A tribute to conservationist Katy Madsen

Katy Madsen. Photo by Nori Sinclair.

We are saddened by the loss of Katy Madsen, a founding director of Sierra Club BC in 1969. She died July 7 at the age of 96. Katy won the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 2013 in recognition of her longstanding conservation efforts in British Columbia. She was an inspiration to many.

Katy was born in Palo Alto, California and moved with her family to Summerland, BC in 1964. Katy spent her later years caring for her mother in Palo Alto and living in Victoria where she moved in 1993.

Katy came from a long line of rabble-rousers. Her father was one of the founders of the Sierra Club Loma Prieta Local Chapter in the 1930s. When Katy was 11 years old she took her first hike on Loma Prieta, scouting out a trail for the group’s first outing. That first hike sparked a passion for the environment that was to define her life.

After graduating with a degree in biology Katy wanted to be a ranger naturalist but was told that was “not a job for a woman.” Undeterred, she started the Okanagan Similkameen Parks Society and started fighting for preservation of alpine meadows and habitat protection for big horn sheep. “In America we thought they were extinct… the text books didn’t go that far up!”

In 1969 the Pacific NorthWest Chapter of Sierra Club US was created, and Katy was one of its first Directors along with Greenpeace co-founders Terry Simmons and Jim Bohlen. Katy campaigned on a wide range of issues, helping to achieve protection of Cathedral Grove and a longstanding uranium mining moratorium.

She passed the environmental bug on to her children: her son Ken Madsen became active in environmental issues in the Yukon while her grandson biked from Whitehorse to Ottawa to demand climate change action with Pedal for the Planet.

Katy was also an award-winning portrait painter who used her artistic talent to fight for the protection of BC’s wild places. When Enbridge released an ad touting all the benefits the Northern Gateway pipeline and tankers would bring, Katy knew it was time to pick up her pencils and counter their arguments with the truth.

The octogenarian artist’s creation wove people, animals, machinery, pithy narration, and even a map of the pipeline, into a winding labyrinth that parallels the treacherous route Enbridge tankers would have to navigate through the narrow fiords of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Katy’s inspiring work illustrates the “power of one” – the power we each have to make our voices heard, using whatever gifts we may have to save the places we love and call home.

Besides using her creative gifts for the environmental cause, Katy generously supported Sierra Club BC’s work with financial donations.

Katy’s strong spirit will be remembered fondly by many members of Sierra Club BC.