to be a supporter of my work at the RLSC even though his focus has shifted to other work, supporting Sistema, a free after-school music and social development program for children living in underserved communities with the end goal of transformative social change. I am needless to say, grateful. It is in part thanks to Bobby that we are offering matching donations in the months of November and December 2022, up to $15,000!
The most astonishing thing to me about Bob is his incredible breadth of talent. Although writing fiction has become a recent focus, his main gig is being a partner at York Heritage Properties; they mostly redevelop urban heritage buildings, like the Carpet Factory in Southwest Toronto, pictured below. He told me a story about him and his then work partner at Intra Urban Properties, at an earlier point in his career, buying the building I later lived in (as a co-op) and deciding that they would not develop the property as had been their intention. Instead, they were moved by the residents’ wish to turn the building into a co-op. They didn’t renovict the tenants. They sold them the building and let the tenants be! These guys seriously have heart. In the context of today’s gong show provincial government, and the development industry’s clear influence on their policy development, it is good to know that there are in fact good developers out there.
Until this point, I haven’t described Bobby’s tenacity. Well. Anyone on the provincial Lake Simcoe Advisory Committee knows Bobby is like a dog with a bone. He was unrelenting in making key points that remain critical today:
1. Phosphorus load measurements in the main lake are not a reflection of the health of the lake; nearshore areas are a mess and show it! The details surrounding the presentation of information are critical.
2. That the actual sources of phosphorus pollution must be identified (ie. agricultural source vs. “tributaries of the lake”, which on their own are not a source of pollution!) You have no idea how hard we had to fight to get that information! But the province finally did it in the Phosphorus Reduction Strategy, 2011.
I believe more people are aware of Annabel Slaight because she has been the main spokesperson, and the driving force, of the Ladies of the Lake since it began in the mid- 2000’s. Annabel was on the Board of the RLSC, not the first, but an early BoD member. Selling a canoe as a fundraiser for the RLSC was considered, and then in typical Annabel style, the lid came off what was possible, and some women decided to do the famous “cheeky but not cheesy” nude calendars in 2006 and 2009. Their runaway success meant the group spun off and spent the $400,000 they earned not with the RLSC, but with their own organization. “The Ladies of the Lake” later merged with Slaight’s Ontario Water Centre, which is now focused on the Clearwater Farm. The lady just does. Not. Give. Up. And for that we thank her.
In recent weeks, with the provincial government attacking environmental protections in ways I have never experienced, we thankfully have some new volunteers stepping up to help the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition. It is important that people understand that that is the only way local advocacy efforts can be sustained. The RLSC being still “active” 20 years after it was conceived by Bobby Eisenberg and the other founders is testament to the power of people.
It is clear to me now that the powers of destruction are persistent and well-heeled. Within our network, we have these qualities too. Let’s use them, and live our lives to our highest purpose, to carry on the legacy that people like Bobby started. To remain a force for good, more people need to emulate the grit of the Bobbies and Annabels of the world, roll our sleeves up and get to work.
Are you interested in volunteering? We need the following roles to be filled in 2023 because we do not have the funds to pay someone to perform these roles. If you have experience in these areas put your skills to use while meeting like-minded citizens, dedicated to good deeds.
- Website updates
- A leader for our fundraising team
- Event planning
- Corporate relations
- Government relations