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Prince George ‘renaissance man’ Jo Graber has died leaving lengthy civic legacy

Graber was an architect known for his work to improve air quality
Jo Graber
Jo Graber moved to Prince George in 1973 and had been involved in numerous community projects.

Long-time Prince George resident and environmental advocate Jo Graber has died.

Graber wrote an environmental column for the Prince George Citizen and was a founding member of People’s Action Committee for Healthy Air (PACHA).

He was born in Cologne, Germany in 1944 and emigrated to Canada with his parents in 1953. They settled in Ottawa and Graber went on to study architecture at the University of Toronto.

Graber came to Prince George in 1973 with his first wife and children to work for Prince George architect Desmond Parker at Central Interior Planning Consultants.

His firm was responsible for the design of most of the city’s subdivisions west of Central Street as well as the design of the College of New Caledonia.

“He was one of those people that was curious about so many things,” said his daughter, Petra Graber, of his extensive community involvement.

Throughout his life in Prince George, Graber was involved with numerous community organizations, civic boards and committees.

In 1992 Graber was one of seven founding directors of the McGregor Model Forest which was one of twelve funded by Canada to examine and test scientific and technological principals of sustainable forest management.

He then continued to sit on a forest management public advisory group providing input into sustainable forest management planning of various past and current licensees operating in the Prince George Timber Supply Area.

Graber also represented environmental matters on the City of Prince George Healthy Community Committee in the mid 1990s. This was meant to build capacity through empowerment of individuals, organizations and communities and looked at a holistic approach to health.

He then became chair of PACHA, an advocacy and watchdog organization concerned about air pollution in the Prince George airshed with a seat on the PG Air Improvement Roundtable Board.

“He did so much it’s hard to describe,” said his partner, Adele Sjoberg. “Because he had such a bright mind people would ask him questions or say, ‘what should I do in this predicament?’ and he’d start helping people and that kind of snowballed.”

Petra said that Graber was actually quite shy and introverted but his passion for the city forced himself out of his shell and he became more comfortable in a political arena.

A lot of his drive came from his love of urban planning and for Prince George.

“That is part of what you learn in architecture school, you learn about the quality of living, and he kept that with him,” said Petra. “I think he wanted the perfect city.”

Despite most of his family relocating from Prince George in the mid-1980s, Graber stayed in the city and continued to advocate for its improvement.

Most recently, Graber was outspoken against the proposed West Coast Olefins ethylene plant to be built within city limits, for many reasons including its potential impact to the city’s air quality.

“I think one of the things that frustrated him was that we know all these things,” said Petra. “We already fought this fight. The information was already there and here we are again. That was frustrating to him, that it was a continuous process.”

She said that Graber’s greatest legacy is the health of the city and hopes that someone keeps advocating for it.

Petra added that Graber was most happy when he was working with wood. He was a self-taught carpenter who designed and built his own house. He was also avid gardner, sculptor and photographer among other numerous hobbies and interests.

“He was a renaissance man,” said Petra. “He had a great sarcastic sense of humour and he was fun. I think he really liked life and he wanted other people to like life. He was a cool guy. We are going to miss him.”

He died on Sunday Aug. 22 at hospice following a massive stroke. He is also survived by a son, two grandchildren, a step-daughter and step-granddaughter.

Graber was also long-time partners with another well-known Prince George community booster Kathi Travers, who died in 2019.

“I’m so grateful for the doctors and all the people at hospice and the emergency crews. They couldn’t have done more for me or for him,” added Sjoberg. “It was awful but it made it a little bit easier.”