“The environment gives us so much joy and happiness. We want to support it!”

Robbie and Chitra Singh visit a natural area near the village of Frigiliana in southern Spain.

If you’re a regular visitor to the Dundas Valley Conservation Area, chances are that you’ve crossed paths at some point with Chitra and Robbie Singh. Always cheerful and extraordinarily polite, the couple say they owe their cheerful disposition to the time they spend in nature.

“It’s so important for mental and physical wellbeing,” says Robbie. “That’s why we’re so keen to see it preserved for future generations.”

Chitra and Robbie have left a gift in their will to the Hamilton Conservation Foundation. They’re not shy about discussing their plans, either. “We’re not mega-rich philanthropists but every bit helps and we trust that our gift will have an impact.” The couple also recently had a bench placed in the Dundas Valley. “It’s no use to us to be commemorated after we’re gone!” remarks Chitra with a wry smile.

The long-time Ancaster residents each enjoy the Valley in their own ways. Robbie is a long-distance cyclist and year-round fitness enthusiast, often strapping on ice-cleats during the winter months. Chitra is an avid hiker and prefers to explore the trails during the warmer months. The couple can often be found on the Monarch Trail.

Chitra developed her love of nature at an early age. “We both grew up in Calcutta and were lucky enough to live in houses with large gardens. I was always climbing trees. Anytime my parents needed me, they would inevitably find me up in a tree at one of my friends’ houses,” she recalls with a laugh.

The couple came to Hamilton in 1975 and soon set their sights on the Ancaster neighbourhood they now call home. While they were always aware of the natural world that surrounded them, they began exploring it in earnest when Robbie began training for a long-distance hike along the Camino de Santiago between south-western France and Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in north-western Spain.

Chitra and Robbie have taken a number of other hiking trips to Spain but count themselves lucky to have access to so much of the natural world right here at home. “Between the Bruce Trail, Royal Botanical Gardens and Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA), we’re so lucky to have organizations that care for the environment here in Hamilton. There are tremendous mental and physical health benefits that come from access to the natural world,” explains Robbie.

Chitra recalls meeting now-retired long-time HCA General Manager, Ben Vanderbrug, when she served as President of the Ancaster Rotary Club in 1995. “People like Ben have long inspired us to support efforts to protect more land. It’s important that we have an impact, certainly in the Valley where we hike, but also throughout the entire ecosystem. The waterfalls are beautiful and spectacular but we also need grasslands, wetlands and spaces for the birds. All of the land is important.”

Knowing that they’re supporting that broader ecosystem gives Chitra and Robbie a great sense of satisfaction. Robbie explains: “If you buy a car, you’re sitting there in three months wondering whether or not you’ve made a wise decision with your purchase. If you plant a tree or make a gift, you know that, whatever happens, you’ve made the right choice. That’s a very powerful feeling.”

It’s no wonder Chitra and Robbie are always so cheerful. If you see them out on the trails, we hope you’ll smile too!