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David Keith Orton
David Keith Orton

David Keith Orton Add to ...

Deep green philosopher, activist, Earth lover, family cook, husband, father, friend. Born Jan. 6, 1934, in Portsmouth, England. Died May 12, 2011, in Salt Springs, N.S., of pancreatic cancer, aged 77.

One of four brothers born into a working-class family in Portsmouth, England, David Orton loved nature from an early age. His first experiences in the wild were when he was sent to the countryside during the Second World War. Later, he loved exploring the marshes around Portsmouth.

David apprenticed as a shipwright, but his dreams were elsewhere. He had a passion for reading (D.H. Lawrence was a favourite) and rowing. In 1957, he emigrated to Canada. He pursued his interests at Sir George Williams University in Montreal, graduating with a BA in 1963. He and his first wife, Gunilla, had two children: Karl and Johanna.

Later, David did a master’s degree at the New School for Social Research in New York, but he became so involved in left-wing politics that he didn’t finish his PhD in sociology. He returned to Montreal, helped form the Movement for Socialist Liberation, and taught at Sir George Williams University. His politics proved too radical and, after two years, he was fired. He worked with the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), but eventually left the party because of conflicts over internal democracy.

Moving to British Columbia in 1977, he saw how capitalist greed and industrial society were destroying the forests and the oceans, and affecting wildlife and humans. He came to see how his beliefs were reflected in the philosophy of deep ecology, which sees all life forms as having an equal right to exist.

In 1979, David and his second wife, Helga, moved to Nova Scotia, where their daughter, Karen, was born. He lived simply in what he called his paradise, an old homestead with a woodstove for heat and no indoor plumbing, surrounded by regenerating forests in Pictou County. He enjoyed cycling on the back roads, cross-country skiing and walking in the forest. David was always ready with a cup of tea for his wife and daughter when they came in, and the question “How’s your soul?” He had a knack for getting to the heart of an issue, and held people to the same high principles he set for himself.

His environmental interests were wide-ranging, encompassing forestry, wildlife, pesticides, fisheries and seals, energy and climate change, aboriginal relationships, Green Party politics and more. Through his activism and writings, he developed “ left biocentrism,” linking deep ecology and social justice.

David had a large network of friends worldwide and was touched by the outpouring of support in response to the news of his cancer. In his last blog post he wrote: “We all eventually return to the Earth. Goodbye and keep fighting.”



Helga Hoffmann-Orton is David’s wife; Karen Orton is their daughter.

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