Celebrate the Ottawa River in music and song

Submitted by Eva Schacherl –

The idea for a concert at Westboro Beach was hatched at the community’s opening barbecue in June. Several  Kitchissippi-area volunteers were there, collecting signatures on a petition to protect the Ottawa River from nuclear waste contamination.

Barbershop Therapy is a new vocal quartet of Bachelor of Music students from the University of Ottawa.

This ‘sleeper’ issue has been well below the radar for local residents, it’s fair to say. That’s in spite of the fact that the proposal for a nuclear waste mega-dump at Chalk River (a federal government nuclear research facility) surfaced in 2016, and that Ottawa residents could not depend more on the Ottawa River – for drinking water, recreation and quality of life.

So the volunteers got talking with the Westboro Beach Community Association, Councillor Jeff Leiper, and other interested residents. The result was Riversong, a concert that will take place at Westboro Beach on Tuesday, August 14 at 7 p.m., weather gods permitting. (Rain date is Thursday, August 16 at 5:30 p.m.)

Riversong will showcase established and young singers and musicians. The idea is to celebrate the river that is the lifeblood of our community, dance on the sand to Celtic reels, sing, and watch the sun set.

Performers include Pat Mayberry, an Ottawa singer-songwriter whose songs evoke hope, healing, connection with nature and spirituality. Barbershop Therapy is a fresh new vocal quartet of Bachelor of Music students from the University of Ottawa. Also featured will be Just Voices – An Activist Choir. The choir performs at events that support environmental, social justice and human rights issues. The program will be rounded out by youth performers, Flying Rowan, a Celtic instrumental group, and Radio Active, a mother-son folk duo.

Flying Rowan will be performing at Riversong on August 14.

Organizers also hope this family-friendly event will continue to build awareness that we can’t take the Ottawa River for granted. There will be information tables, including one hosted by the Ottawa Riverkeeper, a charity that champions a “swimmable, drinkable, fishable Ottawa River Watershed for everyone.”

The Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area and other Outaouais and Ottawa Valley citizen groups have been spearheading the opposition to the nuclear waste dump at Chalk River. Now they are building bridges with Ottawa neighbourhoods that will be directly impacted by the presence of one million cubic metres of nuclear waste upstream.

A report by an expert hydrogeologist, working for the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council, raised troubling questions about radioactive contamination – even before a dump is built. The report revealed that from 1997 to 2015, an annual average of 26,000 litres of contaminated water was discharged into the Ottawa River from a defunct nuclear reactor near Chalk River (also owned by the federal government).

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories manages both sites on contract to the federal government. They are also proposing to bury – “entomb” – the defunct reactor where it sits, about 100 metres from the Ottawa River.

These are weighty issues – but you can still have fun with them. Just Voices Choir recorded a nuclear-waste version of Row Row Row Your Boat, and the Raging Grannies recently held a lively Atomic Tea Party at Winston Square in the heart of Westboro.

Riversong will be a celebration – a positive and fun event to honour our river. Residents will be encouraged to take selfies and build momentum on social media with posts and tweets that call for “No nuclear dump on the Ottawa River.”

A very simple message. But one that is hard to ignore.

For more information about nuclear waste proposals on the Ottawa River, visit concernedcitizens.net.

Eva Schacherl is a volunteer with the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area and a resident of Westboro.

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