A longtime Peninsula environmentalist left South Surrey in a hurry, but as swift as the decision may have looked, Roy Strang says it certainly wasn’t an easy one.
“It wasn’t a decision that was made lightly, I can assure you,” Strang told Peace Arch News.
Strang – a former environmental columnist for PAN – said in a recent interview that he and his wife of nearly 65 years, Alison, moved to Vancouver’s Marpole neighbourhood from Ocean Park on short notice in December, after Alison’s health took a turn for the worse.
“It came on quite rapidly,” Strang said last month, of the change in Alison’s health.
“She needs care which we couldn’t give her at home.”
Strang, 91, is well-known around the Semiahmoo Peninsula for his work over the past three decades to preserve, and raise awareness of the importance of, Sunnyside Acres Urban Forest.
The 130-hectare greenspace has been protected as an urban forest since 1988, following a grassroots campaign to see the second-growth forest preserved from development. In a referendum, residents voted overwhelmingly in favour of keeping the woodland site intact, and city council of the day declared it was “to be set aside in perpetuity for its intrinsic and heritage values.”
Strang was an original member of the group that fought to save the forest and, along with Diana Wegner, was instrumental in the development more than a decade later of a fire management plan for the forest. That plan was developed in response to a growing and increasing risk of human-caused fires in the forest.
Strang, a retired forester, wrote regularly – weekly at first, and then monthly – on environmental issues, including the forest and even moreso, the Agricultural Land Reserve, for PAN’s lifestyle pages from 2006-2015, with a hiatus in 2010.
He also penned the 140-page Sunnyside Story, a limited-edition book which tells the story of the forest’s dedication.
He was never one to shy away from stating his opinion – “I like to sound off,” he told PAN in 2015, in a story on his decision to set his columnist pen down for good – and was an avid believer in sharing the area’s natural history.
Much of that was done from the heart of Sunnyside Acres itself, where Strang routinely led tours for local students and others.
Still, while he believes he has raised awareness of environmental issues, he hasn’t seen much change in efforts.
“I think they are more aware of it. They’re not yet willing to put themselves out to protect it,” hes said.
“Go stand on Highway 99 one morning and see how many cars are going by with just one driver. It’s just a symptom of the problem.”
In addition to his focus on the urban forest, he spent eight years at the helm of Surrey’s environmental advisory committee and was a dedicated community policing volunteer for the South Surrey RCMP district office.
He has been recognized as a Surrey Citizen of the Year, received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee medal in 2002 and was presented the Order of White Rock in 2008. Last year, he accepted a 2017 Heritage in the City Award on behalf of Sunnyside Acres Heritage Society
Alison, too, has been featured in the pages of PAN over the years, in her passion for, and success with, Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers. She operated Westerlea Kennels since 1976, and co-authored The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, described as the first hardcover book devoted to the breed.
Sunnyside Acres Heritage Society president Ron Meadley described Strang’s move from the local area as “a big change.”
“It’s a milestone. He’s gone from being very active to… not even in South Surrey any more.”
Strang – a father of five – agreed he was “very active” locally, and said he and Alison will miss the area.
“We had very good friends and lots of activities in and around the White Rock/South Surrey area, which are no longer very accessible to us. We regret that.”