Past board chair Mary Bryden retires after 40 years of service

OTTAWA, Jan. 21, 2021 — A lot can happen in 40 years – just ask Mary Bryden, who retired from the board of the Rideau Valley Conservation Foundation (RVCF) this year after 40 years of conservation volunteer work. 

2020 marked RVCF’s 50th anniversary, and few people have been involved in the foundation or its partner the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RVCA) for as long as Mary. 

She first joined the RVCA board of directors as a Gloucester Township councillor in 1979, taking over for Councillor Mitch Owens. 

She sat on the RVCA board during major infrastructure upgrades and sat on the tribunal that protected much of the Rideau River’s shorelines from development. 

She moved to the Foundation’s board in 1995, becoming chair of the board in 2000. She remained in that position for 10 years.

Now 80, Mary said much has changed since the old days when the Authority was mostly there to restrict floodplain development and the Foundation was largely meant to manage donated land. 

“The people who have joined the board in recent years, they want to do something more in the way of stewardship,” Mary said.

The foundation has also grown in response to current local needs. It now raises funds to support water quality monitoring and research, shoreline rehabilitation projects, tree planting and outdoor education, on top of its flagship role in protecting and managing conservation lands. 

This is a positive evolution, Mary said, especially with climate change looming large in the public conscience. 

“I’d like people to be more conscious of their environment. I lean toward educating people because the more people are aware the less they will act badly,” she said. 

Mary was a trailblazer when she began with the RVCA: a single mother of three, full-time nurse and one of the first women to sit on the RVCA’s board of directors. At her first meeting, when the general manager addressed the board members as “gentlemen,” she added loudly, “and ladies!” 

As a Foundation board member, she helped rewrite the organization’s bylaws to allow for more fundraising – a timely effort, as provincial money for conservation authority programs began to disappear in the mid-1990s. 

“As things got cut and cut and cut, the foundation needed more room to raise money for authority programs,” she said. “We have been quite successful and are pleased with the on-the-ground efforts that our fundraising supports.”

Today, the Foundation has raised more than $5 million for conservation programs in the Rideau Valley watershed.

Mary said many of her achievements at the Foundation and RVCA wouldn’t have been possible without the “wonderful help and support” of staff.

“It’s a great group of people and I’m glad to have spent all those years,” Mary said. “I knew nothing about conservation when I walked through the door, and I learned a lot.”

Happy retirement, Mary!

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