Memorable Manitobans: Alice Katrina Loewen Chambers (1937-1999)
Scientist, community activist.
Born on 11 June 1937 at Elkhorn, Manitoba, sixth in a family of seven children, and the first daughter. She attended the University of Manitoba and by the early 1960s had completed an Honours BSc in microbiology and was working in Ottawa at the National Research Council. In 1968, she and her husband Keith moved to Pinawa, Manitoba from Leeds, England with their infant daughter Anna. There, the family would grow to include two sons, Andrew and Paul.
Alice was fast involved in her new community. Among other things, she served 14 years on the local school board, was a founding member of the recycling committee, worked in the public and school libraries, and volunteered as a Guide leader. In May 1992, her career as an environmental activist took shape when Alice noticed an ad in the Winnipeg Free Press regarding an environmental license for an old pulp mill downstream from where she lived. Discovering that the mill was discharging 38 million litres of lethal effluent every day was her wake-up call to the true state of “environmental protection” in Manitoba.
Alice put her science background to use and became a virtual one-woman research institute. She was well known (and sometimes feared) for her vast knowledge of environmental issues and the supporting science behind them. Her opinion was valued by many local, regional and international organizations. Alice often received “unofficial” calls from government sources for “hard to find” documents as well as requests for information from university students and numerous environmental networks. Her way was not the stump speech or noisy demonstration, but meticulous digging. She was not afraid to wade into the deepest, thickest bureaucratic mire and hold governments to their word.
It was a credit to this small, gentle woman with the twinkle in her eye and the devastatingly accurate facts, that those on both sides of the table grew to respect her razor-sharp mind, her lack of dogmatism and her integrity. These qualities inspired appointments to a number of advisory boards such the Manitoba Environmental Council. Former Premier Gary Filmon said of her: “She has been the voice of the people, and a strong clear voice for nature.”
Alice’s activism was set against the backdrop of personal tragedy. Her husband died suddenly in 1993, and three years later, she contracted cancer. But far from slowing down, she redoubled her efforts and, between treatments, Alice put all her energy into furthering the cause of conservation. She remained passionate about nature, family and life.
In the final months of her life, her biggest disappointments did not involve her illness. They were seeing politics and greed triumph over the health of the environment. Alice was not a stranger to these kinds of disappointments. She merely continued to work for whatever environmental gains were possible and be an outstanding advocate for the earth she loved.
She died at Pinawa on 13 December 1999.
This page was prepared by Roger Turenne with assistance from the Chambers family.
Page revised: 29 August 2008