Mary Muter, Protecting and Preserving The Quality of Life for all Species That Share This Wonderful Biosphere Reserve

July 29, 2019 9:48 am Published by

By Cathy Cooper, Writer, Georgian Bay Today, Eye on the Bay

Mary Muter – Doing everything possible to protect and preserve the quality of life for all species that share this wonderful World Biosphere Reserve, just as her father inspired her to do.

Mary Muter has a vivid memory of helping her parents lay the floor of their cottage in the Wah Wah Taysee community over 50 years ago. As they took a break, a neighbour arrived for a visit. As he urged them to look around at the pristine shores of their community, he warned that unless the newly formed Township of Georgian Bay  developed Zoning By-laws, their beautiful community could become overdeveloped.

Mary’s father, known as ‘REA’, (Robert Earl Agnew), was not a planner; he was a lawyer. He took the neighbour’s request and caution to heart and attended weekend planning courses so that he could draft the first set of Zoning By-laws for the Township. He invited their first Mayor, Dot Donnelly from Mactier, to tour the Bay area, with Mary driving the family boat. He visited neighbours on the Bay to gain their support, and, in 1972, the Council adopted Zoning By-law #72-53. (This By-law remained in place until 1991.)   REA quickly began to draft new, stronger by-laws to be able to increase minimum lot and island size, as he was starting to learn about the impacts on water quality and wetlands of development including septic systems too close to granite bedrock shorelines. But this took years of work to develop consensus on what was right for the Bay. Twenty years later the Township approved a new set of by-laws.

Dinner table conversation in Mary’s family often centered on how best to protect the Bay. It was her father‘s flurry of passionate volunteerism and accomplishments that inspired her  to become the President of the Wah Wah Taysee Association. She began to get involved in volunteer water quality monitoring. Working with Dr. Karl Schiefer she developed the first municipal volunteer water quality monitoring program. Then, Mary joined the Board of the Georgian Bay Association (GBA), and became engaged in environmental issues as Vice President / Environment. She supported fellow Board member, Roy Schatz, when he led the initiative to create a fundraising arm, ‘GBA Foundation’, which later became ‘Georgian Bay Forever’ (GBF). After more than a decade on the GBA Board, she joined the GBA Foundation Board, where she helped provide background text to Pat Northey for the creation of the Eastern Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve.

Mary served on the Board of Georgian Bay Forever for 7 years. She was instrumental in gathering information about water levels and enlisted hydraulic engineer Bill Bialkowski to help understand the impact of the erosion in the St. Clair River. Mary oversaw the groundbreaking GBA Foundation’s Baird Report, which led to including the St. Clair River in the IJC’s International Upper Great Lakes Study on water levels.

With no ability to control the outflow from the middle Great Lakes (Michigan, Huron and Georgian Bay), they have by far the widest range of lake levels – 6.5 feet. In 2003 Ministry of Natural Resources Lake Huron Management Unit staff told McMaster U.’s Prof. Pat Chow-Fraser to get in touch with Mary to ask for her help in getting to and assessing Georgian Bay wetlands. Mary soon learned that wetlands do not like extended periods of extreme high or low water levels but benefit from a range of about 5 feet. The other Great Lakes have a range of only 4-5 feet. Lakes Superior and Ontario’s Control Boards carefully maintain those lake levels. “We are the forgotten part of the Great Lakes” is a statement Mary often makes.

Working with her team of volunteers, including former Township of the Archipelago Councillors and founding Presidents of GBA Foundation, engineers and fisheries biologists, Mary formed the Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation in 2012. This group continues to provide logistical and funding support for Prof. Pat Chow-Fraser’s research and then uses the published papers from her work to educate the public and political leaders at all levels.

Along with her team of Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation volunteers, Mary is a founding director of an international consortium formed by a number of Canadian and U.S. environmental groups. The groups have been seeking to reduce both extreme high and extreme low water levels in the middle Great Lakes. ‘Restore Our Water International’, or ROWI, was able to convince the Obama Administration to study the efficacy of installing submerged flexible wings in the upper St. Clair River to alleviate low water levels when needed.  When the water levels rose from an all-time historic low in 2013 to the median level in a matter of 2 years, support for this initiative waned, but support will increase the next time the water level cycle falls again.

Throughout her ‘big picture’ environmental projects, Mary has always been active on a local level too. She was involved in efforts to stop provincial politicians from adopting projects that would negatively impact the Georgian Bay watershed. One of her very meaningful accomplishments was to stop a developer’s plan to fill in a wetland simply to create extra land for a golf course in the Oak Bay- Severn Sound area. Mary and her mentor, Dr. Karl Schiefer, were able to convince the developer to donate the wetland to the Georgian Bay Land Trust for a tax credit.  That wetland has since been designated as a Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW) by the Ontario government, and it is currently one of the key Canadian sites used for an international bird migration study.

Mary has never allowed detractors to discourage her from her activism. She is not one to go to the cottage and enjoy herself without worrying about issues that threaten our quality of life on the Bay. She is not one to ‘go along to get along’ as our environment continues to be degraded. Her legacy will be that she did everything possible to protect and preserve the quality of life for all species that share this wonderful World Biosphere Reserve, just as her father inspired her to do.

Mary now has eight grandsons that visit the family cottage every summer (all the way from BC). And, over dinner, the conversation on the need to protect and preserve Georgian Bay is played out all over again.



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