When it comes to weather, Glendale resident Steve Hardaker has seen it all.
It was all part of his 35-year career, first with Environment Canada, then with the Department of National Defence. Hardaker retired to Niagara-on-the-Lake in 2010, having fallen in love with the area while his son was attending Brock University.
In less than 10 years, he has become a fixture in the local community, volunteering on the Glendale Community Task Force as vice-chair, and at St. David’s-Queenston United Church, as board and congregational chair. He also volunteers with the Niagara Falls Community Outreach Soup Kitchen. And he is known for his comments and sometimes warnings about weather activity on social media.
In his past life, though, his expertise has been instrumental in assisting pilots, setting up remote weather stations in places like Labrador, and offering advice to NATO allies operating in Afghanistan.
Born in Eastern Ontario, Hardaker says he was eager to get out into the workforce when he graduated from Coburg District Collegiate Institute East in 1975. His guidance counsellor there informed him of a three-month program to train as a meteorological technician through the federal government. He chose to give it a try, and upon finishing, he was shipped off to Sault Ste. Marie to work as a weather observer for Environment Canada.
His next stop was in Toronto, where he was a weather observer for both the Toronto Island and Pearson International airports. In 1981, he was promoted to Environment Canada’s Ontario regional headquarters, where he was responsible for managing climate stations across the province. His final stint with Environment Canada took him to Downsview, where he was the assistant project manager for the first generation of automated aviation weather observing systems.
In 1990, Hardaker made the jump to National Defence in Ottawa. He was brought in to the Directorate of Meteorology and Oceanography, where he became involved in project management. Hardaker helped install automatic weather stations at all the tactical helicopter bases run by National Defence.
He speaks fondly of his time in Goose Bay, Labrador. There, he took the lead on a project to install the first operational Doppler Radar weather system in Canada. This was long before every television station in the world was using Doppler for their weather images.
If all of that doesn’t sound interesting enough, it gets better!
Next up for Hardaker, in the 1990s, was a shift from observation to the data side of things. He was invited to sit on two NATO committees, which took him overseas twice a year to work closely with Canada’s allies, especially those in the U.S. and Europe. It was a collaboration based on data. The goal was to make the shared data available to air bases back home in Canada. But, according to Hardaker, more importantly, satellite links were used to send the data from Trenton to forces operating in Afghanistan.
“Meteorological data, like weather observations and what the wind is doing, is generally deemed to be unclassified data,” he explains. “When it becomes classified is when you use that data to reveal a limitation on an asset, like a weapon system, or a navigation system, or some sort of sensor system on a fighter jet. As soon as you reveal a limitation, it becomes classified.
“We had weather observation sites in Afghanistan,” Hardaker continues, “and the data was available. But the latitude and longitude of where the stations were was classified. That was never revealed.”
One of his final projects with National Defence was to transfer the entire database on an ongoing 24/7 dynamic basis from the unclassified domain to the classified domain. Hardaker says this allowed people who were supporting operations to work with that data solely on the classified side.
“It really changed the way things were done. When I joined National Defence, meteorology was very much an Air Force trade. By the time I left National Defence, it was part of the Intelligence community.”
His role involved attending meteorological meetings on both the technical and support and operations side at NATO. In 1994, the Partnership for Peace was established, broadening NATO’s area of responsibility, as well as Hardaker’s connections.
All those years observing and working with weather data make Hardaker a good person to have on your side when facing climate change deniers. “Climate is a collection of data over long periods of time, usually 40-year increments,” he explains. “The trend is those figures are going up. It’s getting warmer, and we’re seeing an increase in severity of storms. It all points to something going on in the extreme, and we as humans have to do something to mitigate it.”
Since his retirement, Hardaker has avoided being drawn back in to consult on weather-related projects. “I know if I stayed in the Ottawa area,” he posits, “that I would have probably been doing that. But to me, that isn’t really retirement, it’s just continuing to work, with the money coming from a different pot.”
He says he had two goals when he retired: to work at a golf course, and to work at a soup kitchen. He accomplished both within his first three months. He volunteers at the Royal Niagara Golf Course five hours a week, which allows him to play a free round at the course once a week. And he’s been involved at the Niagara Falls Community Outreach Soup Kitchen since 2011.
Hardaker loves to talk about his work at the soup kitchen. For a few years he was the property manager there, and he helps out at the kitchen on Tuesdays. But he is especially proud of the work they have done preparing income tax returns for low income individuals.
“For the 2018 tax year,” he explains, “we accounted for $1.1 million dollars in benefits for our clients. That’s GST credits, Ontario Trillium Benefits, the Climate Incentive Benefit and the Canada Child Benefit. By having volunteers doing their taxes, it ensures they get their benefits and social assistance. And that money is spent back in the community, too.”
Hardaker’s name has been in the news most recently, though, through his involvement in the Glendale Community Task Force. As vice-chair of the task force, he would like to see signs welcoming visitors to the Glendale section of Niagara-
He’s excited about some of the vision for the area, including a potential “main street” development extending from the Niagara-on-the-Green subdivision entrance up to the outlet mall. Hardaker sees that as a walkable commercial area, with both sides lined with stores, and perhaps statues on the roundabout honouring Laura Secord and other notable women from the region’s history, as well as Niagara’s Indigenous history.
When asked about the recent developments within the Glendale area (the outlet mall, hotels, the ETFO office and new Central Community Church under construction), he says they are perfect anchors for future development.
“The area where the hotels are is known as the hospitality area,” he says. “Restaurants will be built there. Townline Road is the employment area. And the Outlet Collection is a good anchor for commercial amenities. All of these bring jobs and a sense of community.”
He doesn’t think the pandemic has pushed the planning behind too much, but with more than 400 hectares of developable land in Glendale, he’s pretty sure shovels won’t hit the ground for five years anyway.
It’s clear his voice on the task force is a vital one, continuing the work done by earlier members such as Linda Morgan, Karen Glauser and Matt Rocca, for all of whom he expresses the utmost respect.
The work started by this group may not be fully completed until past 2040, and Hardaker says he’s not sure he’ll still be around to see it all come together.
In the meantime, though, he’ll continue to be one of the biggest boosters of the Glendale community.