Water connects us. Our nation was built, like so many, on an idea. Canada would extend ‘from sea to sea’. Though no easy task, in time, ambitious men from east and west stood over ceremonial railway spikes on the Pacific coast. Today, I can travel from Vancouver Island to Bonavista without having to once show my passport. During that trip, there is a special place in rural Manitoba where small roadside markers announce that I have passed from the Pacific Watershed to the Atlantic. The Canadian Dream has been realized, and for a Maritimer like me, I know I’m headed home.
Admittedly, once I arrive in the Atlantic Watershed, there are about 3,500 km left to travel, with plenty to see, before arriving on the coast. Wrapping around the Great Lakes, the age and beauty of the Canadian Shield becomes apparent. The northern shore of mighty Superior becomes the east side of brave Huron and the southernmost region of the Great White North. I wonder how we managed to maintain access to these incredible resources, but then Lake Ontario empties into the St. Lawrence River and the answer is clear. Here is where the line was drawn, amongst the Thousand Islands, ensuring that both nations, to the north and south, had access to this channel. Water shapes us.
My home is on Prince Edward Island, but today I live south of the St. Lawrence, at the mouth of New Brunswick’s Magaguadavic River, on the famous Bay of Fundy. Around the same time those nation builders were swinging their ceremonial mallets in British Columbia other ambitious men were damming the Magaguadavic for the first time. Since then the technology has improved, but the idea has remained, “We can control nature for our benefit.” Homes have been built, industry established, and carbon produced. Now, the climate has changed. Every year we are subject to a rainfall that only recently was considered a hundred year event. Tension overcomes our community as weather forecasts develop. We live and die with anticipated precipitation. While not as impressive as the St. Lawrence, our river seems plenty mighty when swollen with 100mm of rain, and those dams that helped build our town now have the potential to destroy it.
Water threatens us. We cannot afford the price of climate change adaptation. Fish stocks have plummeted, the timber has been felled, and ships are built elsewhere. Our economy sputters and we are told that only the oil and gas industry can help us. Our pristine St. Lawrence Gulf and our precious groundwater stocks have been placed in the crosshairs of off-shore exploration and hydraulic fracturing. We hold our breath, as the storm approaches, hoping that the forecast will change. Today it is the responsibility of ambitious Canadians not to swing mallets or dam rivers, but to shift resource paradigms and create adaptation solutions. We must have multi-disciplinary action that properly values natural resources, and if we do so before it is too late, water will save us.
Author: Donald Killorn is the executive director of Eastern Charlotte Waterways, an eNGO working to promote environment health in southwestern New Brunswick. Follow the organization on twitter @ecwinc or visit their website at www.ecwinc.org.