Losing a Champion for the Environment  – Greta McGillivray

Losing a Champion for the Environment  

On September 25th, our community experienced a significant loss with the passing of Greta McGillivray – one of the original defenders of the unique escarpment environment up in the Collingwood area. I had the pleasure to serve on the Blue Mountain Watershed Trust Board alongside Greta and Terk Bailey, Malcolm Kirk, Norm Wingrove, Sonny Foley and others back in the 90’s. Each meeting was held in Greta’s beautiful home, known for its beautiful, naturalized front yard on Minnesota Street.

We all owe a lot to Greta for her early efforts to protect and conserve. She was tireless. She taught us all that everything is connected!

Her efforts to save the remaining critical natural features and assets here in the Collingwood area were relentless. She was committed to protecting the incredible natural assets that drew us all here in the first place and helped to establish this area as a major tourism and recreation destination.

Through her work in the community, Greta helped to found both the Nature League, and the Blue Mountain Watershed Trust – two of the region’s leading conservation groups. Today, more than 30 years later, we continue to struggle to protect and conserve these very same Escarpment and creek systems and corridors. As a result of her leadership, so many more of us now continue her work as we continue the fight to protect our natural spaces.

As Greta’s daughter Jane reminded me, one of Greta’s often quoted sayings was “There is something fundamentally wrong with a civilization that insists upon treating the earth like a business in liquidation”.

I personally learned a lot from Greta, lessons that steered my career towards more responsible forms of tourism, and my personal commitment to continue doing my part in saving the remaining special places on Mother Earth.

Let’s all pick up the torch and work together to:

  • Stop irresponsible development on the Escarpment brow and slopes;
  • Protect and Conserve a green corridor from Creemore to Kimbercote; and
  • Stimulate creation of a strong, vibrant conservation economy that benefits and is driven by our local communities.

Written by Mike Robbins
Board Member of the Escarpment Corridor Alliance
Working Group Member for the Aspiring Georgian Bay Geopark
Member of the Trebek Council
Part of the TAPAS Group Network (IUCN T
Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group)Founding Partner with the Tourism Company

A Brief History of the “People Among the Hills”

The woody valleys of the Blue Mountains, from Craigleith to Duntroon, were occupied historically by the several Iroquoian nations that were collectively nicknamed “Petun” by the French, meaning Tobacco, or because they were known for their usage of tobacco, or petún, more so than their cultivation of it.  The people called themselves the Tionontati, meaning “People Among the Hills/Mountains.”

They were divided by the two different Petun Nations – the Deer Clan and the Wolf Clan and were present for only about 70 years (ca. AD 1580–1650) but left abundant evidence of their presence. The Wolf arrived first (ca. 1575/80 A.D) surrounding the Pretty River Valley area and the Deer arrived later (ca. 1600,) in the Craigleith area. At both locations, archeologists unveiled that at any one time, there was one principal larger village followed by a smaller one with a distance anywhere between a half to three kilometres between them. During their time here, they were visited by many groups, one being Samuel de Champlain in 1616, on his journey to find easy passage to China and then the Jesuit Priests, 1639-1650, who would set up missions in nine of the Villages to convert the Petuns to Christianity.

According to the research of Charles Garrad, one of many of the original native trails ran east of the two major Petun villages at Craigleith. The trail followed the prominent Lake Nipissing beach ridge through the Blue Mountain Golf Course west of Collingwood, parallel and just south of Campbell Street; it continued across the Pretty River, through the Roman Catholic and the higher part of the Anglican cemeteries on the east side of Raglan Street, and continued easterly to the Nottawasaga River Crossing. Along this part of the trail, artifacts, burials, and campsites of various ages have been found, particularly at stream crossings. Archaeological research in the Petun Country also revealed that there were additional villages, such as the one discovered at OslerBrook Golf and Country Club. On the grounds lie the remains of a Petun Ossuary (burial ground) and Village dating back to the days of Champlain. A cairn has been erected in its honour.

In December 1649, during the Beaver Wars, the Iroquois attacked the Petun village of Etharita near Duntroon, causing the dispersal of the Petun and leaving the Iroquois on the Odawa hunting territory. As you hike along the Bruce Trail of Blue Mountain, the Petun Conservation Area, and the Pretty River Valley, look across the land below and give a moment of your thoughts to the incredible history of the Indigenous people that were here long before we walked this land, and its virtually unchanged beauty.

By Annette Sandberg, ECA Director and Certified Hiking Guide with Hike Ontario

(Previously published in The Blue Print, The Blue Mountains Bruce Trail Club Newsletter – Summer 2021)