Dan O’Reilly – Obliged to our Ancestors

Community activist, environmental advocate and freelance reporter Dan O’Reilly is passionate about protecting the land we live on.

November 23, 2023 | | Local Heroes

Community activist and freelance reporter Dan O’Reilly is passionate about heritage protection. His family has lived in the south Caledon settlement of Wildfield, on what is now Mayfield Road at the border of Brampton, since the 1830s when his great-great-grandfather Eugene O’Reilly, a widower, emigrated with his daughter, Margaret, from County Cavan, Ireland.

Once in Canada, Eugene entered the Catholic priesthood, while Margaret – Dan’s great-grandmother – married a distant cousin, also named O’Reilly. Dan still lives on a 65-acre section of the family property, which includes 30 acres of workable farmland and a section of the West Humber River. (Dan was the first president of the Humber Valley Heritage Trail Association.)

Community activist and freelance reporter Dan O’Reilly at a protest against the proposed Highway 413 project.

Through Dan’s efforts to preserve the history of his family and his community, an adjoining Brampton subdivision includes Father Eugene O’Reilly Park and Sister O’Reilly Road, along with other streets named for early settlers. And a cairn at St. Patrick’s Church in Wildfield, the second oldest church in the Toronto archdiocese, likewise honours the memory of church builders, many of whom were O’Reillys.

Dan is a fervent opponent of changes to the Greenbelt and of the proposed Highway 413 corridor, which would pass about a kilometre from his home. In a 2020 story in this magazine, he vividly described how the 413 will cleave the town in two: “It will be Caledon’s version of the Berlin Wall, but unlike the Berlin Wall, it will never be torn down once built.”

Dan’s activism has recently included his key role in organizing a pro-Greenbelt–anti-413 protest in Bolton. Speeches at the demonstration, which drew more than 200 people, included a tribute to Jenni Le Forestier, a longtime, well-respected Caledon environmental activist whom Dan greatly admired. Jenni died of cancer in 2022 at age 48. Though the day of the Bolton demonstration had been overcast, Dan says, “The sun came out when we were talking about Jenni.”

By way of putting his money where his mouth is, Dan has placed a conservation agreement through the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy on the title of his property. “That remains on title even if the property is sold,” he says. “What that means is, even if at some point in the future it was bought by developers, it can’t be turned into a subdivision.” But there’s one caveat: though the agreement prevents private development, it doesn’t prevent government infrastructure projects like the 413. So Dan has a very personal stake in the battle.

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  • In a journalism career stretching back to the 1970s, when he worked for the Caledon Enterprise, Dan has written thousands of news stories. He remains a frequent contributor to two digital publications, Just Sayin’ Caledon and Daily Commercial News.

    Though Caledon faces many challenges, Dan believes there is cause for hope. He points to the crowd at the Bolton demonstration. “So many people came out. And look at how Doug Ford has backed down. It just shows there’s no such thing as a done deal. That’s just an excuse not to fight, and you’ve got to keep fighting.”

    Dan finds activism inspiring. “If you live in a community, you should be involved,” he says. “And I’m motivated by the spirit and achievements of my ancestors.

    “Well, that,” he smiles, “plus a bit of passion, and a bit of anger.”

    About the Author More by Jeff Rollings

    Jeff Rollings is a freelance writer living in Caledon.

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