Bev Unger: a community mover and shaker

November 29, 2017

When I was on staff at the Driftwood,  it was SWOVA that decided to recognize many women who worked for equality and other social change in the Salt Spring Island, BC community.

I was given the ongoing assignment to do profiles of all of them. I do not think I got to the end of the list.

This profile was of a woman that I believe the Driftwood publishing staff hoped to ‘mend some fences’:

Gulf Islands Driftwood

Wednesday, May 10, 2000

Bev Unger: a community mover and shaker

by Tanya Lester

At the beginning of the 21st century, Salt Spring Island boasts many business owners who are women, a female high school principal, ab ArtSpring board chairwoman and a female executive director, a woman RCMP officer, fewer women doctors than can meet the demand for their services — an the list goes on and on.

The picture looked quite different in the 1970s.

It took women like Bev Unger, who is another among those recently recognized by SWOVA, to get the ball rolling.

Unger first stepped into island politics when she started going to Parks and Recreation board meetings as an observer for the Salt Spring Tennis Association. She noted all the board members were men, except the secretary, and questioned the imbalance. No sooner did she speak out than she was asked to sit on the board.

A couple of years later, Unger went on to be elected to the Islands Trust. Her election was a victory for environmentalists who were countering a move by large landowners to do away with the Islands Trust.

“As weak as (the Trust) was, it was better than not having it at all,” said Unger, who is a social worker and psychotherapist by profession with a Master’s degree from Columbia University.

No sooner was she in office than the Social Credit provincial government of the day severely cut funds to the Islands Trust, making them “like chickens with our heads cut off.”

In the ensuing battles between environmentalists, among whom Unger has always numbered herself, and the Ganges landholders, one of the most controversial issues concerned the sewer treatment plant. Parkland was “quietly” taken away from Mouat Park to build it on, Unger said.

Another issue Unger brought out into the open was the fact there were less parking spots in the lot by the Ganges post office than should have been there according to road regulations.

Then there was the controversy about the six fir trees on public property where Island Savings was once located. In a public hearing on the matter, developers claimed the trees were unhealthy.

Unger put forward a motion to have a tree expert brought in to consult on this question.

Her motion was defeated. “Bringing these things out in the open made me very unpopular,” she said.

Despite these failures, Unger stills believes the Islands Trust has potential but believes more than two members should be making decisions for Salt Spring. She points out that representation by population might be more egalitarian.

It does not make sense to her, for example, that North and South Pender islands each have two trustees when comparing its 2,500 population with this island’s 10,000 residents.

Unger is still personally undaunted regardless of some defeats. “I think it’s still important to try,” she said. “Change does take place but it wouldn’t tale place if people with hopes and beliefs didn’t keep working.”

She is buoyed by recent momentum in the island’s environmental movement against the Texada Land Corporation clearcutting.

Unger was also involved in last fall’s prevention of the sale of Parks and Rec’s public green space. The majority of islanders voted against selling 10 parcels of “green space” land in the referendum.

Unger is certainly more optimistic than she was when she and her husband, dentist Robert Unger, left New York City in 1975 to settle in Salt Spring. They were Americans disillusioned with the United Statees government’s position on Vietnam and opposed to President Richard Nixon.

Upon coming to Salt Spring, Unger was soon involved with Lillian Horsdal in establishing Phoenix Orchards.

It was a non-profit organization they set-up with a $30,000 federal government grant to purchase an apple press and employ nine people. Unger did not like the idea of apples merely falling to the ground and going to waste. Phoeix Orchards revived an island interest in apple growing and juicing.

Her most recent community contribution has been her volunteer work in getting the Core Inn youth centre off the ground. As a social worker, Uneger had seen the need for a place where young people can gather.

Community motivation was prompted by a car accident in which young people were killed and injured.

When questioned about the roots of her activism, Unger said, “I was brought up in a Jewish family in which belief in community service was strong.”


Tanya does psychic readings, is a reiki master, and housesits regularly. To find out more and to access her services call or text her at 250-538-0086, email: or go to her web site: She also has pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twamitter and Aligned.

Tanya’s books are Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader, Friends I Never Knew, Dreams and Tricksters as well as Women Rights/Writes. You can buy these books from the author, or some are available in public libraries.

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