Fall colours at Birdseye Ranch, Waterton (Photo by Brent Calver)

Fall colours at Birdseye Ranch, Waterton (Photo by Brent Calver)

Tom Beck — A legacy of conservation

Tom Beck (Photo by NCC)

Tom Beck (Photo by NCC)

As a teenager in post-war 1940s Scotland, Tom Beck and his widowed mother emigrated to Canada, settling in the west.

Tom promptly proclaimed his new home heaven on Earth, as he fell in love with the surrounding beauty, clean air and wide open spaces. With a newfound interest in fishing and a passion for wild places, and finding Canadians “a little too casual about what they had,” Tom started down his path to ensuring that these treasured natural areas would be protected for the long term.

Tom spent decades working in the Canadian petroleum industry, where he pioneered environmental protection and management in the sector. His list of accomplishments, appointments and awards would take up most of the space allotted to this article.

In 1978, he became chair of the Canadian Environmental Advisory Council, a position he held until 1987. During his time there, a council member asked him if he would consider sitting on the regional board of Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) trustees. Joining NCC on condition that the organization become more focused on the west, Tom held that volunteer position from 1985 to 1991.

While working in the Arctic in the mid-1980s, Tom learned of someone who was “interested in doing something with his land.” Meetings were arranged, and Tom eventually met Sandy Cross, building a relationship that would result in the establishment of the 4,800-acre (1,942-hectare) Cross Conservation Area in southwest Calgary in 1987. This donation of private land for conservation was the largest of its kind in Canada at the time. Considering this was Tom’s first NCC initiative, he was off to a roaring start. ”The Cross Area project was really the first one. And for the next 17 years, I stayed with it,” reflects Tom.” It was one of the most satisfying activities of my life, and a wonderful thing to help put together.” 

And that was just the beginning.

Tom’s hope when he started with NCC was that the Cross Conservation Area would stimulate interest in other projects. And that it did. From Alberta’s Palmer Ranch to British Columbia’s Flathead River Valley, and from Manitoba’s Tall Grass Prairie Reserve to Saskatchewan’s Old Man on His Back, there is no denying the impact of his involvement in conservation in western Canada.

Tom Beck and Alberta staff at the Calgary office (Photo by NCC)

Tom Beck and Alberta staff at the Calgary office (Photo by NCC)

Today, NCC has grown from 15 national staff to 250, from one national program to seven regional programs that span the country and from 10,000 supporters to more than 200,000.

Tom’s conservation vision and leadership doesn’t go unnoticed in NCC's Regional office in Alberta.

On December 7, a plaque, which adorns the boardroom wall, was unveiled in recognition of his dedication in bringing NCC to western Canada.

When asked why land conservation is so important to him, Tom replies in his typical soft-spoken manner, “ I came to Canada and there was all this wonderful land. Some of it was private, much of it was public. It’s meant a lot to me to repay Canada for accepting me, as a teenager and as an immigrant. I’ve tried to repay the gratitude I feel by doing the things I’ve done. “

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