A private celebration of life is planned for July for Bob Day, whose work during a contentious period on the Bruce Peninsula in the 1980s led to establishing the area’s two national parks.The Owen Sound man, who was the first superintendent of Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park, died June 5 at age 77.His children, Jeremy and Tobin Day, said their father’s key role in creating the parks, now part of the Niagara Escarpment UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, was his proudest professional accomplishment.“He put a lot of work into his dream of building that national park and he made it his personal mission in life for many years to get it done no matter the obstacles. I think all of us are lucky that he succeeded,” Jeremy Day said Thursday.Tobin said her father’s memories of his time with the park were among the final things he forgot while enduring dementia.“We made sure his room was filled with pictures of the Bruce and some of the paintings he’d been given when he retired in honour of his work,” she said.“He was very passionate about his work with Parks Canada and I think it gave him a lot of meaning to have created something – he often talked about how the park was for the people. He very much wanted the locals to have something that was right for them.”Born Feb. 7, 1942, in North Bay, Mr. Day grew up in Sarnia and later attended Lakehead College in North Bay. There, he met his future wife Joan Gibb, who he was married to for 52 years.Mr. Day earned a degree in science and forestry from the University of New Brunswick before embarking on a career aimed at protecting the country’s natural places.He worked as a forester for the province and with the Ontario parks program before joining Parks Canada in 1973.Mr. Day became superintendent in September 1981 of Georgian Bay Islands National Park, which then included Flower Pot Island.Three months later, the federal government announced public consultations to determine the feasibility of combining provincial and federal lands to establish a new national park on the upper Bruce Peninsula.Mr. Day was chosen to co-ordinate the public consultation program.In his 2012 self-published book “Shores of Heaven: The Birth of Bruce Peninsula National Parks,” Mr. Day wrote that establishing the new national park was a politically complicated process that would require approval of two municipalities and signing of a federal-provincial agreement.It was Mr. Day’s job to secure the necessary local public approval. A documentary on the park described him as the government’s secret weapon in getting the communities to support the plan.“He was the go-to guy for the national park. He was the liaison with the municipalities and the ratepayers’ groups and the First Nations’ groups. He was sort of the hub in the whole thing,” said Don Scott, a Bruce County planner at the time.Mr. Day was “unbelievably dedicated” to his work, Scott recalled.“With regard to the national park, it probably would have come, but it just came a lot faster and with greater results because Bob was involved in putting the pieces together,” he said.The parks were established on July 20, 1987, following an exhaustive six-year process that included in-depth consultation.During that time, the proposal ignited strong feelings on both sides. There were protests – including some bush fires set by opponents of the plan – heated public meetings and, as Mr. Day recalls in his book, a possible attempt to take his life at the height of the controversy.A pro-park reeve was defeated and an anti-park group was created. A 1985 referendum by former Lindsay Township residents to not have their municipality included in the proposed park nearly derailed the proposal.But, in the end, after an adjustment to the proposed park boundary as a result of the referendum, a federal-provincial agreement to establish the 380,0000-hectare national parks was signed. It included a list of 37 conditions, like those designed to protect private property rights.Tobin Day, now a science/outdoor education teacher on the peninsula, said her father “was able to turn a lot of public opinion to make it feel OK to have a national park there.”Mr. Day retired from Parks Canada in the early 1990s and became a real estate agent.
Bob Day. SUPPLIED PHOTO
SUPPLIED PHOTO /
Scott, who wrote the forward to Shores of Heaven, said Mr. Day had a great sense of humour, was easy to get along with and loved the outdoors.Jeremy Day, who remembers many outdoor adventures with his father and summers spent at Tobermory and Beausoleil Island, said Mr. Day believed “very much in the mission of the national parks service to make available to all Canadians the enjoyment of the outdoors.“He wanted people to enjoy it,” he said.And enjoy it they do. The parks, which include the popular Grotto and Cyprus Lake Campground, now welcome some 400,000 visitors annually, making them the busiest national parks in the province.