I once described Elke Blodgett as not just a passionate advocate for our natural environment, but a force of nature herself.
So it was particularly shocking to learn on Friday that Elke, environmentalist, artist, and engaged citizen of St. Albert, Alberta, had died at 81 on Thursday at the Mazankowski Heart Institute in Edmonton.
Although she could be a thorn in the side of St. Albert’s politicians, and the self-satisfied classes generally, Elke was in many ways the best friend this community had.
After coming to Canada in 1966 from post-war Germany and several stops in Europe and the United States along the way, she ended up in St. Albert. She was soon battling the city on pesticide use, the location of roads, the mess in our old landfills, ill-considered plans to make inroads into our watershed areas, and the location of bird-killing power lines.
More often than not, Elke’s wise counsel was ignored. But she persisted with determination, stinging wit and endless supply of facts. If you asked her a question about a local or regional environmental issue, as I often did, she would reply with multiple emails full of insights, history and facts.
She would observe, sadly, that St. Albert is not a happy place to be a tree. She was a gadfly -- and I mean that as a compliment, a person who persistently cajoled, criticized, demanded and offered positive solutions.
Generations of city councillors found it easy to praise her for her energy and her contribution to civic life, even to bestow upon her the occasional honour -- like naming the peninsula at the Riel Stormwater Pond, a favoured gathering place for many species of bird, "Elke’s Peninsula" -- all the while not paying that much attention to what she had to say.
One of those former councillors, the estimable Neil Korotash, wrote on Facebook Friday night: "She frustrated the heck out of municipal planners, engineers, and politicians but it was always with the drive and determination to protect and preserve our landscape and local ecosystems. Elke was passionate but rational -- two attributes that don't always align."
Despite the frustrations, she always persisted, although these past few years you could tell she was getting tired of the grind, not showing up at City Council as often, not writing quite as many letters.
Elke’s artwork focused on pottery made with traditional Japanese firing techniques. Her works are in collections around the world, including the Banff Centre, the Canada Council Art Bank in Ottawa, and the Consulate-General of Japan in Edmonton. She was married to the poet Ted Blodgett. Her son Gunnar Blodgett is a web and systems architect in Edmonton, her daughter Astrid Blodgett is an author, and another daughter, Kirsten Gill, is a teacher and farmer east of the city.
Over the years, I have often seen Elke in the distance, trudging across Ray Gibbon Drive toward Big Lake. It could be winter or summer, rain, snow or sunshine. There she was, a tiny determined dynamo.
Even in the distance, not much more than a dot on the landscape, there was something forceful about this small person. No passerby could fail to understand the figure on the horizon knew exactly where she was going.
And now she is gone. What will we do without her?
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
Image: City of St. Albert
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