The loss of an ally.
- We here in Canada, along with the rest of the cycling activists around the globe, lost a dear friend and activist this week. Tooker Gomberg is missing and presumed dead after his bicycle and helmet were found on a Halifax bridge. The movement will be diminished without his presence.
Mar. 6, 2004. 01:00 AM
Police fear city activist took own life
Gomberg battled with depression Bike was found
on Halifax bridge
A helmet and bicycle on a bridge.
So far, that's all police can find of Tooker Gomberg, who spearheaded environmental campaigns, duelled with the establishment and vied to be Toronto's mayor.
And they're assuming the worst.
"All indications are he jumped off the bridge, but we've not found a body so we have to treat it as a missing person at this time," said Sergeant Don Spicer of the Halifax Region police.
Investigators say the 48-year old may have leapt from the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge just after midnight on Thursday.
"He suffered on and off with depression for the last three years," said friend Dave Meslin. "Depression took his life."
The abandoned cycling gear strikes a special chord for another old friend, who often joined Gomberg on the streets and trails of Toronto.
"I'm going to miss my bike rides, talking politics and change with Tooker Gomberg," said federal New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton, who knew Gomberg for about a decade.
"We'd be out on our bikes together, off to meetings, protests, council meetings, you name it.
"He was a special guy."
In a way, the streets he toured in this city - as well as several others - owe a little of their shine to Gomberg. He founded one of Canada's first curbside recycling programs in Montreal, where he grew up, before moving to Edmonton and serving as a city councillor.
"He was a leader in municipal government in bringing large composting into waste management in Edmonton and played a very significant role there," Layton recalled.
But to Councillor Case Ootes (Ward 29, Toronto-Danforth), "he was a thorn in the side of ... many of us who didn't share his ideology."
In the mid-1990s, Gomberg moved to Toronto with his partner, Angela Bischoff, where he lobbied to stop the Adams mine proposal, which would have sent Toronto's garbage by rail to Kirkland Lake.
Today, his legacy extends to nearly every driveway in Toronto. "If there's a spiritual father of the green-box program," Layton said, "it's Tooker Gomberg."
He and Bischoff moved to Nova Scotia last year and the two have been travelling the world by bike, reporting on environmental initiatives.
"I feel so saddened by Tooker's passing," Layton said. "But particularly for Angela, who was his wonderful partner and worked so hard and gave so much of her life to try and help him through his depressions.
"In the end, they were too much."
With files from Vanessa Lu, Catherine Porter and Canadian Press
Additional articles by Christian Cotroneo
Mar. 5, 2004. 07:36 PM
Activist Tooker Gomberg missing, presumed dead
BY SUSAN AITKEN
HALIFAX (CP) - Tooker Gomberg - an environmental activist, failed Toronto mayoral candidate and high-profile thorn in the side of Alberta Premier Ralph Klein - was missing and presumed dead today.
Police said it appears Gomberg jumped off the middle of the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge just after midnight in the early hours Thursday morning.
"We have a missing person report in relation to a 48-year-old man. We normally don't identify individuals, so officially I can't say this is who it is, but unofficially it is Mr. Gomberg," said Sgt. Don Spicer of the Halifax Regional Police.
"All indications are he jumped off the bridge but we've not found a body so we have to treat it as a missing person at this time."
Police found a helmet and bicycle on the bridge.
Rebecca O'Brien, a friend of Gomberg and his wife, Angela Bischoff, said Gomberg suffered from depression on and off for the last three years.
"It was depression that took his life. And his wife wants to refrain from the details of how the depression took his life," said O'Brien.
She said Gomberg had moved to Halifax from the Toronto-area in September when Bischoff was hired by a local group to improve the bicycle transportation system.
Gomberg volunteered at the Ecology Action Centre but became more and more despondent.
"He said he lost his chutzpah," O'Brien said.
When Bischoff, his partner of 17 years, returned from a social outing Wednesday, she found a suicide note, O'Brien said.
Environmental groups in Halifax, Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton are planning memorials for him.
Gomberg, an avid cyclist, founded one of Canada's first curbside recycling programs in Montreal and headed Edmonton's EcoCity Society.
He was also elected to and served on Edmonton city council and cut a colourful figure as executive director of the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters.
Gomberg became famous for his vociferous and unconventional sense of political theatre.
Last spring, he was arrested at a rally protesting the war in Iraq when he used a megaphone without a permit.
In 2002, he was dragged out by police from Toronto's tony Empire Club after shouting down Klein during the premier's speech on why Alberta doesn't like the Kyoto accord.
In that year's Ontario municipal election, he ran for mayor of Toronto - and ended up as Mel Lastman's closest challenger, although the incumbent won 80 per cent of the vote.
A few months later, he locked himself in a vault in Klein's Calgary constituency office, saying the Klein government had failed to act on a decade-old report on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
In June 2000, Gomberg protested at the World Petroleum Congress in Calgary and in March of that year he and other Greenpeace members chained themselves to a 447-tonne piece of oilsands equipment being shipped to Suncor Energy Ltd. in Fort McMurray, Alta.
That same year, he organized a group of protesters who threw pennies at the head of Imperial Oil during the company's annual general meeting to make the point it would cost only pennies per share to reduce greenhouse gases.
In 1990, when Klein was Alberta's environment minister, Gomberg led a group of placard-waving activists up on the stage at a hearing into a northern Alberta pulp mill and accused Klein of betraying the environment.
In Edmonton, a spokeswoman in Klein's office said he wished to extend his sympathy to Gomberg's family.
"The premier always recognized that Tooker was a man who was extremely dedicated to his environmental causes and had some colourful ways of advocating for the issues he believed in," said Marisa Etmanski.
Gomberg's term on Edmonton city council was marked by his advocacy of bicycling. He once aggravated his fellow councillors by chaining his bike to Edmonton's new City Hall.
Edm Ald. Allan Bolstad, who served with Gomberg, said, "Tooker seemed so indestructible.
"That's one of the things that makes it so difficult for me to accept what I am hearing today."
Brian Mason, now a provincial legislature member, also served with Gomberg on city council.
He called him a man of conviction who walked or pedalled his bike or rode on public transit rather than drive a polluting vehicle.
He wore clothes of natural fibres, he recycled, he composted and he gardened.
"I have never seen anyone who walked the talk like Tooker did," he said. "He lived what he preached."
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