A tribute to Gus Yaki
Gus Yaki (Photo by NCC)
Born in rural Saskatchewan in 1932, Gus Yaki devoted his life to studying nature and inspiring people of all ages to care about it. An honest, hard-working, lead-by-example figure with a wealth of knowledge and endless enthusiasm, Gus passed away on August 10 at the age of 87, leaving the world a better place for his having been in it.
As a child, Gus walked five kilometres to and from school (“uphill both ways”) and he used that time to learn about the birds in his community. He would recall that his school teacher had a small birding book, which he would flip through during recesses and lunch hours to identify the birds he’d seen on his commute.
Over the course of his lifetime, Gus established himself as a prominent figure in the world of nature conservation and was highly respected for his knowledge. He led birding trips locally wherever he lived, including across Canada, Antarctica and the Svalbard Islands, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. Gus visited 26 countries on all seven continents, where he inspired thousands of people to support conservation by showing them the beauty of the natural world.
While living in Ontario, Gus operated a nature tour company, Nature Travel Service, and was involved with the founding of the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC).
Over the decades, Gus was a figurehead for the conservation community. He inspired countless others through trips with many organizations, including the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (now called Ontario Nature), Nature Calgary, NCC, the Alberta Wilderness Association and the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park. He was a recognized bird identification expert across Canada, and would often receive photos from the birding community, which he would always respond to with his opinion and relevant educational information. Respected by many national organizations and fondly remembered by everyone who participated in his nature outings, Gus would always welcome people who were new to birding and take the time to answer their questions.
In 1993, Gus moved to Calgary where he quickly became an impactful member of the birding community. He became a staple in the Friends of Fish Creek Park Society by leading outings at natural areas around the city. He continued to organize international tours through Nature Travel Service, until 2003 when he retired from leading trips abroad.
Gus Yaki identifying plants and removing invasive species (Photo by Angela Waldie)
Gus’s achievements are numerous and include the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers by the Governor General of Canada in 2019, the same year he was recognized as one of Calgary’s Top 7 over 70. He has also been recognized many times for the hundreds of volunteer hours that he gave to the organizations he cared about.
In 2017, at the age of 84, he led a 320-kilometre trek across southern Alberta to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary and to raise awareness and support for the study of birds and grassland conservation. He was a passionate ambassador and donor to NCC; his enthusiasm and love of the land inspired hundreds of people to love nature enough to invest in it themselves.
Remembered for his inexhaustible knowledge, patience, kindness and humility, Gus’s passion and love of nature was something he shared with everyone he met. A lifelong naturalist, Gus has inspired countless Albertans, Canadians and individuals around the world.
In celebration of his life, the Nature Conservancy of Canada will be organizing an event to honour Gus’s legacy and the natural world that he cared so much for. Please check back soon for event details.