Don Woodstock, a Winnipeg Transit bus driver and environmental activist, has a dream – a dream of a greener and more socially conscious Manitoba.
“We should be teaching the rest of the world how it’s done,” he said.
Due largely to Woodstock’s influence, Garbage Day was renamed Recycling Day by city council last year. He also organized the Winnipeg’s first International Day to Ban Plastic Bags on Sept. 12 of last year. On the steps of the Manitoba legislature, hundreds of people dropped off over 45,000 plastic bags, exchanging them for reusable totes.
Over the last two years, Woodstock has met with provincial ministers and even influenced City Hall in making a commitment to eliminate plastic bags in Winnipeg retail stores. He believes that Manitoba, because it generates energy from 95 per cent renewable resources, is perfectly positioned to be a leader in green technology both in Canada and abroad.
“I believe politics and life go hand in hand,” he said.
Woodstock was born on a farm in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, where he worked for years as part of the Jamaica Labour Party and as the devoted manager of a family-operated catering service. He moved to Toronto in 1995 and became a salesman for American District Telegraph home alarm systems. Since moving to Winnipeg in 2000, Woodstock has worked as a filmmaker, an activist, a television personality and a candidate for the Manitoba Liberal Party.
“I contacted all three [provincial] political parties when I first came to Winnipeg because I wanted to get involved,” he said. “Jon Gerrard [leader of the Manitoba Liberals] was the only one who called me back ... so I figured I’m going to talk to the guy who talks to me.”
In 2001, Woodstock accompanied Gerrard on a tour of several northern communities in Manitoba. He was shocked and disgusted by the rampant poverty as well as the air pollution and contaminated soil prevalent in the community of Flin Flon, home of the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co.
“When I went through the tour I had to pause and ask myself, what is wrong with this picture?” he said.
Woodstock credits the tour for shaping his view of provincial politics and later influencing him to run as a Liberal candidate for the riding of Southdale in the 2006 provincial election. The catalyst for his environmental activism, however, didn’t come until he met David Suzuki in Winnipeg in 2007.
“[He told me to] start at the local level and don’t stop. Sooner or later, somewhere down the line, someone will listen to you,” Woodstock said.
Shortly thereafter, he made a documentary, Your World and Mine, highlighting the environmental efforts of Winnipeg businesses and individuals. He delivered the film to City Hall and to the provincial legislature and before he knew it, he was being approached by Shaw Cable to produce and host U, Me and the Environment, a local cable show that has produced eight episodes to date.
“Don [Woodstock] is consistently in the government’s face,” said Shawn Nesbitt, a customer service representative for Organza Market, an organic food store in Osborne Village. “I definitely think he is making small steps that will cause bigger changes.”
Organza was featured several times in Woodstock’s cable show, which focused on the store’s local produce and environmentally-sustainable products.
“What Don [Woodstock] has accomplished speaks to the power of the individual,” said Ian Hanington, communications specialist for the David Suzuki Foundation.
Woodstock’s most recent initiative, which pushed for larger recycling bins to accompany larger garbage containers in the city, did not pass through city council. Regardless, he’s committed to rock the boat and create some change.
“Don’t get mad [with the government],” he said. “Get even.”
To read more fun facts about Don Woodstock, and to watch his documentary and cable show, visit Ethan Cabel’s blog at www.uniter.ca/blogs.
Published in Volume 64, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 11, 2010)