Bidding farewell to Bill Freedman

Dr_Bill_FreedmanIt’s a sad and reflective time for Adventure Canada: beloved AC staffer Dr. Bill Freedman has died of cancer at 65.

It’s difficult to imagine Bill as anything other than ALIVE. He practically defined that word, with his boundless enthusiasm, his unflagging cheer, and his remarkable passion for the preservation of the natural world.

Bill was a true original: fun, funny, and astonishingly well informed. An ecologist, researcher, and professor of biology, Bill was also an environmentalist whose efforts helped preserve vast swaths of land in a natural state. A brilliant communicator with an evident love for all living things, Bill combined scientific rigour with infectious humour and energy.

geniusBill had travelled with Adventure Canada in 2007, but I first encountered him in 2013 on a video conference about Adventure Canada’s planned trips to Sable Island. I could not help but smile from the moment I saw him on screen with his trademark walrus moustache. It was as though the animated Einstein character from Office 97 had come to life! And Bill’s detailed extemporaneous lecture on the ecology of Sable Island merely underscored the mad-scientist image—one he appeared to relish.

A few months later, I got to know Bill well: we were roommates on my first Adventure Canada trip, Into the Northwest Passage in 2013. Bill’s charm, his zeal for nature, his lengthy presentations chock-filled with facts, fun, and occasional eyebrow-raising humour endeared him to staff and passengers alike. But he was also a man of many small kindnesses: he would share his cookies with a staffer on the run; offer his elbow to an elderly passenger. He once threw me a pair of mittens when he knew I had to make a frigid Zodiac trip, stoically putting his own cold hands into his pockets.

When Adventure Canada launched our inaugural trips to Sable Island, Bill was there in all his glory, expounding the virtues of coprophilous fungi, which might otherwise have been outshone by the rare birds, seals, and horses that make the island oasis home. He travelled with AC again that year, up the coast of Labrador. Sadly, it would be his last trip with us.

Bill showed great courage and fortitude when he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. His Facebook posts cheerfully detailed his current condition and prognosis. We often speak of people ‘battling’ cancer; Bill, ever the scientist, expressed his situation instead as a series of carefully presented facts, and thoughtfully interpreted options. Occasionally, he’d lampoon his own progress reports—posting a picture with a watermelon over his face, or one of himself as a child with a wry update.

But perhaps the most touching of Bill’s posts was a recent one of his daughter Rachael, proudly pregnant. Bill’s joy was evident, as was his sense of the continuity and beauty of life itself.

Despite his great gifts and his impressive resume, what stood out most about Bill was his heart. Though his wife George-Anne did not accompany Bill on his Adventure Canada trips, she was ever-present in Bill’s constant fond references and anecdotes. His children, Jonathan and Rachael, were likewise a source of great joy and pride for Bill.

DrBillInTireBill was such an easy-going guy, and such a remarkable character, that his extraordinary achievements as a scientist and conservationist might easily go unmentioned. He certainly never tooted his own horn. Yet Bill authored more than 100 scientific papers, publications and textbooks. He had been the chair of Dalhousie University’s biology department and was a professor emeritus. For more than twenty-five years, Bill volunteered with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, serving as a regional and national chair and literally writing the book on the history of the organization.

In honour of Bill’s work with the conservancy, which led to the preservation of vast areas of land, a 150-hectare site at Prospect High Head, Nova Scotia has been named the Bill Freedman Nature Preserve. In addition, the Dr. Bill Freedman Science in Conservation Internship has been established in his honour.

Adventure Canada will be making a donation to the NCC in remembrance of Bill. We wish all love, warmth and healing to George-Anne, Rachael, Jonathan and all of Bill’s extended family and friends. Bill showed us all how to live more deeply. He will be deeply missed.


21 thoughts on “Bidding farewell to Bill Freedman

  1. Very beautifully said, David. I too travelled with Bill and Adventure Canada and he was a wonderful treat to be with. We shared a love of Arctic plants and he got a real kick out of all things Stella (my pot-bellied pig), whom he visited in New Minas. He was an amazing colleague. He will indeed be missed.

  2. I’m sorry to hear of Bill’s passing. I was just putting the finishing touches on my newsletter promoting Canadian adventure travel when I received the news. Hopefully, Bill’s passion for natural Canada will inspire Canadians to experience their own magnificent backyard and how important it is for us to maintain it exactly the way Bill would have wanted.

  3. I will miss you , Bill
    I admired you as one of the greatest people I have ever met
    You taught me a lot about our planet, science and how tone a good person full of life with a permanent smile
    You will be missed by many
    Heaven is lucky
    David German

  4. We are deeply saddened to hear that Bill has left us. I was on the Sable Island trip with him and his passion for all that surrounded us there was tangible in his every word. Our deepest condolences go to Bill’s family. Thank you David for writing a beautiful tribute.

  5. The world is a better place because Bill was in it- may he rest in peace & his legacy continued through his newly named Nature Conservatory

  6. Well said David. I am so sorry to learn about this. I never knew Bill personally, but did hear about his work and career. This is a big loss for the environmental community. The world needs more Bill Fredman’s! Maybe we can all try to pick up where he left off to keep his spirit alive. My deepest condolences to Bill’s family and friends.

  7. I was on the trip with him eight years ago, and will always be greatful to him for showing me how beautiful the flowers of Baffin Island are and that the Arctic is not a land of simply rock and ice. I feel so fortunate to have spent a few days with a soul so in love with what he did and with that part of our world. Rest in peace.

  8. Thank you David for expressing so eloquently what so many people felt. I, too, remember Bill fondly from travelling with him on an AC adventure. He left a lasting impression with every one he met. Such a loss of such a passionate man. Condolences to his family.


  10. Thank you for letting us know. We very much enjoyed meeting Bill on the Newfoundland and Labrador Trip last year. When I suggested a way to expand the Polar Bear population was to introduce them to Antarctica, he kindly observed that introducing a top predator to the region was probably not my best idea. He was kind, thoughtful, wise, and often quite jovial. His passion for the Nature Conservancy was infectious. He will be missed.

  11. Another decoy collector goes to the eternal hunting grounds and we can be assured he will be hunting more than ducks, geese and wooden replicas. Being on both the Sable Island and Newfoundland/Labrador trips, I thoroughly enjoyed his vast knowledge and sense of humor.

  12. What a lovely tribute to a lovely man! And the photo is just perfect. Bill was a hoot, with such a dry sense of humour and a passion for all things natural – a passion that he loved to share with others. My condolences to his family – we have lost a very caring specimen of humanity.

  13. My sister and I were on the Sable Island trip with Bill. He led our walk around the island. I am a birder and not usually looking at the ground but Bill was so enthusiastic and knowledgable about the plants on the island. I learned so much and we had a lot of fun.Great day! Great man! He will be missed

  14. David: You’ve written a wonderful tribute to a wonderful man. During the two weeks together on board the ship I gained a deep respect for Bill. He was a treasure. I admired him for his knowledge, dedication and off course his sense of humour. He will be missed.

  15. Thanks for the beautiful tribute to Bill, David.
    One of my most poignant memories of Bill was walking alone with him in a howling wind and reveling in the tenacity & beauty of the plants on an exposed limestone outcrop near Port au Choix Newfoundland. We were down on our knees photographing these gorgeous clusters of Yellow Lady’s Slippers & Bill eagerly donated his body to the cause by making a windbreak for me & all the while reciting the Latin names of the plants I was lying in.
    His passion and dedication to conservation was inspiring. He was the “guy who walked his talk”
    My condolences go out to his family, friends and colleagues. We will carry on his torch to protect
    wild spaces and maintain a more caring relationship with our planet.

  16. We were on the first trip to Sable Island. Bill was a delight, knowledgeable and fun to talk to…..on the island walks he shared his knowledge & love of nature easily, without “lecturing” those of us who are not as well informed.
    Being supporters of The Nature Conservancy, we are happy to make a donation in Bill’s memory. Our condolences to his family.
    R & B Dorrell.

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