On July 27, G. Raymond Chang, O.C., O.J., (Order of Canada, Order of Jamaica, and Chancellor Emeritus of Ryerson University) passed away peacefully surrounded by his loving family in Toronto. Mr. Chang had been a long-time supporter of the David Suzuki Foundation and a gentle giant within Canada's philanthropic community.
Along with his wife, Donette, and his children Andrew and Brigette, he supported numerous charities in Canada, as well as in his beloved Jamaica where he was born. This included Ryerson University, St. George's College in Jamaica, the Dr. Herbert Ho Ping Kong Centre for Excellence in Education and Practice (CEEP), the Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation and Food for the Poor Canada and the University of the West Indies. Though his interest in education, health and social justice issues were close to his heart, I came to know Mr. Chang as a strong believer in the importance of connecting Canadians with nature — especially children and newcomers to our country.
One of the projects that the Chang Family helped to establish at the David Suzuki Foundation was the creation of Canada's first urban National Park in the Rouge watershed on the east side of Toronto and its neighbouring suburbs. The Rouge watershed is not only notable because it represents one of the last and best vestiges of urban wilderness (with over 1,000 different plants and animals) left in Canada, it is also home to one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the country — home to tens of thousands of recent immigrants from China, Sri Lanka, eastern Europe, Somalia, Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean, among dozens of other nationalities. As an immigrant himself, Ray understood the challenges of settling in a new country, and in our many conversations about the creation of Rouge National Urban Park, he often stressed to me the importance that it become a "people's park" — a place where people could find comfort and refuge among wildflowers and the sounds of birds.
One of the most remarkable conversations I had with him was a story he told to me about how he noticed that many large immigrant families, like his own, adored nature and especially spending a Sunday afternoon on a picnic in a local park or ravine. He described to me how at the end of a lavish meal, everyone would go for a walk on a nearby trail to work-off the lunch and get some exercise. The point, I believe he was trying to stress to me, is that nature doesn't have to be a destination that you have to travel far to go and experience — like a backcountry hiking trip or wilderness adventure. We can enjoy nature close to our own communities, even in subtle ways, like eating a meal with our families outdoors, kicking a soccer ball around or going for a walk at the end of a busy day.
I was personally blessed to have had the opportunity to come to know Ray Chang and his family. He was a philanthropist 'with a heart' and a mentor who was very generous with his time and his advice. The successful establishment of Rouge National Urban Park will be a fitting tribute to his vision that Canadians spend time in nature, fall in love with nature and fight to see it protected and stewarded well into the future.
Dr. Faisal Moola, PhD
Director General, Ontario and Northern Canada
David Suzuki Foundation