Alf Campbell died on March 11, in his 87th year. Alf didn’t look like a warrior, and he didn’t sound like one either. But, long before the term was used as it is today, Alf Campbell was an Eco-Warrior of the highest order. He spent more than half a century in our community, adding to our knowledge of, and appreciation of forests and trees and the plants and their importance in our survival as a people.
Inspired by the work of the great godfather of forestry in Ontario, Edmund Zavitz, Alf went to the University of Toronto’s School of Forestry, and when he graduated, back in 1956, he arrived in Kemptville to begin his life’s work. He and Peg, his wife of 56 years, came here as a young married couple, getting lost in Merrickville and trying to find out where Kemptville was. County Road 43 was just the gravel Hoey Road in those days, and Alf and Peg must have wondered what they were getting into here.
He began as an Extension Forester, working both at Limerick Forest and the Ferguson Forest Station north of the Village of Kemptville, as it was then. How different the place was in 1956. Alf once told me that, when he first went to Limerick Forest, the trees only came up to his waist. He could stand and look out over them, as far as the eye could see. The Forest had only been in existence since 1940, and was an attempt to reforest an area that had once been cleared farmland, an area that had been devastated by wind and erosion after the tree cover had been removed.
Alf Campbell worked at bringing the trees back, and reforestation, a major scheme in Ontario since Zavitz had been encouraged by G. Howard Ferguson in the 1920’s and 30’s, was a passion for Alf. Alf was a unique link, an almost circular chain connecting Zavitz, Howard Ferguson and Kemptville. Ferguson, native of Kemptville, had encouraged Zavitz, who inspired Alf, who came to work in Kemptville at the Forest Station established in 1945 and named after Ferguson. He embodied a heritage, a desire and determination to restore their forests to the people of Ontario and to ensure that the land would always have its protective tree cover and life-supporting forests.
But it was not just as a professional Forester that Alf contributed to this worthy cause: he became a teacher himself, someone who informed and inspired younger generations too. Almost from the beginning of his time here, he began arranging visits by school children to the Forest Station, teaching them how the forest ecosystem came about after the settlers arrived and cleared the land. Around 400 kids a year, mostly from Grade 5 and from schools all over the region, started coming to the Station in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s. He made them, quite literally, tree-huggers, sharing with them his love of trees and impressing on them how vital healthy forests are to healthy people. Right up until recent years, Alf continued to bring children on tours of the Ferguson Forest Centre, continuing his role as teacher and enthusiast.
So many people have very fond memories of Alf and Peg. Local resident, David Herman and his wife remember another side to Alf: “Josephine and I are saddened to learn of Alf’s passing. I sang in the Ottawa Valley Men’s choir with Alf. He loved singing and was an avid gardener. He grew garlic and donated a lot to the St. John Farmers Market and loved to talk of his experiences. I am sure he is in the finest choir possible now. Miss you, Alf.”
Liza Duhaime worked with Alf at the Ferguson Forest Centre and appreciated what he brought to the work and the atmosphere there: “He was charming and fun, enlightened and passionate about Ferguson Forest Centre. Alf was a wonderful teacher and I have vivid memories of those events and a better appreciation of what’s around me on my forest walks. I feel honoured to have known Alf”.
I had the pleasure of filming an interview with Alf and some other great people a few years ago. He spoke of his decades of work and life in North Grenville, sitting beside two other contributors to the FFC, Adam Shewchuk and Owen Fitz’Gerald, who have also passed away since then. But thanks to them, and to Alf and his contemporaries, we still have a Forest Centre, taken over after the province closed the Station in 1995. Alf has passed on his passion and determination to other generations, and both Limerick Forest and the FFC will remain as a wonderful and green memory of a great man who cared for them so much.