Celebrating an icon:

Sheila Thomson at 100

Daniel F. Brunton

Published in the Trail & Landscape 57(1) January-March 2023

“Don’t complain unless you are willing to do something about it”, she memorably stated long ago. For decades, Sheila Thomson, OFNC Past-President (1971-1972), Honorary Member (1981) and longest-serving member (since 1943), has lived by and inspired others with those words. This was certainly the case when she joined Anne Hanes and past-President and future Honorary Member Ted Mosquin in transforming the moribund OFNC Newsletter into Trail & Landscape. It immediately became a successful vehicle for educating and motivating the membership. It also was the primary incentive for hundreds of Ottawa area residents to join the OFNC in the late 60s and early 70s. Sheila came up with the name too, through she recently expressed a preference for Anne Hanes’ whimsical suggestion ... Muddy Boots!

Sheila Thomson
This was taken in 1966 at Meech Creek. Sheila and her husband Harry, who was always such a big part of her activities, have set the timer on the camera to have their picture taken in front of the campfire. Scan of slide provided by Eleanor Thomson.

Her “get on with it” approach to the increasingly serious problem of Gatineau Park mismanagement in the early 1960s caused her to mount a campaign with like-minded folks within and beyond the OFNC (notably again including Ted Mosquin) to take on the National Capital Commission. Their well-researched and clearly expressed arguments forced the seemingly immovable bureaucracy that was (and often still is!) the NCC to substantially clean up its act regarding Gatineau Park. In the process, this led to the creation of the Ottawa Chapter of the Canadian Parks & Wilderness Society.

Sheila Thomson
Sheila on November 18, 2022. Photo by D.F. Brunton.

Sheila has always been an active, insightful and collaborative field naturalist, ready and willing to share her knowledge and enthusiasm with anyone who is curious about the natural world. And that has always especially applied to young people. This passionate curiosity was instilled in her at a young age. An article in The Canadian Field-Naturalist documented her discovery of Ring- necked Pheasant eggs in an otherwise normal Ruffed Grouse nest in western Ottawa. The author of the article, renowned biologist and future OFNC Honorary Member C.H.D Clarke, noted that the discovery had been made by then 16- year-old “Sheila Hoare [now Thomson] on May 9, 1939”(!). She has never looked back.

Sheila celebrates her 100th birthday in late January 2023. She is still demonstrating an unrestrained commitment to and curiosity about the natural world. In a recent conversation we talked of a field trip a bunch of us took into a rugged wetland area along the Ottawa River, during which she brushed aside my concern that she probably could not negotiate the irregular terrain with the walker she was using at the time. Other participants bailed out before we got into the heart of the site but not consummate naturalist Sheila who was determined to see all of its natural treasures. Recalling the outing, Sheila suggested to her daughter Eleanor, her most frequent field companion, “perhaps we should do that again”. She was only half- joking.

During that recent conversation, eyes twinkling and insights and recollections flying a mile a minute, Sheila also volunteered that in retrospect, she was pleased that “we young folks were able to do some things” back then. I should say so!

All who have had the pleasure of knowing, learning from, and being inspired by Sheila are delighted to congratulate her on achieving this centennial milestone. And all members of the OFNC owe her thanks for all that she’s been “able to do” for our natural world ... so far!