Carl Cosack

Local Hero: Carl Cosack fought to save our land from quarry development.

November 19, 2013 | | Local Heroes

Carl Cosack: One of our 2013 Local Heroes

Quarry-Breaking Cowboy

The Highland Companies’ proposed mega-quarry in Melancthon was backed by a multibillion-dollar US hedge fund and powerful political lobbyists. Its early opponents were just a handful of farmers in a sparsely populated rural township.

It takes a unique person to describe that David and Goliath battle as easy. In fact, Carl Cosack remembers people saying, “This is not a fight. You’ve lost before you started.” But he never saw it that way. “I’m a Sagittarian and they say Sagittarians are just ultimately really positive people.”

Carl Cosack fought to save our land from quarry development.

Carl Cosack fought to save our land from quarry development. Photo by Pete Paterson.

Carl came to Canada from Germany in 1975 to work the ranchland his father had bought years before. “It was just time for me to come on over and live my dream of being either John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, either the good guy or the bad guy, whichever way it best suited me.”

In early 2009 the North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Task Force formed to expose and fight The Highland Companies’ plans. Carl joined as vice-chair under the leadership of potato farmer Dale Rutledge. Two years later Carl took over the chairmanship.

As proprietor of Peace Valley Ranch and Rawhide Adventures, a grass-fed beef and agri-tourism business that teaches visitors how to be western-style cowboys, Carl is used to being the trail boss, guide, storyteller and educator, patiently elucidating rural ways to outsiders. So in many ways the mantle of anti-quarry spokesperson fit as naturally as his white cowboy hat.

Carl embodied the urban-rural connection at the core of NDACT’s message, making presentations in downtown Toronto that won key urban allies with political and media influence. Soon the national news picked up the story and Carl appeared eloquently on countless talk shows, news features and activist YouTube docs.

He got private audiences with provincial politicians, and in the spring of 2011 appeared in Queen’s Park asking for an extension to the quarry application’s 45-day public comment period, which was granted. When the Walk to Stop the Quarry launched a protest at Queen’s Park, Carl brought four of his horses to graze on the legislature lawn.

The combined media and political buzz led to the province’s call for an environmental assessment of the quarry lands, and eventually to Highland’s decision to give up its plans, sell its holdings and disappear.

Few would call Carl’s role easy. It was beyond full-time, upwards of 50 hours a week of road trips, presentations, media interviews and late-night emails. Work on the farm languished and supportive family and friends took up the slack. But it was always inspiring being the good guy. “The mega quarry was just too crazy. This was one the few fundamental things you run into in life that’s just plain wrong,” says Carl.

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  • Plus, there was lots of help. At NDACT’s post-quarry victory party, Carl earnestly thanked everyone who’d contributed. It took a while.

    He especially thanks Dale Rutledge and the other volunteers on NDACT’s board, with characteristic modesty and the inevitable cowboy metaphor: “In the cattle industry the ones that follow are the ones that really determine which direction the herd is going.”

    Next fall Carl will finish up his three-year term as NDACT’s chair, heading up its renewed mission – Food and Water First – to seek permanent legislative protection for farmland. Then, “I can go back to what I really love to do, which is raise Black Angus cattle and ride horses.”

    Like a true cowboy.

    About the Author More by Tim Shuff

    Tim Shuff is a freelance writer.



    1. This past Saturday in Paris Ontario, it was our pleasure to welcome Carl Cosak as the featured speaker at a public meeting for the Concerned Citizens of Brant.
      Carl related the experiences of NDACT and Food & Water First and helped us understand the benefits of turning a confrontational situation into one of allowing the ‘opponent’ a way of “doing the right thing” through activism and positive influences such as rallies and events drawing large numbers of people!
      My take-away from his talk was the idea to allow some degree of flexibility between the two (or more) opposing sides and instead of being intractable and drawing rigid ‘lines in the sand’, allow both opponents some wriggle room.
      This worked well in British Columbia where there was huge pressure to log the last remaining coastal watersheds ( MacMillan Bloedel – Clayoquot Sound ). Sephora Berman came to the table with the idea that Mac.Blo. & it’s executive, more than likely, did not spend their days conspiring to destroy the forests and degrade watersheds, but rather were fathers, mothers, sisters & brothers who cared as deeply about their family’s future as did the opposition..
      It worked, as it did in Melancthon/North Dufferin.

      Our struggle in Brant County and particularly in Paris is one of a 40 year old lease being opened to Dufferin Aggregates to mine 600 acres, atop the town’s wellhead protection area and arable farmland.
      As Pais draws it’s drinking water from these wells – already deemed “threatened” even without the proposed mine – we are attempting to have this lease revoked and have Dufferin re-apply, pending a full Environmental Review.
      These are complex issues and demand not only a re-think of our use (or misuse) of water and farmland but also assessing the ‘real’ value of these resources in respecting the quality of life for us and the other creatures who share the bounties of this earth.

      People like Carl who are willing to share their experiences and help bolster our sometimes flagging spirits, is generosity writ large.
      We thank you for your tireless work.

      Carol Ritchie from Paris, ON on Dec 2, 2013 at 11:24 am | Reply

    2. After range riding with Carl, even a city boy like me can see that he is always on the right side of the issues… His methods of raising livestock, his position on the quarry… He’s the real deal!

      Saxe Brickenden from Toronto on Nov 30, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Reply

    3. Thank you for recognizing Carl and his tireless efforts, in standing up for us against such indomitable odds as a Boston Hedge fund and their billions of dollars. At first, few citizens, much less politicians would listen to our pleas, believing that the need for aggregate could trump every other need, including prime food lands and clean water.
      Carl never wavered in his convictions that we could make the public understand and that we would prevail. He was our inspiration for festivals, art shows, concerts, marathons and more. His pink shirt and white cowboy hat became synonymous with what we stand for… that we can’t let short term profits prevail over our limited food and water resources. We’re ever indebted to Carl, his eloquence, tenacity and leadership. He inspired a groundswell of public support that will go down in history!

      Sandi Wong from Mulmur township on Nov 29, 2013 at 9:51 am | Reply

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