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Kathy Guselle, Oak Ridges Moraine Hero

Kathy Guselle, Oak Ridges Moraine Hero

[photo of Kathy Guselle]Kathy Guselle

On November 6, 2010, more than 100 people gathered at the Ganaraska Forest Centre to celebrate the Oak Ridges Moraine and the people involved in making it a better place. Organized by EcoSpark for the Monitoring the Moraine Project, the celebration would not have been complete without recognizing the late Kathy (Totten) Guselle, BA’57.

Katherine Totten was born in Windsor, ON, in 1935, the youngest of three children. She studied drama and politics at Queen’s. She lived and worked in Oshawa, but the family also had a farm on the Ganaraska River. She was a loving wife to fellow grad Bob Guselle, MD’50, a caring mother to three children, a talented singer and pianist, a skilled writer and actor with an agent in Toronto, and a social worker.

Her greatest legacy, however, may be the impact she had on the Oak Ridges Moraine. Kathy devoted herself to the Moraine for two decades, from 1988 to 2008. She assumed the role of leader, politician, lawyer, activist and, in the end, a true hero for the Oak Ridges Moraine.

Reminiscent of an earlier time when the Ganaraska was saved from destructive logging, Save the Ganaraska Again (SAGA) started the long fight against the threat of urban development on the Moraine in the late 1980s. Over the decade, little by little, thousands of acres of land had been purchased by developers. The rural community united under SAGA with Kathy as president. During that time, no community support system was in place to challenge growth and development on the basis of “protecting the environment.”

Kathy requested an environmental assessment of the proposed plans. In 1989, a formal hearing was organized based on SAGA’s request and, for the first time, the Oak Ridges Moraine was officially, publicly, identified as a significant landscape. In 1990, Kathy participated in SAGA’s first Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing to fight development on the Ganaraska River. SAGA lost the appeal, but the OMB set conditions that effectively stopped the development. This was a precedent-setting case that drew public interest and media attention.

With Kathy as the driving force, SAGA took a completely novel approach to citizen involvement in planning and policy. In her words, “We have never been against development, just bad development. SAGA always supported comprehensive planning on an ecosystem basis.” At their second OMB hearing, SAGA had no funds to pay a lawyer; Kathy presented the arguments herself and won. Like a true leader, she rallied people to the cause and grew the organization. SAGA was active for 15 years with 334 members. In 2006, Kathy was recognized for her contributions with a Moraine Hero Award, organized by EcoSpark and STORM.

Queen’s was a major part of Kathy’s life. Her late husband, Dr. Robert D.W. Guselle, was a grad (MD’50) as is daughter Patricia (Artsci‘86, MIR’92). Kathy would often draw upon her Queen’s education to help her in defense of good planning and fair practices. In her 1996 presentation to the Standing Committee on Resource Development for the Land Use Planning and Protection Act, she eloquently said:

"I was taught by politics professor J.A. Corry, later Principal of Queen's University, that any man's right to swing his arm ends where the other man's nose begins. This precept, upon which our society is based, means that you can only do something with a piece of property you purchase if it doesn't affect your neighbour adversely. That requires the land use planning process to ensure, through a system of checks and balances, that every form of development is environmentally benign."

Those paying tribute to her at last November’s celebration said, “Kathy has taught us the importance of civic participation – how to play an active role in the policies that define how we live, work and play in our neighbourhoods, our municipalities, our protected landscapes. This is the basic premise behind Monitoring the Moraine, a collaboration between EcoSpark and STORM. As the Moraine’s legislation will be under review in 2015, it is important for people who care about the Moraine to continue in Kathy’s footsteps.”

For more information about the Moraine project, visit www.Ecospark.ca/MonitoringTheMoraine or www.stormcoalition.org

[Queen's Alumni Review 2011-4 cover]