Brad Whitcombe receives posthumous 2015 Honour Roll Award from GRCA
By Janet Baine
Cambridge - Brad Whitcombe is the recipient of a posthumous 2015 Grand River Honour Roll Award, the highest award given out by the Grand River Conservation Authority. Whitcombe died suddenly in November, 2014, leaving a long record of environmental service to the Grand River watershed. He was a long-serving politician in Puslinch Township, and Wellington County. Among his many accomplishments, he was co-founder of two very successful environmental programs.
“Stewardship captures Brad’s approach to life. He believed his role was to convene all the forces and resources necessary to care for his community,” said Lise Burcher, Whitcombe’s spouse, and a former City of Guelph councillor.
Whitcombe was a lifelong resident of Puslinch Township who grew up on a farm on Gore Road. He was a hog farmer in his 30s when he entered local politics. He became a township councillor in 1989 because he was concerned about the agricultural challenges facing farmers at that time. He remained active in politics and served as Mayor of Puslinch Township for 15 years, until 2010. He also served as Wellington County warden for three terms in 2000, 2005 and 2006.
Whitcombe sought solutions to the water challenges within Puslinch Township. He was the chair of the Mill Creek subwatershed study which was completed in June, 1996. This identified the work that needed to be done to improve this important, but damaged creek that runs close to Highway 401 through Puslinch and enters the Grand River in Galt. A broad-based committee established the Puslinch Township Groundwater Monitoring Program - the first of its kind in Canada. This program is still in operation, ensuring that water resources are understood and protected.
“ Brad was the prime proponent of both the subwatershed studies and groundwater monitoring program, which were considered visionary and ground-breaking at the time,” said Larry Halyk, who was stewardship coordinator in the area.
In 1999, Whitcombe also chaired the committee that introduced the GRCA’s Rural Water Quality Program to Wellington County, bringing this new program to the second municipality in the watershedthe program originated in Waterloo Region.
He co-founded the very successful Friends of Mill Creek in 1998. This multi-faceted program became a model for community engagement in other areas. He helped bring together environmentalists, business leaders, landowners and local agencies to work together to improve the creek. In other communities, this would be a nearly impossible task. But in Puslinch, people set aside their differences when they entered the meeting room. They worked together. Many improvements have been made to Mill Creek and the brown trout population has expanded, while native brook trout have regained territory within the watershed.
High school students are hired as Mill Creek rangers every summer to undertake restoration projects along the creek. Local businesses pay for this program.
“It has been a great benefit not only to the stream, but also to the young people. For many, it is their first opportunity to get environmental experience and this likely influences their career choice,” Whitcombe said during the 10th anniversary of the program. As president, he received a 2012 Watershed Award on behalf of Friends of Mill Creek. He was serving as president when he passed away last year.
The second major program he co-founded was Wellington Green Legacy. This started as a one-time event to plant 150,000 trees during the 150th anniversary of the founding of Wellington County in 2004. But Green Legacy has continued, and it has been recognized by the United Nations as the largest municipal tree planting program in North America. Through Green Legacy, nearly two million trees have been planted in the county over the years. Whitcombe and program manager Rob Johnston received a watershed award in 2010 on behalf of this program, which continues to expand. Now there is a proposal to turn it into a province-wide program.
“We should be inspired by what is possible and get ready to roll up our sleeves and make it happen,” Whitcombe said.