Property being named GM Mac Coutts Tract
By Janet Baine
Cambridge - Gordon MacLeod Coutts set the course for the first 25 years of the Grand River Conservation Authority and a property in the northern part of the watershed is being named after him.
Coutts was the first employee of the GRCA and was the general manager between 1966 and 1991.
The G.M. “Mac” Coutts Tract is in West Luther Township and it links the Luther Marsh Wildlife Management Area with the Keldon Source Area, a critical source of groundwater that feeds the Grand River. It is close to the farm on Highway 89 just outside the watershed where Coutts grew up. It is also close to the one-room schoolhouse where he taught after World War II when teachers were scarce. School officials in need of a teacher came calling for his mom, a former teacher and when she turned down the job, their eyes fell on the recent high school grad, Mac Coutts, who was home at the time.
He was first hired in 1953 as a field officer for the Grand Valley Conservation Authority. By this time, he had taught in Fergus for two years and had a B.Sc. in Agriculture from the Ontario Agricultural College. He was the only GVCA employee at the time. He received direction from the board of the conservation authority, which then had 83 members. Now there are 26 representatives on the authority’s board.
“That meant that a lot of my work was to visit all of these municipalities. There were so many, I couldn’t see them all within a year. I spent a lot of time explaining, especially in the north where I was from, that the whole watershed was connected. What people did on their land mattered to all the municipalities further south along the river,” he explained. The connection between north and south was still a relatively new idea at the time.
During those early years, many GRCA programs of today got underway, and Coutts set the course for these. For example, the authority was the first to plant trees on private land. Landowners would pay one cent a tree to the provincial Department of Lands and Forests, and the authority would plant the trees. This program got underway in 1954. In 1955, 2,000 acres of trees were planted by the authority on private land. Because most land in the watershed is privately owned, this broadened the opportunity and scope of tree planting, and set the course for a program that has continued through the decades.
Another major accomplishment was starting the system of conservation areas, beginning with the Elora Gorge in 1954.
A fine balance
In 1964 Coutts became the Grand Valley Authority’s director of operations and secretary-treasurer. By that time there were a dozen employees; half were park superintendents. In 1966 when the Grand Valley Conservation Authority and the Grand River Conservation Commission amalgamated, Coutts assumed the lead role as the general manager of the new Grand River Conservation Authority. He held this position until he retired in 1991.
Coutts had the ability to balance political and administrative concerns with practical hands-on knowledge. This helped the GRCA grow into a leading conservation agency in the province.
“A touchstone in Mr. Coutts’s long career has been his concern for other people and his insistence on giving them credit,” according to the citation he received as the 1992 Honour Roll Award recipient.
During his retirement years, it has been a pleasure for Coutts to see the changes in the watershed and at the GRCA.
“I see everything is expanded and blossoming and I look at it with great pride. It seems to me the authority has really grown in the years since I left,” he said.