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‘A real warrior’ — Windsor environmental crusader Ric Coronado dies

In Environment
Jul 31st, 2019
Ric Coronado

Windsor environmental activist Ric Coronado. 



Ric Coronado, 1941-2019

Environmentalist, crusader, troublemaker.

Windsor’s Ric Coronado, fondly remembered for his fierce take-no-prisoners approach to protecting the environment, died Tuesday after years of health struggles. He was 78.

Canadian environmental champion David Suzuki remembers Coronado as a pioneer more than willing to put a few noses out of joint for the cause.

“I think that’s why he was so effective,” said Suzuki, who grew up in Leamington. “He didn’t give a shit what people said. He just believed in his cause. That’s a very admirable trait.”

“I was a big fan of Ric’s. He was one of the first people I met in Windsor working for the union on environmental issues. At the time I felt he was soldiering on with a great deal of indifference. But he really was committed to the issues and I really admired him a great deal.”

Coronado spent three decades taking on governments, corporations and anyone else he needed to in his fight to protect Essex County’s natural environment.

He was on the frontlines of dramatic protests against local air and water pollution and the Detroit garbage incinerator, he fought to end sewage dumping in the Detroit River, and he was a pioneer who lobbied for recycling in the 1980s.

In 1985, Coronado founded the Windsor and District Clean Water Alliance — now called the Citizens Environment Alliance — to stop dumping from Sarnia’s Chemical Valley into the St. Clair River. His only son, Derek, is the alliance’s current executive director.

Coronado established and chaired the CAW Local 444 environment committee in the 1980s.

In 1990, he pushed through the first contract language between Chrysler and the CAW that established a joint national environment committee. That language became the model for similar committees at all Canadian Big Three facilities.

Ric was really one of the founders of the environmental movement in Essex County
Coronado was also instrumental in forming the Windsor Environmental Advisory Committee, and he spent years working on Detroit River issues through the Binational Public Advisory Committee.

“For those of us in the environmental community, Ric was really one of the founders of the environmental movement in Essex County,” said naturalist and environment alliance director Phil Roberts.

And right from the start, he could not be bridled.

“Ric was certainly not a guy who minced words,” said Roberts, who knew Coronado about 30 years.

“You might even have called him a guy that was rather intolerant of people who couldn’t get their heads around improving the environment and making decisions and taking action to improve the environment. He was very passionate. He was certainly a guy at meetings who did not go unnoticed.”

Jim Drummond, a retired district manager with Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, often found himself on the receiving end of that passion.

“We had some clashes, but we were friends,” said Drummond. “We needed people like him to keep people like me on our toes.”

But there was no doubt Coronado “liked to ruffle feathers,” he said.

“The thing between me and Ric was he always wanted the whole pie, and sometimes I had to settle for part of the pie when it came to meeting environmental needs from various companies,” said Drummond. “His heart was always in the right place.”

Ric Coronado is shown Feb 5, 1997. NICK BRANCACCIO / WINDSOR STAR
The firebrand had slowed down after a severe stroke in 2000, followed by a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.

“I was shocked that he was still alive because I knew that he’d had a stroke,” said Suzuki, who last saw Coronado a couple years ago. “He was still feisty even though he was obviously slowed down by the stroke. He was a real warrior, and I think that Windsorites should be really grateful that he dedicated his life to that work.”

Citizens Environment Alliance founder Ric Coronado dead at 78

By Sameer Chhabra · CBC News 

Ric Coronado, the man once described by David Suzuki as a “silverback” among environmentalists, died in hospital Tuesday at the age of 78.

He died of a cardiac arrest, following approximately a week spent in hospital.

Coronado was an Essex County environmentalist who first made waves as an environmental advocate in the 1980s, when he established and chaired Unifor Local 444’s first environment committee.

“In that role, he was responsible for pushing for that first environmental contract language between Chrysler and the [Canadian Auto Workers union],” said Alan McKinnon, vice-president of the Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario (CEA), who became involved with the organization in 2005 in an attempt to prevent the construction of a highway on protected Ojibwe land.

McKinnon explained Coronado’s early work “established a joint national environment committee and that became the model for joint workplace environment committees which were then established at all of the Big Three manufacturing facilities in Canada.”

Coronado founded the organization which would serve as the precursor to the CEA in 1985.

Originally known as the Windsor and District Clean Water Alliance, the organization would eventually be renamed the Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario sometime in 1988, according to McKinnon.

“I personally found that so fitting, because Ric was a fearsome and fearless protector, but he was also a very gentle and respected elder, and he had a huge influence on those who he came into contact with,” said McKinnon. “The most important thing I think he did was mentor generations of citizen advocates.”

Prior to his time with the CEA, McKinnon worked as a local radio producer. He said he and his colleagues loved Ric Coronado interviews, “because he was so fiery and passionate.”

“I remember, I saved a piece of tape. I don’t remember which side or which politician he was referring to, but Ric said ‘He’s either lying or stupid and neither one is acceptable,'” said McKinnon. “I just thought … that was a … perfectly crystalized soundbite.”

McKinnon said Coronado first met David Suzuki sometime around 1995, adding the two stayed in touch throughout Coronado’s lifetime.

In one of Suzuki’s later visits to Windsor, he described Coronado as a “Silverback,” referencing Coronado’s longtime climate advocacy.

“I’ve always thought that when people reach a certain age, and I’ve certainly been in that age a long time, we’re past the best-before date. We’re in a time that I think is the most important time when you no longer have to play games,” Suzuki told CBC News.

“We’re freed as elders to just say it like it is, without any fear of retribution. That to me is what a silverback is. A silverback has lived a life and now is in a position to show real leadership because his or her concern is not so much their own backsides, but the well-being of the community.”

Suzuki added that Coronado understood the importance of clean air and clean water and “saw what the problems were and dedicated his life to fighting for it.”

“Ric Coronado [didn’t] want to make a lot of money or to become famous, he was fighting for something far more profound. As someone who happened to meet him, I’m honoured that he would consider me his friend,” said Suzuki. “I admired him a lot.”

Coronado served on the CEA board until his death. He is survived by his son Dereck Coronado, who serves as the research coordinator and de facto leader of the CEA.

“Ric showed that, with tenacity, patience [and] courage, ordinary citizens can make a difference,” said McKinnon.

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