Welcome to Angela, the Gomberg and Bischoff families and Her Honour Lieutenant Governor Lois Hole.
We are assembled today to celebrate the life of Tooker Gomberg, a friend, an activist, a politician in the most noble sense of the word and, above all, a truly unique human being.
Tooker was born and grew up in Montreal. His love of animals goes back to his childhood. He had several pets: turtle, fish, hamsters. At the age of 12, he decided to become a vegetarian and remained a vegetarian all his life.
In 1977, when the environment had barely entered the consciousness of most people, he obtained an undergraduate Arts degree with a focus on environmental studies from Hampshire College in Massachusetts.
Returning to Montreal, he started one of Canada’s first curb-side recycling programs called Vieille Nouvelles (Old News), the precurser to Canada’s blue-box programs.
Shortly thereafter, he was hired by Alberta Energy to teach students about energy conservation and to develop teaching materials. This brought him to Edmonton.
In 1986, Tooker became a full-time activist and consultant on environmental issues. He was Executive Director of the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters and then, in 1990, with his partner Angela Bischoff, co-founded the EcoCity Society, an Edmonton-based urban environmental advocacy organization.
But Tooker was not only an environmental activist. He saw the interconnectedness of issues such as peace, social and economic justice and the environment. He saw war for what it is: the worst violation of human rights and the worst form of pollution. So, when the first Gulf war was declared in 1991, Tooker initiated a Peace Camp in front of Canada Place. He and other activists camped out in the cold for the full 47 days of the war, in January and February! They did not stop the war, but they shaped public opinion.
In 1992, he was elected to City Council after having run once before in 1989. As Councillor, Tooker left a legacy that benefits Edmonton residents to this day: the adoption of water conservation rather than a 300 million dollar expansion of water treatment facilities; the establishment of a water conservation advisory board; a public transit advisory board; an environmental advisory board; an alternative-to-pesticides task group; an automated transit information system; a city-wide backyard compost bin sale and a pilot project of bicycle racks on city buses. The list goes on.
Unfortunately, such accomplishments did not make front page news in the corporate media which paid more attention to Tooker’s worm composting and sometimes, let’s say, “challenging” ideas or behaviour. Sadly, he was not re-elected in 1995.
In early 1996, he went to Cuba to help produce a video on the “Velorution”. The word is a combination of velo (meaning bicycle in French) and revolution. Velorution described what was happening in Cuba after the demise of the Soviet Union, when fuel shortages forced the Castro régime to wean its economy from fossil fuels, pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Cuba embraced organic farming, renewable energy, and bicycles. Tooker just had to see for himself and indeed, after he and Angela moved to Montreal later that year, they organized a bicycle tour of Cuba with Cuban activists.
Never to miss a chance to foster debate and participate in the democratic process, Tooker ran for the NDP in Montreal in the 1997 federal election. He did not win, of course, but NDP supporters had a wonderful candidate to vote for, which is more than one can say about other voters!
After that, it was time to continue on the Greenspiration Odyssey that took Angela and Tooker around the world, on their bicycles of course, in search of environmental innovations and traditions. Throughout their journey in Japan, Vietnam, and China, they produced a video that some of us were privileged to see. They also wrote articles that are still a joy to read. Their writing skills never ceased to impress me and I am glad I told them so on many occasions.
Back in Edmonton, in 1998, Tooker decided once again to try municipal politics but as a mayoralty candidate this time. I had the privilege of serving as his chauffeur during his campaign. Yes, at the risk of disappointing some of you, Tooker did not mind a ride when time was of the essence and given the hectic nature of a mayoralty campaign, time was often of the essence. As his chauffeur, I attended numerous forums and was always impressed not only by his knowledge of municipal issues and his seriousness in the matter but also by his politeness, tact, diplomacy and of course, sense of humour.
The following year, Tooker and Angela moved to Toronto where Tooker worked for Greenpeace. After a year, once more, election fever took hold of Tooker and he ran for mayor. Again, he created debate and citizens were presented with an alternative worth voting for. Tooker got more than 50 thousand votes, a fact that speaks volumes about Tooker and the citizens of Toronto.
After numerous successful campaigns in support of recycling, composting, sustainable transportation, and more, Tooker and Angela moved to Halifax in 2003 where Angela was hired to work on sustainable transportation issues.
Tragedy struck on March 3 when Tooker succumbed to depression which had plagued him for the last several years.
We will miss him enormously.