Tribute to a colleague

March 16, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

February 28 was Doug Skeates’ birthday. So, here’s to him:

When Doug was finishing at Runnymede High School in Toronto, he says, “I was interested in going into forestry but given my heart history [suffered in my youth], they said it would be silly to think of forestry, at which point, I went into forestry.”

The University of Toronto’s Faculty of Forestry required students to do forestry during the summers and “forestry inventory was a hot topic at the time. Most students went to measure trees.”

Doug Skeates  was not talking about the trees in Hyde Park but north, to the Boreal forest, to the wilderness. A whole new experience for the young people, the deep end as it were. If they loved their summers, they were meant to be foresters. Doug loved his summers.

He was posted to a station between Sioux Lookout and Armstrong that was only accessible by plane. There were five men and a cook living in an abandoned base on Star Island to which food was flown in once a week. For a young man who had been living in Toronto for the past several years, it was quite an adventure, the first of very many.

He graduated in 1953 and began a job with Lands and Forestry, to work all over Ontario. “In Northern Ontario, they decided to get moving on an intensive reforestation. So, there was training for reforestation in  the north,” he told us.

He was stationed in Geraldton, where he worked in reforestation, with varying success with shipments of saplings.

In the spring of 1959, along with a colleague, Harold Cummings, the district biologist, they decided to take a holiday and went to Europe.

They landed in Southampton, where they took the train to London and his life was changed forever because he met beautiful Anne Wilson.

An introduction for the sake of a date through and with others: the theatre, coffee later and, says Doug: “That was it.”

From then on, during his travels around the British Isles and Europe, “Wherever I went, I was trying to find a way and means of getting back to Anne.”

Once he returned to Geraldton, they corresponded, with the result that Anne came to Toronto and stayed a short while with his mother. Anne and Doug soon married and went back to Geraldton, where the whole story was a complete surprise to Doug’s friends, colleagues and neighbours.

Since those Geraldton days, Anne and Doug spent three and a half years in Kenya where they lived some 15 miles west of Nairobi, a marvellous time of experience for themselves and their two children, Beth and Robin, along with the third who was born in Kenya, Geoff. Doug was running the forestry research centre, eventually taking on other responsibilities.

Once back in Canada, Doug continued to travel with his extensive knowledge and wisdom on the subjects of conservation and reforestation. They had two more children,  Karen-Anne and Colin.

Eighteen months in Thailand, which led to another six months, rounded out his long-term posts, but he continued to travel.

In the Philippines, he went to consult on the re-greening of Negros.

“In actual fact, it went in the other direction,” he commented, “as there’s more  money in cutting trees down than in reforesting them.”

Guyana, Costa Rica, Suriname, China, the Caribbean are all places he has worked to encourage re-growth of the forests to aid in the depletion of carbon in the air and as a safety net against destruction of the land from floods and erosion.

It was in 1990 that he and Anne moved to their home in Loretto. He told us proudly: “There’s been significant change since we’ve moved here. Nature has recovered a lot… There’s been replanting of trees and less cutting in Simcoe/Dufferin. Our property has changed dramatically – there’s good forest cover on this property anyway.”

Doug has written in the Citizen for several years now. His columns are about benefitting the earth and, indeed, each other. His knowledge of Canada’s history with our once massive forests is encyclopedic and the facts in his columns are often surprising and always very interesting.

It is his solid wisdom, his balanced view, never overstated but ever reasonable, even in the face of the unreasonable behaviour of industry and commerce that is so valuable.  Doug explains about the need for long-term solutions for climate change, solutions that involve understanding the way in which trees absorb carbon and release oxygen. The more trees, the cleaner the air.

Earlier this year, he wrote: “Nature is one beautiful, inextricably integrated system, it’s vital that we care enough to plan our society’s development with thought and care … sharing responsibility for the privileges we receive.”

Reading his work is to have a deeper understanding of this world around us.

Here’s hoping Doug has many more happy birthdays!

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