One of the Semiahmoo Peninsula’s most ardent environmental activists – as well as newspaper columnist and longtime supporter of Sunnyside Acres Urban Forest – has died.
Roy Strang, 94, passed away Sunday, his daughter Catriona told Peace Arch News.
Strang, a retired forester, is most well-known locally for his decades-long efforts to preserve, and raise awareness of the importance of, Sunnyside Acres.
The South Surrey greenspace has been a protected urban forest since 1988, following a grassroots campaign – led by Strang and others – that was successful in seeing the second-growth forest preserved from future development.
Even after the forest received protected status, Strang continued to advocate for it, and routinely led tours of the area for students and others.
He also spent many years at the helm of the City of Surrey’s environmental advisory committee, and he also served as a community policing volunteer in South Surrey.
Longtime Semiahmoo Peninsula politician Gordie Hogg – who has served as White Rock mayor, MLA and MP – said Strang would often pop into his office to chat about different local issues, and those conversations were always peppered with intelligent debate, insight and humour.
“He just had such a wonderful way about himself,” Hogg said. “He was so passionate about people and about the environment, and the connection between the two of them. He was so engaging, and he wanted to talk about the things that were important to him.”
Strang became “the go-to person” on local environmental issues, Hogg noted, not just because of his knowledge, but because of how he carried himself. It’s that pleasant demeanour that helped propel the Sunnyside Acres Urban Forest project into reality, Hogg said.
“It was because of his approach… his passion and caring – all of those things,” he said.
“It’s that old notion that it’s not what you do, but why you do it, that’s important. And why Roy was doing it was because he cared about our community, he cared about people and he cared about the future.”
Strang was a former Surrey Citizen of the Year honouree; he received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee medal in 2002 and was presented the Order of White Rock in 2008. In 2014, he was named a winner of a Surrey City Award for his preservation efforts, and in 2017 he accepted a Heritage in the City Award on behalf of the Sunnyside Acres Heritage Society, which he helped create.
Born in London, England and raised in Scotland, Strang earned a PhD from the University of London, and his work as a forester took him to eastern and southern Africa, where he lived for nearly two decades before immigrating with his family to Canada.
In Canada, he worked for the federal government, and taught in the department of forestry and plant sciences at UBC and later at BCIT.
Her dad, Catriona said, regularly played the bagpipes at Burns Night celebrations; was an avid rugby fan who also loved mountain climbing and sailing, and most of all, “was devoted to his family.”
Strang and his wife Alison, who were married more than 60 years, were longtime Semiahmoo Peninsula residents before moving to Vancouver a few years ago. Alison – an author and world-renowned expert and breeder of Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers who, like her husband, was well-known in the community – passed away in 2018.
Strang wrote weekly for PAN about environmental issues, beginning in 2006, and after a brief hiatus in 2010, returned in 2011 on a monthly basis. He retired from regular column writing in 2015, but still wrote sporadically for PAN.
He also penned a book, Sunnyside Story, that details the history of the urban forest and the fight to protect it.
Former PAN editor Lance Peverley said Strang “never shied away from voicing an unpopular opinion if it propelled the conversation.”
“I like to sound out,” Strang told PAN in a 2015 story announcing his retirement – which turned out to be temporary – from column writing. He once again began writing monthly in 2019.
Strang’s final column, which has yet to be published, was filed to PAN in late August.
And though he was frequently honoured for his environmental work in both Surrey and White Rock, Strang wasn’t afraid to butt heads with those in power. In the early 2000s, upon leaving Surrey’s environmental advisory committee – along with a few others – he expressed frustration with the city and its apparent lack of commitment to environmental issues, saying, “We may be the watchdog, but we have no teeth.”
Strang is survived by his five children, 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.