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Wednesday December 12, 2012

Malcolm Kirk

Conservationist, outdoor educator, father, grandfather, mentor. Born Feb. 28, 1920, in Toronto, died Sept. 26, 2012, in Meaford, Ont., of pneumonia, aged 92

Mac spent more than 50 years of his life devoted to protecting wild and unspoiled places before they could be taken for development and commercial exploitation.

His was a singular and single-minded quest, which he did without monetary ambitions and which garnered huge admiration and respect from the conservation community. He was unconventional in his approach and as a public servant stretched the rules to get things done.

Mac graduated from the University of Toronto in 1942 with a bachelor of science in forestry. Immediately after, he served as First Lieutenant in the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders and was part of the Canadian advance that saw the liberation of the Netherlands.

In 1946, he became the Lindsay district forester in the former Ontario Department of Lands and Forests. He married Joan Pilcher in 1950, and they had three children - Diana, Donald and Ian.

When he became resources manager of the North Grey Region and Sauble Valley conservation authorities in 1957, his environmental-protection work took off in a big way.

Mac felt that the best way to conserve natural lands was through property acquisition. Through land-purchase deals, often done on farm kitchen tables, the two authorities acquired a remarkable number of properties, especially along the Niagara Escarpment. He also worked through the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy to secure more properties. Mac was key to preserving such natural sites as Dorcas Bay, Petrel Point Nature Reserve, Old Baldy Escarpment, Inglis Falls, Eugenia Falls, Spirit Rock, Bognor Marsh and Feversham Gorge.

Mac was also an outdoor educator who inspired those who had never seen a hart's tongue fern, a great egret or a tall white bog candle orchid. He mentored students and junior colleagues, and many have fond memories of being out in the field with him.

He spent his retirement years in the Thornbury area of Georgian Bay. Another of his passions was growing unusual plants and trees in his garden. He was always coaxing visitors to taste the fruit from his pawpaw tree, even if it was unappealing.

Mac was idiosyncratic in his approach to life. Some would say he was an enigma. He had lofty goals of saving the planet, sometimes to the detriment of everyday domestic matters. But Joan kept everything on track.

With his Pentax Spotmatic and wartime binoculars, Mac would guide his kids and whoever else came along into sphagnum bogs, along high escarpment cliffs and through deep dark woods.

His unconventional manner was one reason he was able to accomplish so much. He was not really affected by what people thought of him. He received numerous awards, but they never caused him to rest on his laurels. He left a permanent legacy that we all can see, touch and enjoy.

Donald Kirk is Mac's son.

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