Every Canadian has a relationship with water, but each connection to water is unique.
A Watermark is a true story about you and a body of water. We all have at least one watermark we can share. We are surrounded by water, after all. We can’t live without it. Water is our heritage, our culture and our precious life-resource. Water is also our responsibility. Sharing our watermarks with others is a powerful way we can protect Canada’s water.
The Watermark Project is a community effort launched by Lake Ontario Waterkeepers to collect and archive true stories about the ways Canadians interact with water. Claire Lawson, Waterkeeper’s Water Literacy Coordinator, presenting at the launch of my book “Water Is…” this past summer, suggested that many Canadians are water illiterate: “56 percent of Canadians aged 18-34 do not know where their drinking water comes from.” Many Canadians can’t point to the source of their own drinking water.
The idea behind the Watermark Project is that through our personal stories, we are connecting ourselves and others to water all over Canada and the world.
Our stories matter. Through them we share the significance of waterbodies everywhere.
In this growing commodification of our natural world—in which something’s value is measured ultimately through its “economic value”—it becomes increasingly important to share how a place and a waterbody is valued for its intrinsic qualities—for the stories it provides. These memories and continuing stories are our Canadian heritage. By putting your Watermark on the map, you are effectively saying: “this waterbody is important to me (and others); don’t mess with it!” Mark Mattson, environmental lawyer and President of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, says that, ““because environmental laws have been weakened so much in the last 10 years, you have to show beneficial use. You have to show that people are benefitting. If you don’t show beneficial use, it’s like a victimless crime.” Watermarks are therefore a basis for water protection.
Here are a few memorable watermarks that I collected during my travels this summer and fall in Canada:
Waterbody: Pacific Ocean
Location: Point No Point, Vancouver Island, BC
When: August 1992
Diane and I were soaking in the Jacuzzi tub under a mountain of bubbles on the deck of Cabin #5 at the resort. We were watching the waves crashing onto the shore while discussing our curling team. At what I thought was an appropriate moment in our conversation, I told her that it was at a curling game that I knew she was the woman I wanted to marry. I asked her to become my wife.
Her response was, “Oh, oh my!”
I had to prompt her to actually say “yes”, which apparently “oh my” meant.
The waves continued to crash on shore to celebrate our connection and they continue to splash the shore to this day.—Glen Brown
Waterbody: Lake Ontario
Location: The Beach, Toronto, ON
When: the year of Katrina’s storm
You can walk east along Queen Street and all of a sudden a gust of wind will bring the smell of water.—Connie Donoghue
Waterbody: Bow River
Location: Banff, AB
When: July 30, 1985
On Mount Rundle, at the highest level of the Hoodoos, overlooking the Bow, at three o’clock in the afternoon, Bill and I got married. Mountains for strength; water for life.—Rona Altrows
Waterbody: Manitouwabing River
When: October, 1968
On a cold October morning, I puffed out my seven year old chest and grabbed hold of the swing rope on the old oak tree. My older sister and brother teased that I couldn’t, shouldn’t—I’d get in trouble. But, I felt brave that morning.
Out I swung…over the tea water of the Manitouwabing…and the thrill of the air beneath my feet and the bravado rushing through me almost drowned out the crack of the branch. Down I went at the farthest extension of the rope—down into the cold rushing river. I still remember the sweater I wore, the corduroys. The squish of my socks in my sneakers as my sister and brother traipse me like a criminal back up the hill to my horrified mother.—Jo-Anne McLean
Waterbody: Red River
Location: Southern Manitoba
When: May 1997
In 1997, in Southern Manitoba, and as a teenager, my world underwent a shift when the Rid River, located 5 miles from my home in Niverville, overflowed its banks catastrophically and displaced hundreds/thousands of people, including the complete inundation of a nearby town. Though normally a placid, smallish river, this flood showed me the power of water to alter entire landscapes and the lives of the people, who live alongside it. It is the periodic inundation of the valley, in fact, that makes the region so agriculturally productive, yet the disruption causes us as a human society to go to extraordinary efforts to contain and control water, to the ultimate detriment of the entire ecosystem. Since 1997, I certainly think about water—and the Red River specifically—differently.—Evan Braun
Location: between Crowsnest River and CPR track, near Crowsnest Pass, AB
When: Spring 2015
Between the former towns of Blairmore and Coleman in what is now the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass in southwest Alberta is a wetland between the Crowsnest River and the tracks of the CPR, bounded on the north by Highway 3. Despite the transport pollution and past industries that for decades allowed waste to seep into it, the wetland is rich in bird life. Last spring, we walked the community trail that cuts into their area and we saw soras, an elusive shorebird often heard but seldom seen. But it was mating season and the soras were more interested in being visible to potential mates than in hiding from a group of aging birders. Among the 12 soras we spotted were 2 Virginia rails—a new species for CNP. Among the usual mallards, teals, shovelers and geese, we also spotted black-necked stilts and American avocets.—Merilyn Liddell
Waterbody: Athabasca River
Location: Jasper, Fort McMurray, Alberta
When: September 2001, October 2005
I first saw the Athabasca River in September 2001. My husband and I were acutely tuned to the rhythms of nature after a 4-month field stint of living in a tent on an archeology dig in Manitoba. We went on a road trip holiday and found ourselves standing on the banks of the Athabasca in Jasper, AB for the first time. Its flow was fast and dynamic, maybe even cocky. The surrounding mountain peaks witness our awe.
Four years later, working as a consulting archaeologist, our helicopter dropped us off on the bank of the Athabasca, the only place to land, in the remote boreal landscape north of Fort McMurray on our survey. Its flow was much calmer and with forest instead of mountains. Its energy was quite different, muted, perhaps tired. But no less valuable; no less loved.—Sarah Kades
Waterbody: Sheep River
Location: Blue Rock Campground
When: Summer 2000
The Sheep River carved out the rock, forming deep pools of crystal clear, icy mountain water near where I camped. Plunging down into the pool, the river’s sound resonated in my heart, calling me on. As I slowly eased into the frigid water, my body fought the aching cold. I pushed myself to take a few strokes before pulling myself out to melt in the sun on the warm west facing rocks.—Leslie Sawchenko
Waterbody: Carlyle Lake (White Bear Lake)
When: Summer, 1964
My brother Coburn and I were swimming off the shore of this lake we visited throughout our childhood. Uncle Parker and Aunty Thelma owned a cabin there and we shared days in the sun and memories of playing in the water. This particular day we had been jumping off an old wooden raft; a slimy, slippery surface that allowed us to dive and explore the depths of the water more than the beach did. We hadn’t really noticed how the raft had slightly drifted out from the shore until I had jumped from it, into the cool darkness of the water; only to discover I could no longer touch bottom. My upper body strength was weaker than Coburn’s and with the slippery surface of the raft combined with my fatigue from playing, I could not climb aboard. I began to get nervous then anxious then outright afraid at which point my big brother noticed I was taking in water as I began to panic. He climbed aboard the raft, ran across the rough and slimy surface, falling and tearing his foot open as he reached for my flailing arms and pulled me to safety. This is a scary memory, yet a very fond one, as 35 years later my brother died to suicide. I couldn’t rescue him, but he had clearly rescued me.—Aleitha Ward
Waterbody: Current River
Location: Thunder Bay, ON
When: Summer, 1985
The Current River bubbled and gurgled around rocks, breaking the surface from Centennial Park to Boulevard Lake in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Back in 1985, the Current River was my first exposure to while water tubing, throwing my friends and me into each other while we laughed and squeaked out in excitement. About halfway down the rapids, I slammed my knee into the sharpened edge of a rock. I shared a part of myself with the water that day, as blood from my knee rushed down the river, through Boulevard Lake, finally finding its way into Lake Superior. Perhaps one of the reasons Thunder Bay will always be home; because a part of me was left behind that summer and I carry the thin white reminder on my knee to this day.—Debbie Miller
You can check out my Watermark here: Nina’s Watermark
“Save the water and you save the world”–Nina Munteanu
“Water Is…” combines personal journey with scientific discovery that explores water’s many identities and ultimately our own.
“An absolutely fascinating read. With “Water Is…” Nina Munteanu digs deeply into our world to show us the depths of our greatest treasure. Her book gleams with chapter gems…The world needs more books like this.”–Craig Bowlsby, author of “Empire of Ice”
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.