Reinsborough takes on Riverkeeper role

Laura Reinsborough is the new Riverkeeper and CEO of local organization Ottawa Riverkeeper. Photo by Ted Simpson.

By Ted Simpson

There’s a new Riverkeeper in town. 

Laura Reinsborough has taken over as the voice of the Ottawa River watershed as the new Riverkeeper and CEO of grassroots organization Ottawa Riverkeeper, a role that connects her to past, present and future through the flow of water.

Reinsborough has moved to Ottawa from her home province of New Brunswick to take on the position as Riverkeeper. She was born and raised in the small town of Sackville, New Brunswick, eventually travelling to Toronto to earn her master’s degree in environmental studies from York University.

Now in Ottawa, Reinsborough has spent the past two months getting to know the watershed that will define her new job.  

“To me, a water keeper certainly does come with a lot of responsibilities. In some ways, it is to be a voice for the river, to be watching for and listening for what the river needs, what it is telling us about our broader health, about the river’s health, about the health of the biodiversity within it,” says Reinsborough.

As an organization, Ottawa Riverkeeper is a grassroots charity that is supported by a network of volunteers, communities, businesses and governments. The organization oversees not just the river as we know it, but the entirety of the Ottawa Valley watershed, a landmass that drains into the whole of the Ottawa River—all 1,200 kilometres. The watershed accounts for twice the area of Reinsborough’s home province, and the water itself reaches just as far. 

“That flow of water connects to New Brunswick and flows past the beaches that I was swimming in when I was living there,” Reinsborough said. “It just goes to show how connected we are by water.”

Her passion for connecting people through the environment stretches back to Reinsborough’s days at York University. There, she founded a project called the Black Creek Storytelling Parade. The Black Creek watershed connects one of the largest universities in Canada to one of the most economically depressed neighbourhoods in Toronto, Jane and Finch. Through their storytelling project, Reinsborough and her colleagues brought together people from both sides of the creek to learn about the natural ecosystem that connects them.

In many ways, her work with the Ottawa River is a scaled-up take on the same mission. The river acts as a junction point for three distinct cultures — not only does the flow of water connect the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, but the watershed itself accounts for the majority of the unceded and unsurrendered territory of the Algonquin people. 

“It’s a lot of complexity, but what does bring us all together is the river,” says Reinsborough.

Moving forward, Reinsborough will be focusing on the Riverkeeper mission of maintaining a river that is drinkable, swimmable, and fishable. Those who frequent Westboro Beach know that achieving all three at once can be a challenge. The Riverkeeper team will be pushing forward with initiatives that range from promoting the safe and responsible use of road salt, to building a network of ladders that help the migrating American Eel to navigate hydroelectric dams.

“Right now, there is so much for me to soak up. I’m really thrilled to be in the role but also honoured and humbled—it’s a big task to give voice to the river,” Reinsborough said. 

“There are so many people connected to this organization. The scale of this river needs so many people helping to take care of it—it’s not something I can do on my own.”

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