Philip Gosling has provided leadership through his role as a director for the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (FON), Chairman of the FON Nature Reserve Committee and through other endeavours, but his most significant role was in helping to found the Bruce Trail in the early 1960’s following the inspiration of visionary naturalist Ray Lowes.  Taking this idea through to action, he set out to identify, motivate and recruit the volunteers who would work with him to establish the 800-km route that is now the Bruce Trail.  In that first year the Bruce Trail went from a concept to having over 400 km completed.  This early work, inspired by Philip’s appreciation as a naturalist, significantly contributed to the broad recognition of the importance, protection and preservation of the Niagara Escarpment and its eventual designation as an UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

Below is his story….

On arriving in Canada in my late twenties I immediately felt the vibrancy of the country, the friendliness towards newcomers and its openness to business..

After a hesitant start in Toronto I then had the good fortune to be directed to Guelph where I settled down to study and begin property sales in the real estate industry.

I learned quickly and soon had increased responsibilities and it was after a couple of years, during a really tiring business negotiation that I happened to hear a CBC radio announcer speak of a nature camp near Algonquin Park where retired professors led nature studies for two weeks. I was ready for a break. Made the call and signed up!

Philp on the Bruce Penninsula

Photo of Philip Gosling on the Bruce Trail in the 1960s

This experience changed my life. Indeed it is hard to believe that had I not decided to take a break from work at that time, I may not have started along the road of lofty ambitions that followed…

Returning to Guelph I joined the Guelph Nature Club and the Ontario Naturalists Federation and given my `natural forwardness` soon found involvement in conservation activities and the protection of nature reserves. It follows easily that I should be asked to join a start up committee interested in protecting the Niagara Escarpment and the building of a trail for public use now called the BRUCE TRAIL.

I was struck by the high cliffs and hidden beauty of sensitive forests along the Escarpment and felt the urgency to protect it from unplanned urban encroachment. I just had to get involved and joined forces with three other naturalist volunteers headed by Mr. Ray Lowes of Hamilton

After two years of meetings and great media coverage I volunteered to leave my job for a year in order to get the trail started on the ground. It was 1962 and I felt the need to get on with building the trail

Philip 1

Photo of Philip Gosling Standing beside a sign for the Philip Gosling Side Trail, an off shoot of the Bruce Trail

I started in the field recruiting volunteers, calling meetings to help `save this ribbon of wilderness` as one Toronto newspaper called it. Gathered together teams of volunteers to form clubs and map out the trail. This was done. It was an exciting time and a great success. Largely due to the tremendous generosity of the land owners who gave permission to cross their lands. In one year more the 400 kilometers were either blazed and open to the public or flagged by volunteers.

Today the Bruce Trail Conservancy is a hugely successful organization and serves to protect a Trail corridor end to end from Queenston to Tobermory. This year the Bruce Trail celebrates its 50th anniversary, and I wonder whether I would have had the opportunity to contribute as much towards its construction had I not chosen to take a break from my day to day activities and visit Algonquin. For that trip truly solidified my connection with nature and ignited a life-long commitment for protecting the environment. There is still so much that needs to be done, and while we are currently witnessing the 6th major mass extinction of biodiversity I encourage everyone young and old to not give up.

“We can despair about this, we can regard it as inevitable, or we can say: Let’s do something, let’s save what we can while we can”

Philip Gosling.C.M. Hon. LLD.

Posted by Shweta Dixit