Bags Be Gone

Comox Valley initiatives aim to reduce waste and recycle.

Ruth Masters

Ruth Masters[/caption]Masters grew up on this property and spent her adult life tending it. In 2005, she gave it to the Comox Valley Regional District to be maintained as public conservation land in perpetuity (she kept two acres for her own home). On September 12 of this year, the Regional District honored Masters’ generosity with the unveiling of a plaque thanking her, and a big interpretive sign with text and photos commemorating her work as an environmentalist and naturalist, at the entrance to the property.

The Greenway adjoins the City of Courtenay Greenway, creating a valuable natural corridor for wildlife. As well, it connects up with a trail that continues on along the river all the way to Puntledge Park.

The property was assessed at around $2 million, says Masters. If she’d subdivided it she could have no doubt made much more. But for Masters, the knowledge that the forest would be left to grow, the animals and plants would be ensured a habitat, and the neighborhood wouldn’t be entirely chopped up and filled with cookie-cutter homes was worth a lot more than a couple of million dollars.

Perhaps this is why Masters has no need to make inspiring speeches—her actions are more inspiring than words could ever be.

And her actions on behalf of nature and all its inhabitants have been many. She’s been at the forefront of nearly every successful environmental action in BC in the last 20 years.

Her first involvement was back in the 1950s. “I was on the fringe when Roderick Haig-Brown saved Buttle Lake from being decimated,” she says.

Masters really got going as an activist when she was 68 years old. “It was in 1988 and there was a six-week blockade to protect Cream Lake in Strathcona Park. It’s the jewel of the park, and apparently it has a very nice seam underneath. A couple of mining companies were ready to destroy it. Well, we got rid of those companies,” she says.

“I made a lot of friends and learned a few strategies that turned out to be useful,” she adds. As usual, she just managed to avoid being arrested, although she had no qualms about getting right out onto the front lines.

“Each time they made a grab to get me I hopped over the fence. When they were shovelling the poor wretches in the paddy wagon, I pulled out my harmonica and starting playing Oh Canada, Glorious and Free. I managed to make quite a sound on my thready little harmonica. But we should have had a trumpet. That would be my advice to the younger generation doing these things—you need a trumpet!”

Since 1988, Masters has been at blockades at Clayoquot Sound, the Tsitika Valley, the Carmanah Valley and the Walbran. But she doesn’t always have to be right in the thick of it. A couple of years ago, when tree sitters were protesting construction of a parking lot at Cathedral Grove, she’d drive down regularly with dinner, which would be pulled up into the treetops by ropes.