SEJ Laments Loss of Canadian Journalist Peter Gorrie

Peter Gorrie

The world has lost Peter Gorrie, Canadian journalist of renown, who died January 4, 2021 after a long bout with cancer. He was a kind and gentle soul who spoke thoughtfully and deliberately. A journalist who reported heavily on cleaner cars later in his career, but cycled to pub nights and other events! Deeply knowledgeable, yet unpretentious.

Peter was an active member of the SEJ community in Victoria, BC in recent years, and earlier in the Toronto community, where he generously shared his expertise and contacts with new environmental journalists and old hands alike. If you were lucky enough to be sitting next to him at an SEJ pub night, you would be well-advised to have your notepad at the ready.

In 2008 Peter spoke at an event on carbon pricing, cosponsored by SEJ and the University of Toronto’s Centre for Environment, that was organized to coincide with SEJ's first board meeting outside the U.S. He also served as a judge for SEJ's Awards for Reporting on the Environment for multiple years.  

The Toronto Star story marking Peter’s career focuses on his work on staff at that paper from 1986 to 2008, and his further contributions until 2016 as a freelancer. It also recognizes him as “a changemaker and a force to be reckoned with in Canadian journalism, someone who stood up for the underdog and deeply passionate about environmental issues.”

But Peter's environmental reporting began in earnest in the latter 1970s in Yellowknife, where he delivered news for and from Canada’s north. Peter later moved south (comparatively speaking) to launch a successful weekly newspaper in Fort McMurray — the capitol of Alberta's oil sands.

In the 1980s he served stints as the Alberta Legislature columnist for the Edmonton Sun and the environment reporter for Canadian Press, as well as its bureau chief at Queen’s Park covering the Ontario legislature.

Peter travelled extensively in northern Canada, including two trips to Ontario's Far North. The following is an excerpt of Peter’s lucid, unapologetic and informative prose from his 1990 Canadian Geographic magazine feature on the James Bay Power Project, as reprinted in 2003 in an update to the influential 1971 essay collection Canada's Changing North:

Hydro-Québec sums up its corporate attitude about the massive James Bay hydroelectric project on the cover of one of its glossy pamphlets: La Grande Rivière: A Development in Accord With Its Environment.

The booklet’s proclamation is part of a series of messages aimed at convincing the public that more than $40 billion worth of powerhouses, dikes, transmission lines, roads, towns, and airports can be inserted harmoniously into an unspoiled northern wilderness.

For the past nineteen years it has been a relatively trouble-free selling job as the provincial Crown corporation — with enthusiastic backing from Premier Robert Bourassa and most Quebeckers — announced plans to harness the power of twenty rivers flowing into James and Hudson bays, then built the first phase of the project. For much of the 1980s there was also no debate, as economic recession cut energy demands and further phases were put on hold.

Demand for electrical power is again strong and the giant utility has relaunched an ambitious fifteen-year plan to complete the development. As it does, it is also facing renewed questions about the environmental and economic costs and the possibility that, for the first time, the huge project will be examined at public hearings.