Sustainable Orillia Volunteers: Two Profiles in Making Actions Matter

In 2022, two major 2022 projects for Sustainable Orillia (S.O.) were the EV and All Things Electric Weekend at ODAS Park in September and the 2023 Calendar Project. These two projects were driven by the efforts of two S.O. volunteers—Dave Van Alstyne and Danny Epstein. Dave has recently become a Director on the S.O. Board. Danny has held the position of Vice-President of the organization since 2020. Their profiles follow.

Dave Van Alstyne

Few people would credit the U.S.’s Donald Trump with being a positive influence, but Dave Van Alstyne vividly recalls the night in 2016 when Trump was elected American President. At some point Trump made the ridiculous statement that “Climate change is a Chinese plot.” Dave’s response was to ask himself, “What chance does the world have with this guy in power?” Up to that time he had been a long-time donor to the David Suzuki Foundation, but at that moment he realized he had to do more. He had to become an activist.

He explored what role he might play in the Suzuki Foundation by attending a Toronto meeting, but came away realizing he had to find a role for himself, preferably in his local community.

Van Alstyne was born in Vanguard, Saskatchewan. His parents moved the family to the Gravenhurst area when Dave was just four or five. Following high school Dave moved to Toronto where he joined the Toronto Police Service in a career that lasted 24 years. Following his retirement, he and Pat—in 2022, his wife for 42 years—moved to Orillia where Dave took on a second career in the local bus industry, one that lasted another 14 years before ending in 2016. Since that time, Dave has been volunteering his service to local organizations.

A chance meeting with Stan Mathewson at Orillia City Hall in 2019 led to a conversation about the newly organized Sustainable Orillia (S.O). This, he realized, was a local organization he wanted to work with!

Since that time, Dave has been a “go-to” guy for the organization. His interest in electric vehicles (EVs) began in 2018 when he purchased a plug-in Nissan Leaf. Shortly after, he joined the EV Society and is currently a member of its executive. It is no surprise, then, that Dave took on the job of promoting EVs in our community. The first EV Demo Weekend occurred in September of 2019 and even through the pandemic years, S.O. has, with Dave’s leadership, organized events that enable the local community not only to see some of the EVs that are available, but also to talk to their owners and even do some test-driving. The 2022 version of this event saw over 500 people attend the event at ODAS Park in September, with a variety of local dealers showcasing their products.

The EV Weekend shaping up for 2023 promises to be the largest collection of electric vehicles (models and dealers), scooters, bikes, appliances—and even boats—available in Simcoe County.

Three years after joining the group, Dave was asked what, in his opinion, is the greatest success of S.O. since 2019. While we might expect Dave to point to the EV Weekend, instead he notes the “public engagement” that has taken place. He points out that S.O’s use of the local media, its website, and its use of social media has led to an awareness of Sustainable Orillia that is now noticeable in the community.

Dave is optimistic that this community awareness will lead to the City of Orillia’s meeting—or exceeding—the target goals for 2030 laid out in the City’s Climate Change Action Plan. On a worldwide scale, he notes that green energy—solar, wind and other sources—can be available to all countries, all peoples, ending the ability of oil-producing countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia, and even Canada and the U.S. to hold other countries hostage to their need for energy. For Dave, the transition away from fossil fuels cannot come quickly enough.

When asked what he would say to the citizens of Orillia on how best to help S.O.’s efforts to encourage the community to move to a net-zero carbon future, his answer was quick and simple. “Volunteer,” he said. “Nothing happens without volunteers.” When pressed a little further, he urged citizens to “take a look at their lifestyle.” “If you can walk to your destination, do so. If you can’t walk, ride a bike. If you can’t bike it, take transit.” If, and only if, none of those options work for you, “It’s time to consider an ‘EV.”

Dave Van Alstyne, Sustainable Orillia volunteer. Making a difference.
Danny Epstein

“I always wanted to work for the government . . . to give back to the country, to make a difference,” explained Danny Epstein in a recent interview. It was this motivation that led him to a Masters’ Degree from York University in Environmental Studies, graduating in 1974 to a position with Transport Canada in Ottawa.

Danny EpsteinHis degree had focussed on airports, so he found a place in the “Canadian Air Administration” department, overseeing all of Canada’s airports (all major airports were owned by the Federal government at the time). He was among the group that prepared the very first environmental assessment of an airport in Canada. Somewhat later he was assigned to the Toronto Area Airports Project Team which had the responsibility for planning the Pickering Airport just east of Toronto, Ontario. With the cancelling of the Pickering Airport due to public pressure, Epstein was involved in planning the expansions of the airports at Hamilton and Windsor. Upon completion of these projects he was assigned to the Ontario Regional Offices.

Part of his responsibilities was as a member of the Regional Land Use Committee which assessed and approved the building of facilities on airport lands. On one occasion he was asked to approve the building of a hangar at London Airport. Epstein had concerns, but was pressured to sign off on the proposal without going to walk the property to actually see the environment. He walked out of the meeting, returned to his office, and phoned his contacts at the Regional Offices of Environment Canada. He accepted a transfer two weeks later. “I wasn’t going to be the ‘token environmentalist’ and just sign off without doing my job,” he says.

In the meantime, back in early 1973, while still in grad school, Danny met Maxine through a friend of his older sister. His mother found the girl’s phone number and said, “Danny, phone her.” Less than a year later, in late 1973, they were married. Daughter Leah came along in 1977 and son Jonah, in 1980. For many years, they lived in the Leaside area of Toronto.

His career continued with Environment Canada in Toronto. The Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Agreement (1972) led to a real focus on what human activity was doing to the Great Lakes basin and the rivers and streams in it. By 2000, Danny was Regional Director of Environmental Protection (Ontario) for the Canadian government. He became involved in international discussions of the environment led by the UN’s Environment Program, and was invited by UNEP to Australia where he participated in the formulation of the “Melbourne Principles” for Sustainable Cities, developed in April of 2002.

Danny retired in 2010, and he and Maxine moved first to Gravenhurst from Toronto, and then, in 2017, to Orillia where Maxine had been raised before going to Waterloo for her education. (Maxine’s parents owned Frank Gold’s Men’s Wear on Mississauga Street.) In Orillia, he made inquiries at Lakehead University (Orillia) thinking to interest the university in the Melbourne Principles. It was Linda Rodenburg in the spring of 2019 who connected him with Stan Mathewson and the newly formed Sustainable Orillia. Danny came to the group as an “advisor,” but soon after signed on as a Director on the non-profit’s Board.

Asked his opinion of S.O.’s greatest success to date, he pointed to “the development of credibility in the community as an independent, non-aligned organization.” Like Dave Van Alstyne, Danny pointed to the growing awareness of Sustainable Orillia and its goals in the community. He noted the Facebook following, the organization’s email list, and the support of the many sponsors that stepped forward to support the 2023 Calendar as well as the 2022 EV Weekend at ODAS Park.

Going forward, Epstein hopes that the City of Orillia will work to develop a long term sustainable vision along with sustainable goals that are supported by a set of principles to guide how the city will meet those goals. He hopes, too, for 100% support from the community.

His message to the citizens of Orillia is simple: “Educate yourselves. Find out how you can go about change. Help others find ways to make changes. A city is an ecosystem; everything is connected.” He notes, too, that “It’s tough to do without funds, so step up and let our MPP and MP know that help is needed if we want to move forward.”

Young Danny Epstein’s goal was to make a difference to his country. Many years later he continues to do so—with Sustainable Orillia.

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