Lawyer’s tree-mendous work recalled

Columnist G.E. Mortimore expounds on Ron MacIsaac's notable career

Ron MacIsaac, pathfinding lawyer, civil rights defender, tree protector and Victoria TV host, will soon get the wider recognition he deserves.

Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo will award him the degree of honorary doctor of laws tomorrow (July 4).

When our surviving patches of old-growth forest were under even sharper attack than they are now, Ron echoed the voices of the men and women who blocked the logging bulldozers with their bodies.

He  put together Clayoquot Mass Trials, a book that  softened the chop-it-all-down impulse.

Ron successfully defended Jehovah’s Witnesses against a religiously-loaded law about obstructing the sidewalk.

But I remember Ron’s forest protection better than his other successes.

I have clear memories of the lost ancient trees. I’m old enough to recall when the road to Lake Cowichan was lined with firs and cedars matching those that used to stand in Cathedral Grove on the Alberni road.

When all the trees for miles around the Cowichan Lake highway had been felled, and some of the logging money fed into people’s pockets in those meagre Depression times, I stowed my dad’s bottles of homebrew beer to cool for him in the ponds of a tiny creek. It soon dried up, but at that time it briefly continued to flow among the stump-roots.

My dad was a Cowichan fly-fisherman and a sometime cleanup worker in the wreckage of  the forest.

In the mind’s nose I can smell forest-fires and slash-burnoff smoke that hung around for months. It was Vancouver Island’s trademark odour. I join together Ron MacIsaac’s picture with smellbacks to those long-ago years, and the visual memory of Irene Baird and her landmark novel, Waste Heritage.

I was a reporter on Hugh Savage’s Cowichan News Leader newspaper when Mrs. Baird passed through Duncan in a crowd of train passengers. I asked her views on what we now would call sustainable logging, sawmilling and woodworking.

Her book did not deal with those subjects, but many people’s thoughts were trending in that direction, and Mrs. Baird’s celebrity status made her a reasonable target.

I can’t remember anything she said. Right now, forest thoughts are mixing with patriotic thoughts.

At a time when Canadians and Americans are assembling on our national boasting-days (July 1 and 4) to wave flags and declare each of our countries the world’s best, it feels right to give a nod to people who have done something to improve the world.

Few among us flag-wavers, cheer-leaders, quarrellers and grouches can make that claim. Ron can. Hence the degree.

Millions of poor  Asians, Africans  and Latin Americans have little to cheer about. The job of protecting trees is interwoven with the equally tough job of protecting people.

In Bangladesh, 1200 garment workers earning $38 a month to make cheap, elegant clothes for Canadians and Americans died when a flimsy eight-storey building collapsed on them.

In Bhopal, India in 1984, as many as 20,000 people in a shantytown slum died and thousands more were disabled for life from poisonous gas that exploded out of an India-U.S.A. insect-killer factory that had been poorly maintained to save money.

Miserly compensation has been paid to some of the victims. Legal remedies are a pretence.

There is more work to do, for trees and  people. Young heirs to Ron MacIsaac have started that work, as scholars at Vancouver Island University will remind us.

 

• G.E. Mortimore is a longtime columnist with the Goldstream News Gazette.