Category: Stories from the Past

Early Days of the Enviro Team

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Illustration: Karl Perrin (2014) dressed in character protesting the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion — Illus. by AnneD based on a photo by Jennifer Gauthier

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Above: Hans and Margo Elfert

UCV has a long and rich history of environmental activism. If you have a story you’d like to share, please contact the Enviro Team Outreach Coordinator. — We’d love to hear from you!

When did the Environment Committee begin? At the 1995 retreat? Years earlier when recyling started at UCV? Both answers are correct? Two longtime Unitarians share their memories of the early days of the Enviro Team.

Margo Elfert writes:


I have my first record of an Earth Day Service in April 1997. We’ve held an Earth Day Service every year since.

— Margo Elfert


I have a memory of a conversation at the retreat, in 1995, with someone about starting up an environment committee.

The reply I got was “Who told you you could do that?” I was pretty new to the church, so I didn’t know the protocol I guess, but we did it anyway.

At that time the Social Justice Committee and the Refugee Committee were very strong, but it was a little “new” to have a separate committee on the environment.

One of the first things we did was to work with Building and Grounds in consultation with BC Hydro to determined possible energy savings that we could implement immediately. Light bulbs and weather stripping were things we could accomplish.

We would have fundraising lunches, showing what we were supporting on the menu sign. I think this is when our “Green Fund” started.

I have my first record of an Earth Day Service in April 1997. We’ve held and Earth Day Service every year since.

In 2002 we discovered the UUA Green Sanctuary Project, and it gave us more direction. We used it as a guideline, but I’m not sure if we ever jumped through enough hoops to get our “Green Sanctuary” plaque.

Karl Perrin writes:

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I’d been studying the abolitionist movement in the United States against slavery, and I thought of this phrase: Where Quakers lead, Unitarians will follow… I’m a Unitarian and Ruth Walmsley is a Quaker. So, when she got arrested… I decided that I would get arrested

— Karl Perrin


Yes it was Elaine Clemons. I recall Patience Towler (who did an historical sketch of enviro activities) said Elaine started recycling at UCV in about 1969

I respected Elaine as both an early environmental activist and a wonderful Vancouver School Board Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP).

When I was a therapeutic tutor (with a degree in Speech Therapy) I went to her for advice on a student with stuttering. She was very kind and supportive, since in those days stuttering was thought to be 100% behavioural. Now we know it is largely neurological.

At her memorial service, I remember her being lauded as a founding member of Burns Bog Conservation Society. I was one of a multi-faith group who went into the bog, guided by Don DeMill, on the first pilgrimage in 1999?

In 2007, Sister Cecilia and I revived it, with help from Rex Weyler and Ben West, as the Pilgrimage to Burns Bog, as a way to fight the Gateway project, especially Hwy 17, the South Fraser Perimeter Road.

We managed to get some amendment to the route to protect an eagle nesting site (Sherwood Forest on Nottingham’s farm), but lost the war. Nevertheless the Pilgrimage to Burns Bog, recognizing it as a sacred site, continues every Earth Day Sunday. UCV has a long history protecting Burns Bog.

And then there’s Noel and Joan Armstrong and their 1979 solar house in Dunbar.

Lots of stories !

Pilgrimage to Burns Bog

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Protecting burns bog a Sacred Wetland Ecosystem

a brief history of more than 30 years of Unitarian engagement in this cause

photo: Burns Bog
photo: Burns Bog

Above: Photos courtesy of the Burns Bog Conservation Society

So you’d like to know more about the Pilgrimage to Burns Bog? Many Unitarians have heard of this annual meditative walk, usually in conjunction with the Earth Day Service put on by the Environment Team.

For others, Burns Bog is a big mystery. What is it? Why is it so important? Why would Unitarians help organize a pilgrimage to a “swamp?”

Karl Perrin a long-time member of the Environment Team, answers those questions.


By Karl Perrin — June 2020

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The first Pilgrimage to Burns Bog in the 1990’s was a multi-faith walk into the knee-deep bog before it was protected. For decades it had been considered worthless, and the City of Vancouver garbage dump was expanding into the bog, along with cranberry farms, and peat mining operations on its fringes …

What is Burns Bog?

Burns Bog is an ancient domed bog in Delta, B.C. It is ten times the size of Stanley Park. It provides habitat for several threatened and endangered species. An NDP provincial govt. had planned to pave half of it as a new site for the PNE. Gordon Campbell countered that if he became premier, he would preserve it. After his government was elected, four levels of government bought out private owners, and designated it as conservation lands off limits to all but a few trained volunteers preserving the wetness of the bog in dry weather. Several members of the UCV Enviro Committee participated in building dams to prevent the central dome from drying out, and potentially catching on fire.

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A short film Pilgrimage to Burns Bog ’09. Co-lead by Karl Perrin. Organized by the Metro Vancouver Interfaith Network and the Wilderness Committee

For more info visit https://burnsbog.org

To join UCV on the annual Pilgrimage and/or to learn more about UCV environment activities contact the Environment Team


Oak Street Farmers’ Market

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Oak Street
Farmers’ Market

by Mary Lage

It was a grand adventure. The best of times. A crazy idea. A proud part of our Unitarian history. We started Vancouver’s first all-organic farmers’ market on the UCV parking lot.

To paraphrase Joni Mitchell:

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They paved paradise … so we put up an all‑organic farmers’ market

Don’t miss this short documentary film by Jen Rashleigh and Rob Dainow on Opening Day at the Oak Street Farmers’ Market.
Tomato Meter 91% 4 stars rating

It Was a Grand and Crazy Idea

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Back in 2011 a group of intrepid UCV members came up with an idea: Why not start an all-organic farmers’ market in our parking lot? What’s not to like? Under the direction of our sustainable food guru, Grant Watson, we began to make plans for the Oak Street Farmers’ Market.

We bravely climbed a steep learning curve of city permits, farm visits, grant applications, and logo choosing, among a panoply of other tasks. One of our most debated tasks was deciding whether to put the apostrophe before or after the ‘s’ in farmers market. We had our grand opening in June with music, city officials, inspirational speakers, and a ribbon cutting ceremony – and we were off!

We spent the next five years creating a strong community built around delicious organic food, great music, artisan stalls, stone soup making with donations from all our farmers, and even a massage chair.

Exciting Times

Highlights included being the first market to feature wine and spirits, zucchini races, cooking demos and even a film series on ethical eating. We were proud to nurture first time farmers’ market vendors and musicians, and we welcomed volunteers from the deaf community.

Along with physical and financial backing from the church, UCV volunteers provided a considerable amount of sweat equity. Challenges included the weekly erecting of a huge and heavy piece of equipment that came to be known as the “Frankentent”, dragging multitudes of boxes out of the church’s narrow crawlspace, and keeping the electricity flowing to the parking lot by means of extension cords, covers, and ingenuity.

Navigating the challenges of starting and running the first all-organic farmers’ market in Vancouver proved difficult. Midway through operations, the city decided to enforce its sign bylaw not allowing us to put up signs in the neighbourhood. As well, several other farmers’ markets opened soon after ours in the area.

In spite of having incredibly dedicated members on the Oak Street Farmers’ Market board, after 5 years of operation, we had to close due to our continued financial instability. Our grand adventure came to an end but the memories and the community continue on.


Plant Based Eating

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Nearly 30 years ago, Denise Swanson and the Environment Committee began to promote plant based eating to respect animals, protect the environment and support healthy eating

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Left: Plant based Sunday brunch 2008
Right: Photo by Keith Wilkinson — Apple tree in community garden at UCV

By Denise Swanson

One of my strongest lifelong interests has been the protection and promotion of respect for animals. In 2007, there wasn’t any committee at UCV with that particular mandate, and the Environment Committee seemed a good choice to work with on this pursuit. Especially so, given that animal agriculture is one of the top industries responsible for environmental destruction.

One of my strongest lifelong interests has been the protection and promotion of respect for animals

Most people have goodwill toward other species and the individual members of them. The overwhelmingly largest number of animals in need of protection are those on factory farms. Many are aware of the routine horrors behind factory farming (quite apart from their link to zoonotic diseases). An obvious way to protect them is to refrain from supporting their abuse by not buying – by boycotting – their ‘products’. Thus, I turned my attention to what is fast gaining momentum as an environmental as well as animal protection movement: plant-based eating.

I learned from reliable sources that balanced plant-based diets are nutritionally sound for all life stages. Not only that, they are significantly protective against some of our society’s most significant chronic health problems: heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and various cancers.

I saw the UCV committee lunch fundraisers as an opportunity to raise awareness of the issue and show that entirely plant-based meals were not only possible but delicious . For the next several years, the Environment Committee collaborated to produce dozens of lunches for the congregation. I also worked on smaller-scale plant-based food service projects for other UCV events, such as workshops at the farmers market, a Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale in Hewett Hall, and put on cooking classes to show that preparing these foods is easy and fun.

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The warm and energetic support of the UCV Environment Committee is a fond memory!

Another project I worked on with the Environment Committee involved developing some new church policies: using coffee that is organic and fair-trade, and providing plant-based milk options at coffee times.

During this time, I had been involved in several film festivals, and decided to host one at UCV focused on food and the environment. This was another great learning experience for all of us.

The warm and energetic support of the UCV Environment Committee is a fond memory!

image of fruits and veggies

Denise Swanson and David Steele led a forum, in 2019, on plant based eating. … Feel free to explore the links below they provided, for in-depth information and delicious recipes

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Outreach Opportunities Fund New Recipient: Burns Bog

Our Outreach Opportunities Fund recipient for the June-Sept 2020 period is the Burns Bog Conservation Foundation, which was set up in 2002 as an endowment fund for the Burns Bog Conservation Society. Burns Bog is a globally unique ecosystem functioning as a major regulator of regional climate and as the “the Lungs of the Lower Mainland”. Endowment funds are also to be used for research relating to peatlands/wetlands and the development of an Education Centre. Read more about the connections between Burns Bog and the Vancouver Unitarians.

50 Years Ago the First Greenpeace Voyage was Ratified in the Fireside Room

iconic photo of Greenpeace founder Bob Hunter aboard the Phyllis Cormack

Above 1971: Robert Hunter on the first voyage of the boat renamed the Greenpeace
Photo by Robert Keziere | Keziere writes: “My contact sheets indicate the photo was taken at sea, eastbound, somewhere between Akutan Island and Sand Point, Alaska. Our ship was underway to the customs office in Sand Point, alas, away from Amchitka Island and the Cannikin nuclear test. Understood at the time.”

photo of Fireside Room where the first Greenpeace voyage was ratified

Above: Fireside Room circa 2020


Vancouver Unitarians have deep roots in the peace and environmental activism that flourished in the 1960s and 1970s.

Few people know that 50 years ago, a meeting in the Fireside Room ratified the first voyage of a fishing boat, renamed the Greenpeace, to protest nuclear testing in Alaska. Fewer people know that the inspiration for the name Greenpeace occurred in the courtyard outside the Sanctuary.


According to Rex Weyler, in 1969, two American ex-pats residing in Point Grey, Dorothy and Irving Stowe, formed the “Don’t Make a Wave Committee” to oppose underground nuclear testing, by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, at a remote island in Alaska.

The origin of Greenpeace International began with the the Don’t Make a Wave Committee. The name of the committee was inspired by fears that shock waves from the underground detonations would cause a major earthquake and tsunami.

In 1970, the Don’t Make a Wave Committee, an eclectic group of 20 or so people; comprised of academics, students, hippies, Quakers, pacifists, ecologists, journalists and visionaries; held an emergency meeting in the Fireside Room at the Unitarian Church on Oak Street.

Without a boat, or the funds to charter a boat, the committee unanimously ratified a plan to sail a peace boat to Amchitka Island, at the western tip of the Aleutian Islands, 2400 miles north west of Vancouver BC.

The plan was to sail into the test zone of the Cannikin, a five megaton underground nuclear bomb, to heighten public opposition to nuclear testing and prevent the detonation of the Cannikin.

(A five megaton nuclear bomb has the explosive energy of five million tons of TNT or almost 400 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb.)

At the end of the meeting, people drifted into the courtyard and gathered in small discussion groups.

Taking leave of the meeting, Irving Stowe flashed the “V” sign and said, “Peace.”

Ecologist Bill Darnell responded, “Make it a green peace.”

A hush fell over the assembly. Everyone heard the magic in the two words. Over the next few days, people talked about the hypothetical boat as if it existed. Some began calling it the “Green Peace.”

photo of courtyard where the name Greenpeace was inspired

Above: Courtyard outside Hewett Centre circa 2020

backstage at the first concert for Greenpeace

Above 1970: Amchitka Concert, backstage at the Pacific Coliseum. On the right, from background to foreground: Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Elliot Roberts (Joni Mitchell’s manager) and Phil Ochs

Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Phil Ochs and a local band named Chilliwack performed at the historic Amchitka Concert on October 16, 1970, before an audience of 10,000 people. The venue was the Pacific Coliseum in East Vancouver.

The money raised, just over $17,000, was used to charter an 82-foot fishing boat named the Phyllis Cormack, based out of Richmond BC, for the now-legendary voyage to Amchitka Island.

The fishing boat renamed the Greenpeace for the anti-nuclear expedition set sail on September 15th, 1971, with a crew of 12 activists.

At ‘Yalis (Alert Bay) in the traditional territory of the ‘Namgis First Nation, the Kwakwaka’wakw held a ceremony in traditional regalia, at their Big House, to honour the Greenpeace crew and bless their voyage.

The remote village of Alert Bay is no stranger to the power of a tsunami. In 1964, the village had been devastated by a tsunami caused by the 9.2 Alaska Earthquake.

600 miles from Amchitka, at Harbor Bay in the Aleutian Islands, the fishing boat was intercepted by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, the Confidence, and ordered to sail to Akutan.

At Akutan Bay, the captain of the Confidence boarded the fishing boat and, unaware that the anti-nuclear expedition operated by consensus, ordered the “leaders” of the expedition to sail their vessel out of American waters.

While the captain of the Confidence conferred in the wheelhouse of the fishing boat with some of the anti-nuclear activists, a dinghy from the Confidence arrived with two U.S. coast guards, who hand delivered a letter to the crew of the anti-nuclear expedition.

The letter signed by 18 crew members of the Confidence stated they fully supported the anti-nuclear activists and their mission. The signatories, all U.S. Coast Guard members, later faced military discipline for this action.

Their type-written letter stated:

Due to the situation we are in we the crew of the Confidence feel that what you are doing is for the good of all mankind. If our hands weren’t tied by these military bonds, we would be in the same position you are in if it were at all possible.

Good luck we are behind you 100%

The Cannikin was detonated on November 6th, 1971. Due to public opposition it was the last nuclear test at Amchitka. The Don’t Make a Wave Committee was renamed Greenpeace in 1972.

The first voyage of the Greenpeace boat to Amchitka is considered the inaugural voyage of the eponymous Greenpeace International, one of the most successful environmental organizations in the world today, headquartered in Amsterdam with (as of this writing) offices in more than 55 countries.