1938 – 2017
It was with great sadness we learned on December 30 that our dear friend and colleague Bill Lishman had passed away at home. He was surrounded with family and friends at Purple Hill, near Blackstock, Ontario.
It came as a shock. Bill had been labouring with some health issues–but his medical advisors thought, with luck, that he would be around for another ten years.
Little did we know it would be just ten days.
My brother Bill Swan was the one that first introduced Bill Lishman to Adventure Canada after seeing him as a guest speaker at the Wings Over the Rockies Bird Festival in Invermere almost twenty years ago. Brother Bill reported, “we’ve gotta get this guy”.
We did. What followed was many years of great travel in Canada and around the world with Bill as a presenter. He was beyond a pioneer. The US Department of Wildlife described Operation Migration–where Bill’s team taught geese, and then whooping cranes, to follow ultralight pilots on faltering migration routes–as “the wildlife equivalent of putting a man on the moon”.
And Bill was much more than that. He was an inventor, sculptor, filmmaker, underground house pioneer, activist, naturalist, author, family man, and an inspiration to those that knew him. Bill never saw limitation; for him, the world was only full of possibilities. As our colleague David Newland has stated, he was a true genius and a modern day Renaissance Man.
Bill was certainly one of the most imaginative and creative people I have ever met. That creativity also runs through the Lishman family, with his sons Aaron and Geordie, his daughter Carmen, and his partner, fur industry pioneer Paula. Signs are that this trend will continue with the three Lishman grandkids.
There is also another side to that genius. Bill had a learning disability; he was dyslexic and colour blind. But, as we use to chuckle, he was also “beautifully unencumbered by formal education”. Even in his seventies, Bill remained a seven-year-old at his core.
There was a delightfully silly side to Bill. He had an immediate appreciation of Adventure Canada’s sense of foolishness-and that humour was oil for the heart against life’s sorrows. We towed my old Chrysler minivan to the auto wreckers a few years back. The towing procedure wasn’t quite right, and the front bumper of the van flew forty feet into the air. We had a hard time not giggling for the rest of the day. On another occasion, when the question arose as to what to do with leftover pumpkins, we blew up a dozen at an AC Reunion at Purple Hill. Bill loved to blow stuff up.
Even though he could be crusty and grumpy, Bill was also one of the most compassionate and least judgmental people I’ve known. He had tremendous affection for the Inuit of Canada’s North. His many travels there were reflected in the design a revolutionary igloo-style dome housing concept, and the installation of a forty-foot stainless steel iceberg sculpture at the Museum of Nature in Ottawa.
For those of us that had the pleasure to know and spend time with him, he was a luminous companion.
God speed, Bill. Let us know when you have something to report back.
A Memorial and Celebration of Bill Lishman’s life will be held on January 20 at the Robert McLaughlin Art Gallery in Oshawa from 1:00 to 4:00 PM.
Donations in lieu of flowers to Bill’s name to his favourite organizations:
Bill was passionate about saving the Pickering Lands, whose expropriation for the proposed Pickering Airport he had protested in the 1970s. Here, Bill explains how these lands could once again become family farms, providing food security to Canada’s biggest urban region.