Gerald Thom was a hard working volunteer, ready to take on any environmental challenge around the lakeshore. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)

Vancouver Island park honours memory of man with ties to Vernon

Well-respected volunteer, Gerald Thom, remembered in Lake Cowichan park

A Vancouver Island town took time out to honour a hard working environmental dynamo during the recent 75th anniversary celebrations, dedicating the Gerald Thom Native Plants Memorial Park on Saturday, Aug. 17.

A group of friends and fellow volunteers has been looking for some way to honour Thom, who died in a tragic airplane accident a few years ago, for his hard work for the overall community.

Thom grew up in the North Okanagan, graduating from Vernon Senior Secondary School in 1981.

The Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society’s Bee Greenway welcomed everyone to the brief ceremony.

“I’m very honoured to read the words that other people who knew Gerald better have put together for you. We’re here today to dedicate a new garden: the Gerald Thom Memorial Native Plant Garden. Last year, then-mayor Ross Forrest came to a meeting of the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society with a proposal from the town council to dedicate some structure or element in the town of Lake Cowichan to the memory of our society’s founder and our beloved community friend, Gerald Thom.

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“This was a generous and kind offer and we extend our heartfelt thanks for that. Who was Gerald Thom? [He] was the very deserving 2013 recipient of the Lake Cowichan Citizen of the Year. He was the first president of the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society. He was a retired businessman and a landscaper. He was a new citizen to the area, moving here in 2008.

“He was the creator of the Cowichan Shoreline Stewardship project, which saw, over six years, 6,207 potted native plants planted on 39 lakefront properties around the lake, helping to prevent erosion and providing important fish and wildlife habitat. He was the spearhead of the 2013 Saywell Park Restoration Project in which volunteers removed blackberries and other invasive plants and replaced them with native willow, alder, dogwood and nine bark. If you look along the far side of the path, this whole riparian fringe between the lake and the path, that’s the project that was started at that point.”

Since then there have been a couple more efforts, coming along and weeding, a little bit of maintenance. But, by and large, what strollers see on the far side of the path is his project.

“He encouraged the town to use a state of the art wharf, floating above the riparian plants, allowing native plans to do their important water cleansing work unhampered by man’s structures,” Greenway said.

“Gerald believed that youth was our most important resource, always emphasizing the importance of engaging youth in the stewardship of the watershed. To this end there now exists a Lake Cowichan School Scholarship in his name, which recognizes and assists a deserving graduate who is pursuing an education in the field of environmental studies.

“Of course, Gerald also championed the annual river cleanup, now in its 11th year, which has become an entire river event, in connection with our watershed board.”

He was a likeable enthusiast, whose charm made others want to volunteer with him.

“This was Gerald on the outside. These are some of the easily reported and easily recorded contributions he made to our community. However, he made a deeper contribution and one that is fittingly honoured in this dedication today. Gerald believed in teaching by example and listening. Because of this he was able to build bridges with those of different belief systems, understood the ecological value of leaving the native plants on the lake edge, but he also understood that lakefront owners want to use their properties for recreational purposes,” Greenway added.

After the unveiling of the attractive sign, a crowd of people walked around the new park, checking out the plants and talking to members of the Stewardship Society.

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