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Profile of Gary Gallon

04 Apr 2016 1:55 PM | Karla Olson

Profile of Gary Gallon

“Who’s the guy with the afro?” This iconic picture of SPEC’s early days often draws that question. His name is Gary Gallon. For us, his name stands for leadership and passion, and he’s remembered as a lively, intelligent, energetic, and dedicated young man with a huge capacity to motivate and lead. His sense of direction shaped several SPEC campaigns and had a long-lasting effect on public policy, particularly in the energy portfolio. 

His daughter, Kalifi Ferretti- Gallon, says his environmental sensibility was self-taught and that his time at SPEC set the direction for the rest of his life as an environmental giant in Canada, which ended too soon. He died of cancer, still in the prime of his work, at 59, three weeks after receiving the Canadian Geographic Lifetime Achievement Award, one of many recognizing his leadership in the Canadian environmental movement.

Kalifi came into our office a few weeks ago and introduced herself as Gary’s daughter. She is firmly treading in the footsteps of her parents. Her mother, Janine Ferretti, is an influential environmentalist with the Inter-American Development Bank, with oversight of the effect of the Bank’s activities on social and environmental degradation. Kalifi is studying at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at UBC, researching global deforestation rates and mitigation opportunities. She dropped into our office, as part of an intentional journey to reconnect with her father’s past. 

Like a lot of kids, she was not always interested in her parents work, but she grew up surrounded by their values and a multitude of leaders in the Environmental movement. Since his death, she has done a number of things that reflect his influence and their strong family bond in regards to her career. 

Gary grew up in Bakersfield, CA, where his father was the Sheriff’s deputy and where environmentalism was not a topic of dinner table discussions.  He dodged the Vietnam draft and moved to Vancouver where he worked as a janitor, a part-time pool hustler, and, for a couple of years, as a stockbroker by day and a SPEC volunteer by night. He became SPEC ED in 1972 and fairly quickly set a course of integrating environmental values and sustainable development. It became his life’s work. 

Along the way, Gary protested pesticide use, helped start Energy Probe, opposed unnecessary hydro dam construction, etc. He joined the Greenpeace crew protesting nuclear testing off Alaska in 1971. He and Bob Hunter, a founding Greenpeace member, were lifelong friends and deeply bonded in the development of Greenpeace—Gary “loaned” Greenpeace office space and administrative assistance in the SPEC building. The men are fondly remembered by colleagues as sharing beer and conspiring together at Bimini’s on 4th Ave into the evening. 

Bob continued on a more radical activist path and Gary pursued the intersection of economy/environment/and development. He received Canada’s “Environmentalist of the Year” award in 1977 for his opposition to oil tanker traffic along the BC coast and a campaign to save the Fraser Estuary.

In the mid-70s, Gary left SPEC to become executive director of the new United Nations International Environment Liaison Centre based in Nairobi, Kenya. The post included oversight of the new UN Environmental Program (UNEP) that continues to this day. Kalifi is named after a beach in Kenya where her parents met. Gary and Janine moved to Toronto to start a family in the early-80s. 

During this era, Gary is credited with starting the first Blue Box Program and was a founder of Probe International, a close relative of Energy Probe and a highly respected Canadian NGO created to address issues of financial and environmental accountability by Canadian government and corporations working in other countries. Also in the ’80s Gary became chief policy adviser to Jim Bradley, generally considered Ontario’s most effective Environment Minister, with a team that extended Ontario’s blue box recycling program and strengthened enforcement and penalties for polluters. Following on the great campaign of the Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain, he got the government of Ontario to introduce regulations on acid rain while working with Jim Bradley who pushed those regulations through the government. 

There are many other elements to the story of Gary’s achievements. Here is a link to an excellent article written by a friend of Gary’s shortly before his death. 

Gary was one of the key figures in the first decade of SPEC’s life and was instrumental in setting the stage for the next four decades of SPEC’s work.  Kalifi says that he and Bob Hunter spoke frequently about their SPEC/Greenpeace days, and Gary credited SPEC as starting him down the path that became his legacy—as one of the foremost environmentalists in Canada.

On behalf of SPEC volunteers and staff, thank you, Gary.

—  Carole, SPEC President


Society Promoting Environmental Conservation

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