Our Team

May 2024: We are Hiring!

FOCA is seeking a Summer Student under the Canada Student Jobs program, to fill the role of ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT. Read the job posting (download PDF, 2 pages) and apply as directed by May 24, 2024.

FOCA operates under a governance board structure, and directs strategic priorities through a number of Committees that report to the Board of Directors. Scroll down for information about our Staff, and volunteer Board.

FOCA Office Staff:

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Lesley Lavender

Chief Executive Officer

Michelle Lewin

Manager of Communications & Development

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Deanna Forgie

Programs Coordinator

ON LEAVE (to Sept. 2023)

Adam Edwards

Membership Coordinator

Gavin Vance

Assistant Lake Stewardship Coordinator 

Lesley joined FOCA in April 2024 as our Chief Executive Officer.

Lesley comes with a significant background in association management, as the past CEO of the Prince Edward County Chamber of Commerce in the Bay of Quinte region, where she demonstrated her skills building a sustainable and inclusive community through advocacy, education, relevant programming, and networking. She understands the challenges and expectations in a community that accommodates both visitors and seasonal residents alongside long-term inhabitants. “This understanding fuels my passion to delve deeper into similar dynamics across our province, with an unwavering commitment to expanding my knowledge and sharing my skill set,” said Lesley upon her appointment to the role of CEO of FOCA. “My aim is to foster a collective appreciation for water and the environment, catalyzing a shared commitment to their preservation.”

Welcome to the FOCA community, Lesley!

Michelle joined the staff in 2010 to beat the drum about the good work being done by FOCA. Her background is in communications and culture.

Michelle oversees FOCA’s printed and electronic messaging, and works with our association members to distribute information to our 50,000 members across the Province. Michelle manages FOCA’s website and Elerts, as well as our annual Year in Review and Lake Stewards Newsletter productions.

Michelle also liaises with FOCA’s Corporate Sponsors. Contact Michelle if your organization is interested in partnering with FOCA to support our mandate of protecting Ontario’s waterfront experience.

Image: picnic point, Lake Solitaire 1970sMichelle’s formative years were spent at a family cottage on Lake Solitaire in the Huntsville area, at the old Limberlost Lodge property.

Deanna is the FOCA Programs Coordinator. She is a graduate of Trent University with a degree in Environmental Science and Geography, and in 2015 she completed the Environmental Technician program with Fleming College.

Deanna worked with FOCA as a summer student in 2014 before taking on the role of Membership and Programs Coordinator; she is now our full-time Programs lead.

Deanna cottages on Catchacoma Lake.

Adam joined FOCA in April of 2023 as the Membership Coordinator. You can contact Adam for any inquiries regarding membership, at the main FOCA email: info@foca.on.ca.

Adam is a graduate of Trent University with a degree in Sociology/Philosophy and a graduate of Fleming College in Business Administration. Adam has over 8 years of administrative experience in various industries including non-profit sectors, landscaping, and long term care. Adam is passionate about fitness and outdoor activities.

Adam grew up enjoying regular visits to his grandparents’ cottage on Esson Lake in Haliburton County.

Gavin joined FOCA in early 2023 as the Assistant Lake Stewardship Coordinator. You can contact him with questions or inquiries regarding the Lake Partner Program.

Gavin is a graduate of Trent University and Fleming College where he completed the Ecological Restoration bridge program and received a college diploma and University Degree (Hons) in Ecological Restoration.

During his first year after graduation Gavin worked as a lab technician where he gained experience and knowledge in the inner workings of a fast paced lab setting.

Gavin has resided in Algonquin Park for the last two summers where he hiked, biked, and kayaked whenever possible. Gavin has a passion for the environment and community and looks forward to his role with the Lake Partner Program.

2024 FOCA Board Executive: 

 

President: Deborah Martin-Downs

Vice President: Donna Commerford

Treasurer: Rick Blickstead

Secretary: Michael Peterson

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FOCA Board of Directors:

The current Board directors are presented here in alphabetical order by surname.  See more “about” each Director below, including their local Lake Association affiliation, background, time on the FOCA Board and committee work.

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Carol Armstrong

Rick Blickstead

Donna Commerford

Picard Lake Cottager’s Association. Joined the FOCA Board in 2024.

COMMITTEES: Member Services & Benefits

Carol lives on Picard Lake, northern Trent Lakes. She was a cottager for 22 years, prior to moving up from Toronto in 2009, so she understands the perspectives of seasonal and full-time residents. She’s been active in her cottage association for over 30 years, spearheading the development of a comprehensive Lake Plan and working with a team to mitigate the spread of Eurasian Water Milfoil.

After earning her MBA at Wharton, Carol joined Xerox Corp., serving in various senior management positions in the US and Canada. During her last six years she was accountable for its $200 million Supplies Division. Next, Carol got involved in rural economic development, as Executive Director for the Community Futures Network, managing a $20 million federal government fund for investment in innovative companies.

Carol is currently the Deputy Mayor of Trent Lakes, since 2018. On Council she has initiated programs to improve waste management, restrict fireworks, control short term rentals, preserve shorelines & trees and enhance bylaw enforcement, among other initiatives to protect the environment and improve the quality of life of residents and visitors. She also has extensive governance experience with not-for-profit organizations, and currently sits on the boards of the Chamber of Commerce, a Long-Term Care home, and a Tourist Association.

She is an enthusiastic swimmer, SCUBA diver, kayaker, x-country skier and hiker.

Basshaunt Lake Homeowners’ & Cottages’ Association. Joined the FOCA Board in 2022.

FOCA Board Treasurer

COMMITTEES: Finance, Revenue Generation (Chair)

Rick is a fluently bilingual, senior general management executive with experience in both the Canadian and American public, non-profit, and private sectors. He has a diverse background in public policy, governance and risk management, branding, retail, and consulting, having led several US and CDN firms as CEO/President. Rick attended Carleton University, UofT’s Rotman School of Management, and Harvard University’s Business and Kennedy schools.

Rick has been an active executive and past President of the Basshaunt Lake Homeowners and Cottagers Association for 15 years (a no-motor Lake in the Haliburton Highlands). He is active in working with municipalities and associations on critical issues of shoreline protection, clean water advocacy, and environmental protection of our lakes and rivers. He has been a member of FOCA since arriving in cottage country in 2003.

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Here’s my cottage story: 

This year (2023) will mark our 20th anniversary on Basshaunt Lake, a no-motor oasis in the Haliburton Highlands.

My family had a cottage on the Ottawa River system, and when we sold my career time commitment could not justify a four season cottage, so we rented each summer.

Finally, we decided to purchase a lovely cottage on Basshaunt. We love the sounds of hummingbird wings beating, the chirping of the many species of birds including our favourite goldfinches at the birdfeeders, the jays which snatch peanuts in a swooping dive, and of course the eerie calls of the loons.

Whether it be catch and release fishing, canoeing and kayaking or simply enjoying reading time on the dock, Basshaunt is the perfect getaway all year round. There is something so special about every season as it unfolds and builds and nurtures fond memories with family, friends, and neighbours.

I became involved with the Basshaunt Lake Homeowners and Cottages’ Association after our first year. I felt that having a voice about the lake, its culture and its future was important. Lake associations do so much in terms of protecting the waterfront and ensuring the lake quality remains fresh.

BLHCA is also a member of FOCA and we had a Board member as the FOCA liaison to keep us informed of programs and education which proved to be invaluable. We used the FOCA Lake Plan guide to create a long-term strategy which made us face and decide upon a number of critical issues.

Now, I have joined the FOCA Board!

FOCA is an incredible organization and the value proposition of being a member is huge; make sure you are a member!

Big Gull Lake East End Cottage Association. Joined the FOCA Board in 2022. 

FOCA Board Vice President

COMMITTEES: Governance & Nominations, Membership Services & Benefits

Donna Commerford has worked for more than 30 years in the education field. She enjoyed a successful career working as an elementary and secondary school teacher, Board consultant and Principal.

Donna joined IBM K-12 Education in January of 2004, where she has taken on the role of Senior Educational Consultant. She currently works with Districts and teachers assisting them in effectively integrating technology into their learning and teaching practices to align with their District achievement goals. The desired outcome is to ultimately impact positive student achievement and enhance teacher practice. She has delivered professional learning and implementation strategies for classroom teachers, Special Education Resource teachers and School Board Administrators.

Big Gull Lake has a very special place in Donna’s life. Her husband’s family has had a cottage on the lake since the late 1950’s. Donna and her husband purchased their cottage in 2004. She has been active with the Big Gull Lake Cottage Association since 2007. She has chaired the Family Triathlon as well as holding the positions of Secretary and Vice-President. She is currently President of the Board.

Her volunteer work includes being a member of the Board of Directors of Carpenter Hospice in Burlington Ontario, Past Chair of the Northumberland YMCA, as well as numerous leadership roles on Rotary committees. She resides in Burlington, Ontario with her husband, Jim and remains active in her local community.

My Cottage Story – The  Commerford Cottage on Big Gull Lake

The cottage at 1178 B Helen Lane was build around 1960 and originally owned by Frank & Helen Damude.  In 2002, Frank mentioned that he would be selling the cottage in the next few years.  Frank offered to give the first right of refusal to John & Marian Commerford, my in-laws, who owned the adjacent cottage.  In turn, they provided us with the opportunity to exercise this option. 

We had spent much time at Jim’s parents’ cottage and knew that Big Gull Lake was where we wanted to own our own summer get away.  We were fortunate to the purchase the property in the Fall of 2004 and our dream of owning a cottage came true. 

The cottage was in great shape when we purchased it.  However, we wanted to put our own touches on it.  We replaced the flooring and windows, with much thanks to Jim’s brother John.  Our other new purchase in the early years of cottage ownership was a used pontoon boat that gave us many years of fun, exploring the lake with family and friends.  We finally replaced the old boat with a new one in 2013.

As time goes by, with many more family and friends coming to visit, it soon became apparent that we needed to expand.  The first investment was a new septic system in 2006.  With even more friends and family visiting, we decided to have a bunkie built in 2011. 

Over the years we have enjoyed friends from around the world come to visit including from Britain, Brazil, United States and France.  No matter how many people seem to arrive at the cottage, there is always room for all, accompanied with good food, great conversation and lots of fun. 

Beginning in December 2004, we have enjoyed every New Year’s Eve at the cottage.  Despite the hike/snowshoe/ cross country ski into the cottage, each year either family or friends have helped us welcome in the New Year.  Despite temperatures ranging from +2 C to -25 C, we have always been able to get the cottage warm, drill a hole in the ice for water, and enjoy the peace and solitude of our cottage in the depths of winter.

In September of 2024, we will have owned our cottage for 20 years.  We now can host the next generation, our grandchildren, who have already begun to experience the joys of swimming, fishing, a campfire, waterskiing and boating.  Most important, is the time to spend with family and friends.

We look forward to many more years of good times at Big Gull Lake.

Donna & Jim Commerford

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Ian Crawford

Katharine Devlin

Harry Kim

Captain Estates Road Cottagers Association. Joined the FOCA Board in 2019.

FOCA Board Past President

COMMITTEES: Finance; Governance & Nominations (Interim Chair); HR (Chair); Member Services & Benefits; Revenue Generation; Roads Working Group

Ian is a passionate lifelong cottager, who joined the FOCA Board to help protect the cottaging experience for future generations.

In the course of his career, Ian has been involved in the design, development and delivery of natural resource management programs in the public sector, and is a subject-matter expert in species-at-risk, water management planning, and Land Claim negotiations. Ian holds certification and extensive experience in leadership, mediation, negotiation, and alternative dispute resolution and has provided leadership training and design to over 20 organizations, corporations and governments around the world.

Honey Harbour Association. Joined the FOCA Board in 2024.

COMMITTEES: Member Services & Benefits 

Katharine is a lifelong cottager and active member of the Honey Harbour Association. She has developed a deep appreciation for the importance of community involvement and community education for cottagers. She was most recently the volunteer responsible for the advertising, editing and production of the annual publication the Honey Harbour HOOTS, and launched a new web site including a robust member data management platform.

Over the years she has supported digital marketing efforts for non-profits including the YWCA, The Aga Khan Museum, Nancy’s Very Own Foundation, Nuit Blanche, The Breakfast Club, the Sing All of Us Initiative, and many others. Katharine is an award-winning director of design and development with over 250 awards for web marketing, has created over 150 websites for some of the world’s largest brands including. Since retiring in 2018, Katharine has taken on a wide variety of freelance web design work, e-marketing campaigns, and brand ID development projects for a range of small business customers and charitable organizations.

Katharine was instrumental in leading women in technology during her career as a member of Women in Tech, Women Entrepreneurs of Canada, Women President’s Club. She participated in many trade missions for women entrepreneurs and was keynote speaker at many international conferences for women in the computer industry. Katharine was both member of the board for three years and Chairperson of the Prime Minister’s Small and Medium Industry Advisory Council for two years where the Board produced many recommendations for legislative change.

Loon Lake Property Owners Association. Joined the FOCA Board in 2023.

COMMITTEES: Revenue Generation

Harry (P.Eng.) is an environmental consulting executive with over 25 years of experience leading strategy, operations, growth and driving overall business performance. His management experience ranges from initiating early-stage startups to working within large publicly traded international engineering consulting companies. He received his Bachelor of Engineering Science (Civil) – Environmental from Western University in London Ontario.

He joined the FOCA Board because he has an appreciation for responsibly managing the growth, and for ensuring the future viability, of Ontario’s cottage country. He also sits on the Advisory Board for the Altitude Accelerator Initiative in Toronto, which assists young entrepreneurs along their journey of building a sustainable, profitable business from idea to fruition.

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Deborah Martin-Downs

Mary Ann Peden

Richard Peters

Muskoka Lakes Association. Joined the FOCA Board in 2020.

FOCA Board Chair & President

COMMITTEES: Finance; Human Resources; Member Services & Benefits; Governance & Nominations; 

Deborah is an environmental professional trained in Environmental Studies at the University of Waterloo (1979) and has a Masters of Zoology/Environmental Studies from the University of Toronto (1984) with a specialty in aquatic ecology. Over her 30-year career she has held progressively senior positions in the public and private sector. She joined Credit Valley Conservation in 2013 as the Chief Administrative Officer, until her recent retirement.

Deborah has been cottaging on Breezy Point, Lake Muskoka for over 60 years.

Here’s My Cottage Story:

I am forever thankful to my dad, Ron Martin, for the foresight to spend $1000 on a lot on Lake Muskoka back in 1955 where we could spend weekends, vacations and eventually summers.  Even that amount was a significant purchase for dad and his growing family.  The cottage at first was a home-built box with no inside bathroom or running water.  Hard to raise wee ones under those conditions but my mum managed.  Over the years additions have been made, including the much-needed bathroom with running hot and cold water.  The 4th generation is now enjoying walks in the woods, swimming in the lake, paddling on the water and boat rides.  It is the place I learned to love nature and water, which no doubt led me to an environmental career and to volunteer for my lake association and on their behalf sit on the FOCA board.  There is no greater gift than a cottage on a lake and no greater calling than to make sure it stays swimmable, fishable and drinkable for this and future generations.

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Deb is married to Jim Downs and has two grown sons.

Lake of Bays Association. Joined the FOCA Board in 2021.

COMMITTEES: Governance & Nominations; HR

WORKING GROUPS: Short-term Rentals

Mary Ann’s story:

Mary Ann Peden is a Past President of  the Lake of Bays Association. She is a retired teacher who for 25 years worked with special needs children at the secondary level in Mississauga. She has been involved with the Lake of Bays (youth) Sailing Club 1995 to 2008, was on their Fundraising Committee, a Junior Program Director, Commodore, and Past Commodore. With the Lake of Bays Association from 2006-present she has been an Area Steward, on the Membership Committee, Communications Committee Chair, Environmental Committee – Invasive Species Team, and President from 2018 – 2021.

Mary Ann’s Cottage Story in her own words:

My story begins about 80 years ago when my grandparents, Gardiner and Violet, began visiting the Lake of Bays area (northeast Muskoka) in the 1940’s. They fell in love with the area and after renting a cottage from friends on Pancake Island for a few summers, they purchased a small rustic cottage near Glenmount.

My first visit was as a baby in the 50’s that was soon followed by my three brothers. Every summer was spent at the cottage and included so many activities including swimming, sailing, waterskiing, paddling a canoe, driving a “tinny” and motorboat, fishing, exploring and hiking the forest and family activities on the dock, the front porch and around a campfire.

We came to the cottage as much as possible, including the winters when we had no running water, had to chop a hole in the ice and froze our little bottoms off running to the outhouse. It was always an adventure and learning experience like no other; especially about the natural world and the environment.

I have lifelong friends from the time I was a teenager. I met and married my husband at LOB (44 years and counting) and our children have carried on the tradition of working their summers at the lake and making their own lifelong friendships. Our daughter also married a LOB boy.

We now have grandchildren who love this place too and can’t wait to get to the cottage. Once we retired, we decided to live at the cottage from April to November, part of a growing group of cottagers who, in some cases, have made the cottage their permanent home.

This cottage (now 100 years old) is really our home, the centre and heart of our family life with four generations, and the place we all can’t wait to get to.

Preserving this beautiful place and its environment for future generations became my motivation for becoming involved with our lake association (Lake of Bays Assoc.) and FOCA. As we say at LOBA, it’s “all about the lake”. Sustaining a healthy environment, supporting our community and promoting a safe and peaceful lake are goals we all need to advocate for in order to preserve it for the future.

Sunny Lake Cottage Association. Joined the FOCA Board in 2023.

COMMITTEES: Revenue Generation

Here’s my cottage story:

I have seen the immense value that FOCA provides to associations and cottagers across Ontario.  I am a proud Muskoka cottager, and passionate about the cottage lifestyle.

I am a CPA, CA, with an MBA (Strategy and Marketing) and spent my career working for corporations in the technology and financial services sector and also have previous experience on Boards. Over my career, I set strategy and grew businesses on a provincial, national, and global level while always focusing on customer solutions and service.

I have been on the Board of the Sunny Lake Cottagers Association for 13 years – for many years as an executive, and currently (2023) as President.  Sunny Lake is a beautiful lake in Muskoka that is spring fed and very clean.  The Association has always been very involved in doing what it can to keep our lake as healthy and clean as possible.

Cottaging has been an important and cherished part of our family experience. Early morning paddleboards with our Aussiedoodle, swimming, boating, canoeing, campfires and more have all been part of our summers in Muskoka.  This lifestyle has also provided the opportunity for our children to become skilled water skiers which has enabled them to spend summers growing up and working in Muskoka. We have all created lasting memories with family and friends.

What impresses me about FOCA is its vision and mandate to maintain healthy lakes so this lifestyle will be there for all future generations.  I look forward to the opportunity to help FOCA continue with the great work that they do.

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image of Diana Piquette
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Michael Peterson

Diana Piquette

Eric Stuart

Big Rideau Lake Association. Joined the FOCA Board in 2023.

COMMITTEES: Revenue Generation

Here’s my cottage story:

I grew up in Montreal and my initial cottage experience was in the Eastern Townships, Lake Memphremagog. Many Easter weekends were spent at the cottage of my best friend watching the break-up of the ice on the lake from a giant pine tree large enough for both of us to perch comfortably for hours.

My introduction to Big Rideau Lake came through my wife’s family who have had a cottage since the 1950s.  The baby boomer kids acquired or built their own as adults. Summers for young children at the cottage are magical – with outdoor wiener roasts and loons and clear starry nights and the odd perch at the end of your line. Jumping into the lake from the roof of the boathouse is still fun! The attraction is life-long and we see the young men and women from the lake, some of whom now live in Oslo and Geneva and London, returning to the cottage in Ontario to share the summer magic with their young children.

I have been a lawyer for over 35 years and am winding down my practice specializing in environmental  law.  

My wife and I have been family members of the Big Rideau Lake Association (BRLA) for years, and our children now have their own family memberships. I have been involved in lake matters at Big Rideau Lake in the Township of Rideau Lakes for some time. I’m president of a small not-for-profit entity the Rideau Lakes Environmental Foundation (RLEF) which has been active in addressing safe boating and more recently water quality and we are closely associated with the Big Rideau Lake Association.

Both organizations  had to become  engaged in serious water quality issues in 2014 when there was a large (and intentional) discharge of raw sewage from the failing sewage treatment system of the Town of Westport. It went into Upper Rideau Lake, at the top level of the Rideau Canal system, and moved in both directions from there to Big Rideau and Newboro Lakes.

Since the 2014 incident (which ended with Ministry of Environment prosecutions), I have spent significant time on lake planning and environmental issues. The recent Bill 23 legislation by the Ontario government has had major implications for rural municipalities and their development regulations. Current water quality and planning issues are generic for most rural municipalities in Ontario.

Both at BRLA and now at FOCA, we are following developments closely. Some of the more problematic measures in the new legislation have been reversed or modified but there are still important challenges. With my environmental law background and experience, I hope to be able to make a contribution to the enjoyment of our waterfronts and cottages by future generations of Ontario cottagers.

Lake Joseph North Association. Joined the FOCA Board in 2024.

COMMITTEES: Member Services and Benefits

Diana has over 30 years in senior leadership roles for major technology companies. She spent 19 years with Microsoft where she built and grew pioneering business units. This included founding the national Mid-Market Customer Sales and Marketing group, developing the Solution Provider Partner Channel, and leading Microsoft Canada’s Intellectual Property Advocacy and Anti-Piracy initiatives where she was part of their Global Compliance team. She was Vice President of Sales and Marketing for a global legal industry software company and is currently President of Axyum Group where she consults technology companies on growth and governance.

Diana is a member of the Institute of Corporate Directors and holds an Executive MBA from Ivey School of Business at Western University. She is passionate about business results and committed to making a positive difference. 

Diana is a long-time cottager and passionate about our lake issues. She is currently Chair of Safe Quiet Lakes and a member of Transport Canada’s Recreational Boating Advisory Board. She previously served as a director on the Lake Joseph North Association where she led the project and fundraising efforts to acquire a Fireboat. She is also a business coach for the University of Western’s Ivey International Leader Project and teaches business workshops to entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Diana loves nature and her favourite outdoor activities are hiking, skiing, and kayaking. 

 

Lake Wahnapitae Home and Campers Association. Joined the FOCA Board in 2021.

COMMITTEES: Roads Working Group

Eric Stuart has been a thoughtful and involved volunteer in his association, Lake Wahnapitae Home and Campers Association (LWH&CA) in the Sudbury area, for 30 years – the last nine as President.  The Sudbury area in which he lives boasts over 320 lakes.

He’s been an established resident of Lake Wahnapitae for 50 years. He has much knowledge of the lake and its great contribution to the Sudbury area. Eric was and still is much involved in the LWH&CA invasive species projects, in shoal marking, Ontario Power Generation monitoring lake levels & flows, Canada Day Celebrations on Lake Wahnapitae, and road development. Eric is a retired electrician from Inco, with a keen interest for connecting lake associations to FOCA and to sharing his ideas about local engagement with others through FOCA.

For more about FOCA’s organizational structure, by-laws & strategic priorities, see:

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