Under Hwy 401, where Lawrence Avenue East meets Lake Ontario, Rouge National Park unfolds at the foot of Scarborough. Lois James was instrumental in the efforts to preserve the Rouge Valley, and it was her unrelenting efforts to educate the public and politicians on the importance of the environment that resulted in the creation of Canada’s first urban national park. The park is 79.1 km2 (30.5 square miles) of the Rouge River watershed and includes rare Carolinian forest. It extends from Toronto to Markham, Pickering and Uxbridge, and is home to more than 1,200 species of plants and animals, including species at risk.
Born in 1923 in Cleveland, Ohio, James settled with her family on a wooded property on Meadowvale Road in 1965. Her husband Robert was an academic who was instrumental in establishing the sociology program at what was then Scarborough College, the University of Toronto’s first of two new campuses.
Lois built a life in Scarborough and a lifetime devoted to advocating for community planning, soil and water conservation, pollution control, waste reduction, public transportation and other environmental causes. She fought dumps, gravel pits and condominium developments, and spent countless hours at municipal, provincial and federal planning meetings championing the preservation of the natural environment. Lois became a mentor and role model for a generation of environmental activists and community volunteers.
In 2003, Lois James was recognized with the Order of Canada. The proclamation from the Governor General read, in part, “For over 50 years, this mild-mannered Canadian homemaker has been protecting the planet, one corner at a time.”
She was recently recognized by the Ontario Government for her many years of work fighting to protect the Rouge Valley and surrounding areas.
Photo by Scarborough Mirror.