Once an activist, always an activist – Carolynn Fishleigh, 77
From left: Kate Harries, John Beaucage (then Grand Council Chief of the Anishinabek Nation), Carolynn and Wayne Fishleigh at the Site 41 camp in 2009. -Mary Rajapakse photo
By Kate Harries AWARE News Network
Carolynn Fishleigh was a determined defender of the water and the Stop Dump Site 41 group was energized by her commitment. She passed away peacefully on December 29, at her Penetanguishene home in the arms of her dear husband Wayne. She was 77.
It was in the early 2000s that she first became involved in the cause – to protect the Alliston Aquifer, the source through countless artesian wells of water that has been tested to be the purest in the world.
In 2009, at the height of the Site 41 battle, Carolynn was indomitable. She wrote countless letters, many dealing with complicated technical issues, she lobbied politicians at every level of government, she canvassed door-to-door, she engaged with First Nations allies, she reached out to other organizations and was undeterred when Simcoe County’s administration started bringing charges and taking legal action against Site 41 activists.
“The Site 41 community is saddened that we have lost Carolynn,” said Anne Ritchie Nahuis. “She was a treasure – an invaluable member of our group and active in so many other areas as well. She is the kind of person that makes our society work. Our quality of life would be so impoverished without people like Carolynn.”
Carolynn had her finger on the political pulse. Here is her take on the “outreach” campaign devised by Site 41 activist Letty McNeil, whereby canvassers were deployed in South Simcoe municipalities where the mayor and deputy mayor felt they would face no voter penalty for imposing a dump in North Simcoe.
“It’s the concerned personal touch that counts,” she wrote in September, 2009. “When you knock on a door, what happens is you usually get a polite but guarded reception, but when you earnestly explain the situation, you see faces change from – ‘Hurry up and let me get back to what I was doing,’ to amazement at what you are saying, to ‘Please give me that flyer, I’m going to call right away – we have to save our water!’ It does work and I have heard from several sources that this is what the politicians are the most afraid of.”
On occasion she had to deploy a secret weapon. “I shot her a withering look and she shut up,” she wrote in a 2006 email describing her disagreement with a person who disputed the findings of the scientist who had tested the water.
“In the face of it it looks hopeless,” she wrote in a 2005 email to a fellow activist. Noting that Canada had scored 24th out of 24 on an environmental study of environmental issues, she wondered, “What can we do to wake them up? I’m too old to start a revolution, but I don’t want this for a legacy for my two precious little granddaughters either.”
After the Anishinaabe Kweag set up camp opposite the proposed county dump site in May 2009, Carolynn was a regular presence, helping to build solidarity among the disparate group of people who showed up – young or old, well-off or living day to day – water warriors all.
Common wisdom held that it was all too late, the dump was a “done deal,” but (to cut a long story short) the people prevailed and victory came at the 11th hour, in October 2009, when Simcoe County Council voted to halt the project.
Wayne and Carolynn then joined other local “dumpinistas,” as radio host Dale Goldhawk called them, in Mulmur Township where the mega-quarry battle was playing out, again to ultimate victory for those who defend Mother Earth.
Carolynn was busy in a wide range of endeavours. She volunteered for groups involved in special needs and seniors’ programs, particularly at the Askennonia Senior Centre. She and Wayne were keen drummers and faithful members of the drumming circle at Georgian Bay Cancer Support Centre.
Carolynn’s love of nature was central to her life, and she was an important and well-loved member of the Midland-Penetanguishene Field Naturalists Club, where she was a friendly and welcoming presence, serving for many years as secretary or treasurer.
“She was a lovely woman who had much passion for causes she believed in,” said club president Susan Hirst. “She was generous and kind, and outspoken when required. She volunteered many hours to the club, from taking minutes to keeping track of finances to helping at event tables.”
Late in life, she turned to art; her paintings went on display at Abbotts in Craighurst and she donated others for fundraisers. “It seems I’ve passed through my activist phase and am now in an artistic phase, but everybody is entitled to ‘me’ time, especially when you get to my age,” she told Anne in an email. Looking back, Anne disagrees, saying: “Once an activist, always an activist.”
Memorial donations may be made to Toronto General Hospital IPF Research, with cheques or money orders mailed to Penetanguishene Funeral Home (Salon Funeraire Penetanguishene), 155 Main St., Penetanguishene, ON, L9M 1L7. The cheques should be made out to Toronto General Hospital IPF Research with the name Fishleigh noted on the comment line of the cheque.