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