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Posts Tagged ‘water; Canada; identity; folklore; lpoor data

Water and the Canadian identity

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From Renzetti`s Globe and mail article

Last Canada Day, Elizabeth Renzetti, the Globe & Mail columnist, chose to highlight water: the attachment that we, Canadians, have for it.  Water is everywhere in Canadians’ lives, from canoeing to showering; we take water for granted (and waste a lot of it); and, more than others, we are blind to our water issues.  A piece well worth reading (link here).

From the paintings of the Group of Seven to our tourist brochures, water is everywhere in our collective imagination and it binds us.  Renzetti describes

the mundane magic of a Canadian landscape: a gorgeous, fast-flowing body of water, surrounded by trees and flowers and birds. A group of men sat on rocks in the middle, speaking a language I didn’t recognize. A young couple had hauled their infant in its stroller down the trail and dipped the smiling baby into the water, a Canadian baptism. My children stopped complaining. We all sat with our feet in the creek, strangers united by this water.

This is one way to think of Canada: We are strangers united by water. Oceans surround us on three sides, at least a quarter of a million rivers flow in all directions.

Renzetti has an insight on water that few of us have: a brother, Steven, who was an expert on water.  He unfortunately died this February, a big loss for his family, of course, but also for the university where he worked (Brock) and for the community of water thinkers across the country.  A sample of his thinking can be found in this 2010 Tyee article here.

And it is true that we have plenty of issues: while we use and waste more water than pretty much any other nation, we also pay too little attention to its safety (witness the Walkerton tragedy) and its quality.  Our waters are polluted.  This is especially true away from the big cities, especially in the North.  Though the North occupies a special place in our identity, Canadians are mostly ignorant of its everyday realities.  Quoting Renzetti  again:

We love water, we are drawn to it, but for years we have taken it for granted. Perhaps we’re not quite the guardians we hoped we’d be. We may be on the verge of paying the price.

A recent report from the World Wildlife Fund found that a number of the country’s watersheds were threatened by pollution and habitat loss – and the problem could be worse than we know, since data-gathering is so poor. Across the country, Indigenous communities endure water that is not safe to drink, with some water advisories lasting for years.

We don’t know enough about water in this country. We consume too much. We’re the second-highest per-capita consumers of water in the world! We don’t charge enough for it. We don’t think enough about it, because it’s everywhere. One day the well might run dry, when we are looking the other way.

“Looking the other way”, “data gathering is so poor”.  Indeed.  What was already a poor situation in the 90s was made worse under the government of Stephen Harper, with cutbacks affecting data gathering on water quality, a situation that has not been rectified yet by the current government.  Regulation is no better; just the week, the government announced it was giving the okay to gold miner Seabridge to dump tailings in fish bearings streams of the Nass River watershed.

First Nations, of course, also have a special relationship with water (see Honoring Water here, or Indigenous Perspectives here).  But a special relationship to water is true of all Canadians, and that expresses itself in our fine art production, which abundantly features water, but also in our folklore.

Think, for instance, of two of the best known (and best loved) folk songs of this land, the Log Driver’s Waltz and the Blackfly Song, both by Wade Hemsworth.  Blackflies lay their eggs on running waters, so it makes sense that they would torment a surveyor working on a project to dam a river, the Little Abitibi.  As for the log driver, if you don’t get the importance of water, you weren’t paying attention.  Enjoy!




Written by enviropaul

July 21, 2017 at 5:34 pm