By Judith van Berkom & Marilyn Letts –
This year’s Earth Day clean up, initiated by the Ottawa Riverkeeper and the Westboro Beach Neighbourhood Association, saw volunteers of all ages come out to clean Westboro Beach. The cold, damp morning of Saturday, April 22 – and recent flooding – did not deter children, seniors and families from showing up.
Ottawa Riverkeeper – a licensed member of Waterkeeper Alliance, an international grassroots advocacy organization – is an independent voice for the Ottawa River. Its mandate is to protect, promote and improve the health of the Ottawa River and its tributaries.
Meredith Brown is the current Riverkeeper and Executive Director since 2004. The organization has grown to include hundreds of volunteers who guard the Ottawa River from Temiskaming all the way to Montreal.
The Waterkeeper’s job is to advocate compliance with environmental laws, to respond to citizen complaints, identify problems with the body of water and recommend solutions. Waterkeepers ensure that communities maintain control over their local waterways when threatened by development, industrialization or toxic pollution. Part of this monitoring is a pollution hotline at 1-888-9KEEPER where the public can report any problems observed.
The cleanup was part of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, an event led jointly by the Vancouver Aquarium and the World Wildlife Fund Canada.
Meredith Brown, Ottawa Riverkeeper: “I am the Riverkeeper. It’s my full-time job. It’s a good fit for me. I have a background in Biology, Resource Engineering and did a Masters focused more on policy. I love this – the combination of science and grass roots and finding solutions. I was the only employee when I started 13 years ago. Now we employ 10 people full time and have hundreds of volunteers who help us out.… It’s fantastic.”
Dustin Patterson and Lorne Skelly with their son, Jack: “We’re early risers. We enjoy it. It’s good for [Jack], good for us. We spend a lot of time here in the summer. Every Friday evening we come down and listen to the band. We’re big supporters of the Riverkeeper. What they do is important. It’s part of our community.”
(L-R) Jay Foursier, Maddock Curry, Ruben Demelindberg, Dennis Foursier, and Mia Foursier. Ruben says his mom invited his entire school. “She runs the Eco Club at Broadview, so we come.”
Members of the Westboro Beach Community Association working together with the Ottawa Riverkeeper (L-R): Julia Levin, Bob Huson, Mari Wellman, Mark Brooks.
“I help out whenever I can. I’ve helped out in the past with the annual River Crossing. You sign up and think it’s going to be a beautiful day and it’s not. But you have to show up anyway. We have to keep the river clean,” says Marie-Jo Proulx, volunteer with Ottawa Riverkeeper.
Emma Konrad, Communication’s Coordinator with Ottawa Riverkeeper: “I put info out on the web, write a blog post and newsletter. I try to get the message out to everyone. What motivates me is the idea that I can tell a message that will actually have an impact on our community and on the years to come and that we are building a better future and keeping our river clean. Every person who comes out makes a difference. Every little bit helps.”
Jennifer Haughton: “I grew up on Woodroffe North and used to come here as a kid. I’m a River Watcher and have been involved with the organization for a long time as a volunteer. I took Environmental Science in university.”
“I’m here to clean up and of course to get outside and enjoy the environment,” says Rob, who declined to share his last name. “I do ad hoc volunteering here there and everywhere. Two years ago I was looking around for other things to do – for nature-oriented volunteer groups. I walked into their office and made some connections.”