Pollution Probe history wins book prize

A P.E.I. man has won the J. J. Talman Award for The First Green Wave, a book about the beginnings of the environmental movement in Ontario.

Ryan O'Connor's The First Green Wave wins J. J. Talman Award

The First Green Wave looks at the founding and history of Pollution Probe. (

A P.E.I. man has won the J. J. Talman Award for a book about the beginnings of the environmental movement in Ontario.

The Talman award is for best book on Ontario's social, economic, political or cultural history.

The First Green Wave, by P.E.I. native Ryan O'Connor, looks at how the environmental movement was prompted by the CBC's 1967 documentary The Air of Death, which looked at industrial pollution in rural Ontario. The documentary inspired a group of University of Toronto students to found Pollution Probe.

"Throughout the 1970s into the 1980s this was a really prominent group in environment activism in Ontario," said O'Connor.

Pollution Probe would go on to create the "Reduce, reuse, recycle" slogan, as well as other environmental initiatives people now take for granted.

A longstanding interest in local history

O'Connor did his undergraduate degree in history at UPEI, but his interest in local history dates back before his university years.

"I grew up on Prince Edward Island studying local history and it's something I've always been interested in," he said.

Ryan O'Connor was presented with the J. J. Talman Award on June 11. (Milan Ilnyckyj via

He studied 1960s activism on P.E.I. as an undergraduate — looking at groups such as the National Farmers Union — and moved on to Ontario's local history when he moved there to do his PhD.

O'Connor said interviewing some of Pollution Probe's founders and early members was a highlight of doing the research.

"Really great people, people that were concerned about the present and the future of the planet regardless of political stripe," he said.

"That was one of the most fun parts of doing this research. Ultimately I did around 70 interviews."

Next up: advertising

O'Connor's next book will focus on the Canadian advertising industry of the late 20th century, a project that surprisingly came out of the research for his current book.

O'Connor interviewed Terry O'Malley, former creative director for Vickers and Benson, a prominent Canadian advertising firm into the 1990s and a big part of Pollution Probe's early years.

"[O'Malley] offered them free professional advertising campaigns that really branded Pollution Probe, made them look professional," said O'Connor.

Talking to O'Malley piqued O'Connor's interest, and a new book project was underway.

With files from Mainstreet