Profile on Terry Chantler

By Dr. Carole Christopher, SPEC President

Last year, in preparation for our 45th anniversary celebration, I reviewed SPEC’s historical campaigns (1) and successfully connected with nearly 100 SPEC activists from the early days.  As I gathered names, one that repeatedly came up was Terry Chantler so I called him to see what I could learn about the early SPEC culture and work.  He graciously walked me through the work that he and others did around the earliest Energy Campaign and I came to realize why he is remembered as one of the most successful researchers in SPEC history. 

Terry was first hired by SPEC (1971) as a graphic artist to illustrate SPEC’s public campaigns and education materials used in schools. He is a gifted artist and today is part of an artist’s collective on Pender Island where he lives.  But he also made an outstanding contribution to SPEC as a researcher in the area of energy conservation, public policy and regulatory oversight.  Cliff Stainsby (past SPEC President and ED, and close colleague of Terry’s) says, “SPEC lived off Terry’s research for decades.”  Terry describes himself as the nexus of a large network of people doing various aspects of the research, that he was merely the one that brought it all together.  But his university training in electrical engineering, his passion for detail and accuracy, his ability to see the important connections, to chase down the missing pieces and to assemble it all into comprehensive reports won him respect and acknowledgement from his colleagues. 

Terry compiled documents that became the basis of a SPEC energy policy critique presented to the National Energy Board and to Provincial officials with highly significant results: It established that proposed hydro dams were unnecessary in terms of energy demand and, if developed, would squander both environmental resources and provincial finances.  Second, it demonstrated that BC Hydro was operating without regulatory oversight, and forced the hand of the Provincial government to change the regulatory framework and provide accountability in the public interest.


Gary Gallon, former SPEC Executive Director and a close colleague of Terry’s, was convinced that SPEC could prove that BC Hydro didn’t need the electricity from 45 proposed new dams and power projects and that, in fact, current production was being wasted.  Terry says, “I saw that what he was saying was right but that it would become opinion unless it was backed up by fact.  So I just collected a whole bunch of facts and put them in reports and slide shows.”  SPEC hired people to do research, tapping into government documents and BC Hydro documents, along with the research of universities and other  environmental agencies – all of which Terry collected, synthesized and focused on the case for efficiency and conservation.  SPEC had federal funding to develop “Energy Conservation” and “Conserver Society”(2)  slide shows (which Terry researched, so-wrote and composed music for) to educate the public at the same time that SPEC was pressuring the Provincial government to change the laws that had allowed BC Hydro carte blanche to develop dams, investing billions and causing vast environmental change without appropriate regulatory oversight.    

Terry, an articulate and effective speaker, carried his research message, with others, to Ottawa and other venues including the National Energy Board, to argue the SPEC case.  He commands an impressive ability to synthesize, distill, and articulate a clear and compelling message. His research and advocacy supported a SPEC campaign that delayed the construction of the Revelstoke Dam and, most importantly, compelled the Provincial Government to take the time review the regulatory framework and require the needed oversight and approval by the BC Utilities Commission before any new dam construction (3).  Cliff Stainsby and others utilized the same research in stopping construction of the Site C Dam on the Peace River in 1984 and Past president David Cadman (‘96-03) affirmed that Terry’s research was relevant and effective 20+ years later in fighting unnecessary dam construction on Vancouver Island.  Essentially, utilizing Terry’s research, SPEC stopped the wholesale expansion of large scale and unneeded hydro dams from 1984 up to the recent approval by the Utilities Commission for the $8.3 billion revival of the Site C project.  (Perhaps we’ll do another article soon on the revived Site C project.)

Terry and I have spoken several times by phone and in person.  It’s clear that his spec days are still vibrant in his memory and he enjoys explaining this very important era of our past.  He (and partner Kathleen Lightman (4) travelled from Pender Island to the anniversary celebration where he spoke about SPEC’s work from that era.  Terry represents the face of SPEC that is about solid research and persistent negotiation to bring about change based on reliable information and conservation ethics.  He left SPEC in 1979 and moved to Pender Island with Kathleen but he remains fundamentally engaged and committed to ecological values. 

  1. See “SPEC Through The Ages” on our website – as well as a short review of this project in SPEC Annual Report of 2014.
  2. Toward A Conserver Society – June 1978  In the SPEC Archives.
  3. The report of this project is available in the SPEC archives.  It has a complicated title but ask for the report related to the Revelstoke Dam
  4. Kathleen Lightman was also a SPEC employee and volunteer who illustrated several of SPEC’s education programs including the slideshows.