Brenda Dolling

Originally an elementary school teacher, Brenda encouraged her students to think critically about issues, including politics.

March 24, 2020 | | Over the Next Hill

Snapshot: Meet a Community Elder

Brenda Dolling laughingly acknowledges that her life has come full circle.

Brenda and her two siblings grew up on a 100-acre mixed farm in Oakville where she learned early the value of hard work.

Activist Brenda Dolling has always been a woman ahead of her time.

Activist Brenda Dolling has always been a woman ahead of her time.

Now, at 75 and living at Caledon’s Whole Village, a co-operative farming ecovillage, Brenda finds herself living a life similar to her childhood, and one that in no way fits the traditional definition of retirement.

Originally an elementary school teacher, Brenda encouraged her students to think critically about issues, including politics. Not surprisingly, she also emphasized the importance of agriculture and was delighted to take the kids on tours of her family’s old farm, which had become part of Bronte Creek Provincial Park. “It was always their favourite excursion,” she recalls. With her somewhat alternative approach to teaching, even back then Brenda was ahead of her time.

In mid-career Brenda seized an opportunity to spend two years in Lesotho, the mountainous kingdom completely surrounded by South Africa. There she lived in a traditional round hut while training Bathoso teachers and helping design their training curriculum. This immersion in another culture, she says, taught her both humility and how to listen.

After returning to Canada she earned a master’s degree in education, and led educational and political tours to Nicaragua, Mozambique, Cuba and Grenada.

In her mid-50s Brenda retired from teaching and ramped up her political activities. She knows freedom isn’t free. In 1998 she spent a night in jail after being arrested at a demonstration calling for a national housing strategy. Again, she was ahead of her time: a federal housing strategy was finally introduced in 2017. In 2000 she ran unsuccessfully for the federal New Democratic Party.

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  • During those years Brenda concluded it was unsustainable to continue living in a house on her own, so she researched alternatives. In 2001 she joined a group working to create Whole Village, with its commitment to sustainability, land stewardship and communal living. She takes particular pride in the 23,000 trees planted on the Whole Village property since the community’s inception.

    Resilient, energetic and politically engaged, Brenda says she’s learning all the time. With a hearty laugh she repeats one of her father’s favourite puns, “If I have my way, I will die out standing in my field.”

    About the Author More by Gail Grant

    Gail Grant is a freelance writer who lives in Palgrave.

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