Advisory Council

Members of the Advisory Council (AC) are volunteer ambassadors for Couchiching. They offer increased linkages and profile within the Conservancy’s boundaries, the GTA (where Couchiching has many supporters), and the naturalist community. AC members help broaden and deepen the already considerable resources of the Conservancy’s staff, board, and volunteers. Since its creation in 2016, the AC has provided significant benefits through its members’ fundraising, naturalist, property acquisition and outreach support activities.

Fundraising – AC members have assisted the Conservancy’s development work in a range of areas. Beyond their own direct financial contributions, they were the prime movers in founding, chairing and staffing the Development Committee whose efforts attracted major new individual donations for the Cedarhurst campaign. They are actively engaged in raising funds for the Corridors Campaign, including creating a challenge fund to increase fundraising. This follows earlier years where AC member donations enabled previous challenge funds to spur increased monthly donors to the Conservancy. AC members have also provided important help in attracting and sustaining four foundations’ support for Couchiching. Since 2017, these four foundations have provided over $300,000 in grants to the Conservancy.

Naturalist and Other Support – Two AC members had leading roles on the Conservancy’s Strategic Planning Committee and in the preparation and writing of the Strategic Plan. Other members provided detailed feedback and naturalist perspectives as inputs. In 2020, AC members supplied in-depth commentary regarding reintroducing a wild plant species in selected Conservancy reserves. The Coordinator for the newly formed Scientific Working Group (SWG) in 2021 as well as most of the members will be AC members. The SWG will help the Conservancy address key ecological issues identified by staff where external expertise will help inform Couchiching’s approach to these important challenges.

Outreach Efforts -- AC members have been the featured presenters at the Conservancy’s last three annual GTA events. Their topics included: highlighting birding in, and identifying and explaining unique flora of, the Carden Alvar; offering a landowner’s perspective on working with the Conservancy on an easement; and understanding the role of and Couchiching’s leadership in land trusts in Ontario. AC members have led Passport to Nature events for many years, helping participants better enjoy and understand the wilderness of the Conservancy’s reserves in the Carden Alvar and elsewhere in the Couchiching Region.



James K. Stewart, Co-Chair

Jason Stewart has been extensively involved in fundraising and other volunteer work for charities since the late 1980s, and in helping conservation causes for two decades. Jason is the former volunteer president of a major Canadian health research foundation and of a Canadian charity supporting conservation and community development of a leading wildlife conservancy in East Africa. His charity efforts include being a board member of the International Conservation Fund of Canada, and President of The Youssef-Warren Foundation. In business, Jason has worked in financial markets, policy and research since the early 1980s. He is the author or co-author of more than 30 articles, reports and studies. Jason is a Senior Fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute, and a board member of the Institute for Research on Public Policy and of Innovate Cities.

Doug Varty, Co-Chair

Doug was an audit partner with KPMG and spent his 32+ year professional career with the firm in the GTA.  Giving back to the community has always been central to Doug’s personal and professional life and over the years he has been involved in many charities and NPO’s. He is currently a Board member (Ontario) of the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Chairs their Leaders in Conservation program. New to the Couchiching area, Doug and his wife Charon have become supporters of the CC and are involved in the Citizen Science program.  Doug also chairs of the CC’s Development Committee.  He is also an active Board member of the Soldiers Memorial Hospital Foundation and the Community Foundation of Orillia and Area.  In his spare time, he does freelance business and financial consulting.

Jean Iron

Jean of Toronto was president of the Ontario Field Ornithologists (OFO) from 1995 to 2004 and editor of OFO News for 14 years. Jean received the Distinguished Ornithologist Award in 2016, and the Toronto Ornithological Club granted her Honorary Life Membership. She represented OFO on a team with The Nature Conservancy of Canada and The Couchiching Conservancy to purchase the Cameron and Windmill Ranches, leading to the establishment of Carden Alvar Provincial Park. A retired school principal, Jean now volunteers for Canadian Wildlife Service doing shorebird surveys on James Bay, and works as a guide for Quest Nature Tours.

Dr. Richard Johnston

Wendy and Richard moved here in 1974  when he finished his specialty in Obstetrics and Gynecology at McMaster. They fell in love immediately with the beautiful natural surroundings of North Simcoe and the beautiful people who have such a strong sense of community and volunteerism. Richard has served a number of Boards, some which were related to his profession and others related to the community including the Board of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, as well as Board chair of St Paul’s United church. Richard feels that The Couchiching Conservancy has an outstanding reputation that it should rightly be very proud of and he is very pleased to be joining this very dedicated, knowledgeable group of community volunteers.

Ellen Larsen

Almost 30 years ago Ellen found a weekend property in Carden and subsequently became aware of the amazing geological and biological diversity she had stumbled into. Upon retirement from the University of Toronto, Ellen had been spending almost all her time in the country as an amateur naturalist, and has long supported the work of the Couchiching Conservancy.  In addition to the Carden Field Naturalists and Kawartha Field Naturalists she is also a member of the Brodie Club in Toronto.

Although her professional research was in the genetics, development and evolutionary biology of fruit flies, Ellen currently devotes most of her efforts to various aspects of local lichen biology and sex variation in the semi-aquatic Arrowhead plant.

Bill Swinimer

William(Bill) Swinimer moved to Orillia with his family in 1972 where he was just appointed manager of Scotiabank. After a career that included founding his own company, Uniplast Industries, Bill joined some Charitable Boards that included Soldiers Memorial Hospital for 3 years, The Hospital Foundation for 6 years and currently the Community Foundation of Orillia and area. Everyone in his family is, and always was, lovers of nature and supporters of the environment.  He and his wife  Sue have three children and 7 grandchildren.

Dagmar Teubner

Dagmar brings a passion for conservation and the environment together with an important additional skills set to the AC. She adds to the already considerable expertise and experience of our membership. Dagmar provided the following when I asked for a brief description of her professional background and of her passion for conservation:

“While I live and breathe commercial real estate development, relying on my skills as a lawyer and CA/CPA, I have a continuous love for our wonderful planet and all that lives and grows upon it.  In my own small way, I do all that can be done to preserve and protect the marvels, big and small, that the Earth has to offer.”

Dale Leadbeater

Dale A. Leadbeater, B.Sc., B.Ed., R.P.Bio., P.Biol., graduated from the University of Toronto, then worked in the Botany Department where she administered the Green Plant Herbarium.  A Field Associate of the Royal Ontario Museum and life member of the Field Botanists of Ontario, she has presented talks on many natural heritage topics, organized conferences and led outings as well as teaching Ecological Land Classification. An enthusiastic supporter of Land Trusts, Dale lives on a 200-acre Conservation Easement near Kirkfield. Dale also acts as a Board of Directors liason for this Council.

Michael Drescher

Michael Drescher is Associate Professor in the School of Planning at the University of Waterloo. He holds an MSc from the University of Utrecht (Netherlands) and a PhD from the University of Wageningen (Netherlands). Trained in forest ecology and animal behaviour science, he now focuses much of his research on regional conservation planning and private land conservation. A native of Germany, he has spent many years in the Netherlands and South Africa before emigrating to Canada. Michael is concerned about the wise and sustainable use of natural resources, acknowledging the importance of economic, social and environmental dimensions. Michael has provided professional advice to various organizations including Carolinian Canada, the Hamilton Conservation Authority, the Ontario Land Trust Alliance, and the Smart Prosperity Institute.

David Warren

In 2017, David officially retired with over 50 years business experience of which the last 37 years were directly involved with Commercial Real Estate (corporate, office building development and brokerage) in Canada and the USA.  From 1995 to 2017 David was a registered Broker, Principal and EVP with the international commercial real estate firm, Avison Young Commercial Real Estate Inc.  In his retirement David keeps his license active with Moffat Dunlap Real Estate Ltd. (King City) acting in a consultant role.  Moffat Dunlap RE is a boutique Brokerage, handling mostly large estate properties and Georgian Bay properties.

Over his career, David has been extensively involved in the not-for-profit sector.  He has served as Chair of the Canadian Hearing Society Foundation; Co-Chair of the Toronto Zoo Foundation; Citizen Member of the Board of Management of the Toronto Zoo; Co-Chair for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation; board member of the Mono Mulmur Citizens Coalition in Dufferin County; and more recently Board Member and Chair of the Leadership in Conservation Program (2006-2016)) of Nature Conservancy Canada (Ontario Region).

David is married to Cheri. They reside (since July 2017) in the new Braestone Development in Oro Medonte, while keeping ties with Toronto.  David & Cheri have lived in London, Toronto, Montreal, and Calgary over their 48-year marriage.  They have three children and 6 grandchildren.

Pamela Fulford

I am a biologist with a Bachelor of Science degree and worked for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources as a biologist on Lake Simcoe, at Maple District Office and Aurora District Office in the GTA. I worked closely with provincial and municipal planning staff over a span of two decades, examining, reviewing and commenting on upper level municipal Official Plan Amendments, Secondary Plans, Provincial Policies, and Environmental Assessments. I worked closely with other provincial ministries and their policies. Over my career, I have worked for a lower tier municipal government (Township of King), an upper tier municipal government (York Region), Provincial ministries (Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) and other agencies (Rouge Park).

In addition, I am a certified mediator for community and civil mediations. I founded and volunteered with York Community Mediation Service for five years while working for the Ontario Mandatory Mediation Program, mediating pre-court Toronto Civil Court Cases. At the Regional Municipality of York, for five years I coordinated the educational forestry programs in the 5000 acres of the York Regional Forest. I designed the public interpretive program with twelve
major public events annually and reached over 8000 residents of York Region each year through our interpretive program.

I am now retired from the GTA working world and have lived in Simcoe County for 15 years. I am interested and involved in my community and have volunteered as a member on the Ramara Policing Committee, Ramara Trails Committee, Ontario Farmland Trust Board, Carden Field Naturalists Executive and Friends of Strawberry Island. For six years I was a Couchiching
Conservancy Director and was sad when my term ended. The Couchiching Conservancy is the best non-profit I have worked with. It has been an extremely personally rewarding time for me and I am very glad to continue my work with CC through the Advisory Council.

In summary, I have a solid background in biology, land use planning, Official Plan review, environmental assessments, and conflict resolution. I have worked with individuals and non-profit organizations in community and civil mediations and on natural heritage restoration and stewardship initiatives. I am trained and experienced in conflict resolution techniques and have carried out indepth
biological research. I use an analytical and common sense approach to problem solving and I am naturally and always inclined to collaborate.

Doug Christie

Doug is a partner in the law firm of Russell Christie LLP. Doug has delivered a number of papers and lectures on behalf of the Canadian Bar Association and the Law Society of Upper Canada with respect to waterfront and recreational property. Doug was the President and former member of the Board of Directors of Big Brothers. He is an elder in the Orillia Presbyterian Church; volunteers with Couchiching Jubilee House and the Couchiching Conservancy. For many years Doug was involved in coaching minor hockey and soccer. Doug has been an active member of the Orillia YMCA and served on the Board of Directors for 13 years. He has chaired annual campaigns and was the Chair of the Capital Campaign for the expansion at Skid Watson YMCA. Doug and his wife Barb have lived in Orillia since 1973. They have 3 children and 5 grandchildren. Doug was awarded the Order of Orillia in 2011.

Jamie Laidlaw

Jamie Laidlaw has great passion for the environment, history, effective philanthropy and urban renewal, and has been actively involved in all four areas for over three decades! He is a former member of the Laidlaw Foundation Board and founder of the Environmental Committee. Jamie’s previous board memberships include the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Ontario Land Trust Alliance, the Canadian Environmental Grantmakers Network, the Ontario Nature Trust Alliance and the Rideau Waterway Land Trust. Jamie also founded and sat on the Vancouver Community Foundations’ Environmental Advisory Board. 

John Mayo

John began his Financial Services career in 1981 with Coopers and Lybrand where he obtained his Chartered Accounting designation (1983).  Early in his career he held a number of Senior Executive positions in the Financial Services industry including Chief Financial Officer and President of a Canadian Chartered Bank.  In 1999 he returned to Orillia to open the BMO Nesbitt Burns office and for the last 22 years he has been providing Investment and Financial Advice to a wide range of Individual and Corporate clients.

John has been an active participant in the Orillia community as a member and past president of the Kiwanis Club of Orillia and a volunteer with Orillia Big Brothers Big Sisters. He also held Director positions with Orillia Soldiers Memorial Hospital Foundation and Project Umbrella Burma and recently joined the Board of Mariposa House Hospice.  John and his wife Margaret are long-term residents of Orillia – his four daughters were all raised in the Orillia community prior to leaving to pursue their post-secondary education.