Visionary and environmentalist
A “towering figure” who recognized the importance of greenbelt conservation long before it was fashionable, Melvin Leroy Swart (1919–2007) was described by former NDP MPP Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre) as an “icon”. According to leader of the Green Party of Canada, Elizabeth May, “he was a champion for environmental issues and community and local places of special significance and ecological importance.”
But, this was only one side of Swart. He was also a remarkable politician, whose “unshakeable integrity, tireless work and commitment to make ours a better society made him truly a ‘Social Justice Champ'”, remembers his daughter Melva Snowling.
Mel Swart was born in London, Ontario, but moved to Thorold during the Great Depression after his father lost the family farm near Smithville. Swart’s zeal for public service and commitment to social justice were rooted in Methodism, something he shared with his mother. Indeed, ideological underpinnings of this sort were what would help contribute to the foundation of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation in 1932 – a movement that in its ultimate iteration as the NDP Swart was an avowed member.
Long before serving at Queen’s Park from 1975 to 1988 for the riding of Welland-Thorold, Swart had served on municipal and regional councils for nearly three decades.
In a tribute after his death in 2007, Stephen Lewis recalled his mentor’s tenacity and passion: “[Mel Swart] gave to democratic socialism true meaning.”
In addition to being a founding member of Brock University, he was deeply committed to the following environmental organizations:
“His commitment to his causes and his fearlessness have left a mark on not just this region, but on the province.”
Indeed, were it not for the advocacy of like-minded individuals, there would be no Greenbelt preservation of rural lands.