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New West loses well-loved environmental activist

A woman who pioneered environmental activism in the Royal City has passed away at the age of 102. Dorothy Beach, who lived most of her life in a family home overlooking her beloved Fraser River, died at home on Jan. 23.
Dorothy Beach
Longtime environmental activist Dorothy Beach passed away Jan. 23 at the age of 102.

A woman who pioneered environmental activism in the Royal City has passed away at the age of 102.

Dorothy Beach, who lived most of her life in a family home overlooking her beloved Fraser River, died at home on Jan. 23. During her lifetime, Beach was awarded many honours including the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.

“She was an amazing person and an amazing environmentalist. Very cutting edge in spearheading the environmental movement in New Westminster,” said Coun. Chuck Puchmayr. “She was always reminding us on city council or in provincial politics of the importance of the environment and alerting us of issues that were very crucial that we needed to listen to. It’s a real loss. She served the city extremely well.”

Puchmayr was named New Westminster’s Citizen of the Year in 2008, the same year Beach was nominated for the award. At the time, Puchmayr said if there was an ability for the recipient to give it to someone else, he would present it to Beach.

Beach’s environmental endeavours included advocating for preservation of agricultural land, creating awareness about issues related to the sustainability of the Fraser River and railing against Agriculture Canada’s plan in the mid-1990s to spray herbicides on 20 acres in Sapperton to kill gypsy moths, ultimately convincing the federal government to trap the insects.

“When she spoke about those issues, people listen,” Puchmayr said. “We did some work with the herbicide spraying, the gypsy moth, the railway tracks, the provincial government allowing certain types of spraying – I think probably the genesis of our pesticide ban can be linked to her hard work and her lobbying of elected officials.”

In honour of her 100th birthday in 2013, Beach received the Harold Steves and Farmland Defence League’s award for lifetime dedication to the preservation of farmland.
"Dorothy began advocating the preservation of farmland long before the agricultural land reserve was created in 1973," Farmland Defence League campaign director Donna Passmore said at the time. "As a board member of the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation, the Citizens Health Action Network and the Fraser River Coalition, and as board member and volunteer for a vast number of environmental causes and campaigns, Dorothy has been an inspiration to several generations of British Columbians."

Beach was among the women profiled in the 2012 book, Grace Grit and Gusto: Profiles of Remarkable Royal City Women.

“Indescribably wonderful,” daughter Nancy said of her mother. “She’s a big subject to try and explain. She’s been through a lot and came through like a champion.”

In 2013, Beach told the Record about her years growing up on River Drive, which was a "wild place" with bushes and greenery all around. As a child, the area's streams offered endless fun for local children.

Beach, the oldest of six kids in her family, recalled how neighbourhood kids enjoyed hours of fun playing baseball and badminton at her family’s property.

"We had a lot of fun,” she said of her childhood.

Beach’s family moved to Sumas Prairie, where her father lived out his long-held dream of having a farm. Beach found her way back to New Westminster, where she married husband Russell in 1938. After renting her family’s home while searching for a home of their home, the couple decided to buy the family home, where they went on to raise their five children, one boy and four girls.

Son David was attending agriculture school at UBC, when he ended up in Royal Columbian Hospital after being poisoned with experimental pesticides.

“They never figured out what was wrong with me, but Dorothy did," he told the Record in 2013. "She became a pesticide expert for the next 30 years."

Beach's lengthy list of environmental endeavours includes serving as the director of the Fraser River Coalition and chairing the National Council of Women at the UN Habitat Conference in 1976. She received the Life Achievement Award from the B.C. Provincial Council of Women, the Burns Bog Spirit of the Cranes award and other honours for her environmental efforts.