A preser­va­tion cham­pion

Grosvenor Blair has long been a cham­pion of pre­serv­ing the Bras d'or Bio­sphere

The Victoria Standard - - Local News - CAROLYN BAR­BER

Grosvenor Blair’s pas­sion for the Bras d’or Lakes be­gan nearly cen­tury ago.

The Bad­deck sum­mer res­i­dent and Bell fam­ily de­scen­dent first came to Bad­deck with his par­ents over 90 years ago from his birth­place of New York City. His ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the Lakes grew over the years, along with a deep­en­ing aware­ness the key en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues of our time. In May 2017, Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity rec­og­nized Blair’s life­long con­ser­va­tion and preser­va­tion ef­forts with an honorary Doc­tor of Laws de­gree.

“The award of this de­gree to me is over­whelm­ing,” Blair con­fessed dur­ing his thank you ad­dress. “Over­whelm­ing for many rea­sons, but not the least of which is I can look out my win­dow in Bad­deck at the Bras d’or Lakes and know that there was some con­tri­bu­tion to its con­ser­va­tion.”

The Stan­dard spoke with Blair in De­cem­ber from his home in Bernardsville, New Jersey. He says it was the “DOMTAR episode” that con­vinced him the Bras d’or Lakes needed pro­tec­tion. When the Que­bec-based build­ing equip­ment sup­plier closed a gyp­sum plant in New­found­land, it set sights on set­ting up a large op­er­a­tion at the head of Bad­deck Bay. In re­sponse, Blair and other vol­un­teers formed the Bras d’or Preser­va­tion Na­ture Trust in 1991 to pre­vent un­de­sir­able de­vel­op­ment. It was the first land trust in Nova Sco­tia el­i­gi­ble to hold con­ser­va­tion ease­ments, and part of Beinn Bhreagh es­tate be­come the first such ex­am­ple.

Blair and his peers launched the Bras d’or Lakes Wa­ter­shed In­ter­pre­tive Cen­tre lo­cated in the old Bad­deck Post Of­fice. It wel­comed over 50,000 vis­i­tors be­fore it closed in 2014. The Cen­tre’s raised topo­graph­i­cal map of the Bras d’or Wa­ter­shed is now lo­cated at the Alexan­der Gra­ham Bell Na­tional His­toric Site.

Blair was born and raised on the Up­per East Side in Man­hat­tan dur­ing the De­pres­sion. He at­tended Amherst Col­lege in Mas­sachusetts, grad­u­at­ing with a Bach­e­lor of Arts in physics in 1950. He grad­u­ated Univer­sity of Vir­ginia law school in 1953.

“In my se­nior year, it was pretty ob­vi­ous that I'd starve to death if I tried to be­come a physi­cist,” he says with a laugh. “My fa­ther was a lawyer and my grand­fa­ther was a lawyer. The eas­i­est thing in the world was to go to law school."

Be­fore he would go on to prac­tice in­ter­na­tional and busi­ness law in New York and Hous­ton, he spent three and one-half years in the United States Navy in “tech­ni­cal in­tel­li­gence”.

"That was tak­ing a look at what the Rus­sians were do­ing with sub­marines and this, that, and the other thing. It was a fas­ci­nat­ing tour.”

Life in Texas in­cluded a week-long ca­noe trip down the Rio Grande spon­sored by the Sierra Club. The group pad­dled down­stream, camp­ing along the river’s banks, awak­ing one morn­ing to find puma tracks around the tents.

"See­ing the wild­ness of the Rio Grande in those days was a thrill, re­ally."

The big bend of the Rio Grande lo­cated in West­ern Texas is a UN­ESCO Bio­sphere Re­serve, a dis­tinc­tion shared by the Bras d’or Wa­ter­shed. Blair had long known about the UN­ESCO Man and the Bio­sphere Pro­gramme when, in 2011, he and other vol­un­teers se­cured “bio­sphere re­serve” des­ig­na­tion for the Bras d’or Wa­ter­shed. The pro­gramme’s ob­jec­tive is “to safe­guard nat­u­ral and man­aged ecosys­tems, thus pro­mot­ing in­no­va­tive ap­proaches to eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment that are so­cially and cul­tur­ally ap­pro­pri­ate, and en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able.” To­day there are 686 in 122 coun­tries.

Al­ways look­ing to the hori­zon, Blair is look­ing for­ward to help­ing the Bras d’or Lakes Bio­sphere As­so­ci­a­tion build on its ac­com­plish­ments. He is also com­mit­ted to draw­ing aware­ness to the im­pacts of cli­mate change, near and far. He has no plans of let­ting age get in the way.

“Peo­ple look at you and they say, ‘he’s an old man’. Well, I don't feel like an old man, but I don't like to brag about it.”

Grosvenor Blair upon re­ceiv­ing his Honourary De­gree from Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity (CBU). Photo cour­tesy of CBU.

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