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Themes - Activism

Elizabeth May

Photograph of Elizabeth May

(1954- )

Environmental activist


Environmental lawyer, lobbyist and professor of environmental law

Elizabeth May, writer, activist, lawyer and mother, was born in Connecticut in 1954, eventually settling in Cape Breton in 1972. By the mid 1970s, she had become involved in environmental issues as leader of the Cape Breton Landowners Against the Spray who fought the forestry industry's use of insecticides there.

In 1980 Elizabeth entered the Dalhousie University Law School from which she graduated in 1983, thus fulfilling a desire she had harboured from the age of thirteen to become an environmental lawyer. She is a member of the Bar of Nova Scotia and Ontario. She became very active in major environmental concerns in Nova Scotia. As a result of a 1983 court case involving chemical spraying that was settled in favour of pulp companies, her family found it necessary to resort to selling a sizable portion of property in order to pay plaintiffs' costs. This bitter experience caused her to become even more dedicated to environmental contentions.

May held the position of Associate General Council at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in 1985, providing legal advice to consumer, poverty and environmental groups. In 1986, she was appointed Senior Policy Advisor to then Federal Environment Minister, Tom McMillan. While she held this post, several national parks were created; as well, new legislation and pollution control measures were drafted.

Throughout her illustrious career, May has been involved in various capacities with several organizations that are concerned with natural resource management, sustainable development and protecting global ecosystems. Among these are Friends of the Earth Canada, the Canadian Environmental Defence Fund, Cultural Survival Canada, Pollution Probe, the Canadian Environmental Network, the International Institute for Sustainable Development, and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.

Since 1989 May has held the title of Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada, an organization dedicated to the development of a diverse, well-trained grassroots network that is devoted to protecting the integrity of global ecosystems.

In 1998, May became Assistant Professor, Elizabeth May Chair in Women's Health and Environment at Dalhousie University. During the announcement of the creation of the Chair on October 13, 1998, May was hailed as the Rachel Carson of Canada, a reference to the environmentalist whose 1962 bestseller entitled Silent spring is still regarded as the cornerstone of the new environmentalism.

During the month of May, 2001, May staged a 17-day hunger strike on Parliament Hill which resulted in the government's promising to relocate at-risk families adjacent to the Sydney Tar Ponds.

Several honours and awards have been bestowed upon May, including the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Sierra Club in 1989, the International Conservation Award from the Friends of Nature, and the United Nations Global 500 Award in 1990. In 1996, she was presented with the award for Outstanding Leadership in Environmental Education by the Ontario Society for Environmental Education. May was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in November 2005. On August 26, 2006, Elizabeth May was selected by members of the Green Party of Canada to be their new leader.

In addition to her numerous accomplishments, Elizabeth May is the author of four publications, is a co-author of others, and has contributed chapters to two monographs. Additionally, she has appeared on CTV and CBC television, and has been heard on CBC radio on numerous occasions.


Carter, Peter. — "Health heroes : environmental activist : Elizabeth May : a breath of fresh air". — Chatelaine. — Vol. 74, no. 7 (July 2000). — P. 75

Chatelaine presents Who's who of Canadian women. — 9th ed., 1999. — Toronto : Who's Who Publications, 1997. — P. 682

Claiming the future : the inspiring lives of twelve Canadian women scientists and scholars. — Prepared by Elizabeth May for the Committee for Advancement of Women in Scholarship of the Royal Society of Canada ; editorial advisor, Francess G. Halpenny. — Markham, Ont. : Pembroke Publishers, c1991. — 45 p. - Also published in French under the title: Se bâtir un avenir : la vie fascinante de douze Canadiennes érudites

"Elizabeth May to speak at conference". — Soundbone Newsletter [online]. — Vol. 5, no. 2 (September 2, 1997). — [Cited June 22, 2001]. — Access:

May, Elizabeth. — At the cutting edge : the crisis in Canada's forests. — Toronto : Key Porter Books, 1998.  — 294 p.

_____. — Paradise won : the struggle for South Moresby. — Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, 1990. — 318 p.

Saskatoon Women's Calendar Collective. - "Elizabeth May". — Herstory 1988 : the Canadian women's calendar. — Moose Jaw : Coteau Books, 1987. — P. 56

Sierra Club of Canada. Media Release. — "Elizabeth May celebrates end of hunger strike" [online]. — [Cited June 22, 2001]. — Access:

Transcript of an address given by Elizabeth May upon receiving an honorary doctorate in the humanities from Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, May 12, 2000 [online]. — [Cited June 22, 2001]. — Access:

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