Ann’s Story

an in-depth interview with ann dale

Part 1:
Early Life
Part 2:
Professional Life
Part 3:
Part 4:
The Future

Part 1: Early life

What first drew you to nature? How did this foster your love for the environment?

I was a tomboy as a little girl, so I was always playing outdoors with the boys. My punishment as a child was to keep me indoors. I just loved being outside with the sun and playing in the dirt.

What is your most vivid childhood memory?

Sitting in a church pew and wondering why, if there was a God, was he was inside and not outside, in the sun, the moon, the stars and the water. Another vivid memory I have is when my mother told me I had to start wearing a t-shirt which made me different from the boys I played with, and I couldn’t understand.

What was the toughest time of your life?

The year my beloved only child, Daniel James Frazer died in May 1998, and now, six of my four-legged big white Akbash dogs.

What is the biggest disillusionment you’ve ever experienced?

How cruel some people can be.

What do you appreciate most about yourself?

My kindness to all living beings, big and small, especially two and four-legged, and creepy crawlers.

What is your favourite spot in the entire world? Why? What do you do when you are there?

My favourite spot is on the dock at Lac Maskinonge, early in the morning, watching the mist come off the lake and hearing the call of the loons. It is so very peaceful, and sometimes, I take my laptop down and write, but when I am ‘successful’ personally, I simply lay on the dock, watching the lake’s activity, its creatures, gazing in the water, and thinking about the meaning and purpose of life, or not thinking at all, just being.

Growing up, what were your secret aspirations?

To be a famous author and to be brave.

What do people remember most about you?

My strength of mind, which is a legacy from my mother. I was never as brave as my father.

Part 2: Professional Life

What’s the best thing about being a university professor?

The students.

What is success?

This is a hard question. Success is internal coherence in everything you do, maintaining your integrity and always trying 110% no matter if you fail.

Are you successful?

I think if I thought I was successful I would probably stop writing, which would be the death of me.

What do you love most about art?

As a failed water colourist, I love how it opens up your mind and engages your heart. It gives me the space to get in touch with my emotions and of course, the beauty it brings into our lives. A few months after my son died, a friend invited me to my first performance of Cirque to Soleil. And I realized, because of the beauty of their performance, I could find joy again in my life.

Since you teach remotely, do you feel as though your students are disadvantaged by not having personal contact with you on campus?

Because I live in such a healing place, I think my students actually have exposure to a more real Ann Dale, who herself is more reconciled with the mind and the heart, allowing me to be a more compassionate person. I love cities, but I find that I am like a kid in the candy store and need the tranquility of the lake to stay balanced, to stay true to my values.

What is the greatest fallacy about you?

That I am strong and tough, and somehow it is easier for me. I have simply learned to wear a veneer in my working life. We all bleed.

What do you admire least about yourself?

I do not suffer fools gladly.

If you could change one part of your personality, what would that be?

As a Virgo, I would change my tendency towards critical judgment, especially about myself.

Part 3: Environmental Activism

Do you remember the first time you thought about the ‘environment problem’ in any significant way and what action, if any, did it prompt?

I remember it very clearly. It was in 1988 and I had some time between federal government assignments, so I did a lot of hiking in the bush that summer with my beloved dogs and noticed that there were many trees dying from acid rain. I decided that I had to incorporate my love for the environment into my work. And then serendipitously, I was offered a new assignment to help create the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy in October 1988 and never looked back.

What animal(s) do you connect to?

I’ve always had dogs ever since I was about 6 years old. At that age, a neighbour up the street gave me a black lab puppy to take home and I convinced my parents that we had to keep her. I have been with dogs most of my life and for the last 35 years I have had the privilege of living with the great whites—the Akbash dog. I would not be the person I am today without their companionship. I remember so clearly in my teen years being able to tell my beloved ‘Belle’ everything that was wrong with my life, especially when it came to my parents.

And as an adult, I became very committed to biodiversity conservation. I think biodiversity loss is our greatest human imperative because there is no second chance from extinction. I often tell my students that taking the spider outside and moving a worm from the pavement after it rains is all part of what makes us better people.

Define sustainability.

For me, sustainable development, and I deliberately use that term rather than sustainability, is a process of reconciliation of the ecological, social and economic imperatives as defined by the community. And equitable access to these imperatives is fundamental to its implementation.

What qualities do you appreciate most in others?

Kindness and compassion. I used to tell my students, maybe we don’t need more science, more information, but more kindness, to one another and to ‘others’.

When did you realize that you were meant to be an environmental champion?

I guess when my book At the edge won the 2001 Policy Research initiative Award for Outstanding Research Contribution to Public Policy, and I gained wide public acceptance for my thinking. It surprised me how much attention people pay to prizes and awards. It brings a certain gravitas to your work. I had always been the lone wolf activist inside government fighting for change, which is a lonely position. Much of my work was not accepted as it was considered too radical. It taught me to never give up your dream, and it reminds me of Martin Luther King’s words, I had a dream.

As well, with the trauma of my son’s death, and his belief that we could never save the environment, and the words of one of my mentors Clifford Lincoln, a member of Parliament. About a month after after my son’s death, I asked him whatever will I do now, and he replied, “you will just have to work harder, Ann, for the environment”. So, I have a dream one day of winning an award for my environmental NGO, the National Environmental Treasure, and holding up the statute and saying to the skies, Danny, my love, you were wrong, many small steps can change the world.

If you could have the federal government initiate one environmental policy, what would it be?

Integrated decision-making across government.

What one thing would you encourage all Canadians to do regarding the environment?

Every day, to walk as lightly on the earth as possible, to take the time to put the spider outside rather than killing it.

What is it going to take to solve the biodiversity and climate crises?

A revolution of bold, decisive leadership by all politicians who commit to protecting 50% of Canada’s spaces by 2030; eliminating all oil and gas subsidies today; and finally implementing a carbon neutral economy by 2030. It is that simple. It is all doable beginning today.

What do you find most frustrating about environmentalism today?

The lack of collaboration between groups and organizations, and the lack of leadership by the larger organizations towards smaller grass-roots initiatives.

What do you find most appealing about young people today?

They are so very competent in so many ways—their knowledge, their ways of communicating, their savviness about how the world wags.

What inspires you most about young activists like Greta Thunberg?

Their courage and their commitment, their sophisticated knowledge about the world, their passion and bravery.

Part 4: The Future

What is the one thing you want to achieve during your lifetime?

Inner peace.

What are you most proud of?

Overcoming my fears—of the dark, of flying, of staying alone in strange hotel rooms, and public speaking.

If you had another chance, is there anything that you’d want to do differently?

I would not take life so seriously and spend more time telling people how much I love them.

I would hug my son more, take more walks with my dogs, and spend more time on beautiful beaches.

What one thing do you want the world to know about Ann Dale and her work to bring sustainability to the planet?

She did her best and tried to make a difference.

What do you think is the biggest problem with the Internet?

Pornography, which is why I started hosting e-Dialogues, to show you can use it for substantive dialogue. I am delighted that one of the co-benefits of the recent pandemic is that it has shown people how to use the Internet for the power of light—new ways of meeting virtually, museums opening up their collections online, even releasing a colouring book, and the music collaborations.

What gives you hope (for the future)?

Greta Thunberg explains that how you get hope is to act.

What do you hope to achieve in your troisième étape?

To be a famous podcaster. More seriously, my dream is to secure long-term funding for our national biodiversity campaign which we launched through the NET in September 2019 and that when I am a very old lady, I am raising an award and looking up, and saying, Danny, my beloved boy, you were wrong, many small steps can change the world and I didn’t give up on the dream.