In memory of Peter deMarsh, a quiet AMSF supporter

by AMSF member Jean Burgess

Peter deMarsh

My husband Peter was a long-time supporter of AMSF, through his support of my volunteer involvement (formalized when the AMSF board confirmed his nomination for membership in the spring of 2018).  After we became romantic partners more than 40 years ago, I took him to meet my family in Angola, in the summer of 1975. In August, fighting broke out in Luanda preventing us from flying back to Canada. We took a bus south and had a dramatic time reaching and crossing into what is now Namibia. Recently we were talking about visiting Angola together, again.

Peter was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He maintained his childhood roots in rural Taymouth and Salmon Beach throughout his life. Peter graduated as an Ontario Scholar from Jarvis Collegiate in Toronto and completed an honours BA (economics and political science) at the University of Toronto.

Peter returned to New Brunswick with a vision of contributing to the development of a more equitable rural economy. His experience of labouring with local woodlot owners made him aware of the power imbalance between individual woodlot owners and pulp mill markets; this led him to help organize the North Shore Forest Products Marketing Board. He became fluent in French to be a part of the coming together of French and English woodlot owners. Peter was a central figure in regional marketing boards uniting to form the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners.

Peter then did a Masters of International Development at Carlton University in Ottawa. He taught himself Spanish, to undertake research in Mexico for his thesis which reviewed a peasant-led approach to rural development and national food security.

Peter facilitated the creation of the Canadian Federation of Woodlot Owners and was the Board President until his death. Peter collaborated with provincial colleagues in successfully advocating for federal legislative changes which enabled active family woodlots to be inherited without taxation. He was a key player in creating the guidelines for certification of sustainable forestry management practices and carbon cap and trade policies.

Peter was an early member of the International Family Forestry Alliance and was Board President from 2011 until his death. He worked closely with colleagues around the world, to bring attention to the critical role that the many millions of small family forestry owners are playing in human-planetary sustainability.  Peter was a member of the Steering Committee of the Farm and Forest Facility – a recently formed arm of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Peter was travelling on March 10, 2019 to Kenya to an international meeting of family, community and indigenous forest owners. He was also to attend an international UN environment conference, to which he was planning to present the importance of local forest owners in climate change mitigation and the associated urgent need to transmit climate funds to the 50 million small holder forest families worldwide.

In addition to family forestry Peter had many other passions, foremost amongst them being his family, birdwatching, organic gardening and reading philosophy.  Recently Peter wrote a philosophical reflection on the rural development work that had been his life-long vocation. In it he stated, ‘I seem to focus on two ideas: a sense of connectedness of all things human, non-human and inanimate, here and throughout the universe, and a belief in the importance of celebrating diversity, in all its forms of life, culture, languages, religion and sexual diversity. Both lead me to the belief in the fundamental importance of compassion as mutual respect, support and appreciation”.

Peter ended his reflective paper with a premonitional quote from the philosopher Merleau-Ponty: “What we call disorder and ruin, others who are younger live as the natural order of things; and perhaps with ingenuity they are going to master it precisely because they no longer seek their bearings where we took ours. In the din of demolitions, many sullen passions, many hypocrisies or follies and many false dilemmas also disappear… Perhaps we are at one of those moments when history moves on…underneath the clamor a silence is growing, an expectation. Why could it not be hope?”