On Thursday, July 26, Waterkeepers across the globe will plunge into the waters of their lakes, rivers, and ocean coasts to celebrate the act of swimming. This act will be unremarkable for some, the repetition of a habit as old as their communities. For others, taking the plunge will be quite out of the normal, an act of adventure or even profound "civil obedience".
Here in Toronto, there are a thousand reasons not to swim in Lake Ontario. The shoreline is rocky. The water can be cold. The current can be strong and the waves even stronger.
There are access issues, because we have handed over prime waterfront land to private owners. There are pollution concerns, because we have used our waterways as receptacles for storm water, sewage and waste. In both cases, the benefits of Lake Ontario are reserved for the few, at the expense of the many.
Despite the challenges, we still swim in Lake Ontario. In 1954, Marilyn Bell became the first to swim across the lake. Today, swimmers like Vicki Keith have made multiple crossings, while new swimmers like Melanie Price attempt it every year.
We are not all marathon swimmers, but hundreds of thousands of Ontarians splash around in Lake Ontario each summer. When you live beside one of the greatest fresh water basins in the world, you swim. You can't help it.
I have been swimming in Lake Ontario my whole life. I'm not alone, either. More than 22-million Canadians swim in our freshwater lakes and rivers every year. Some of the greatest swimmers in world come from right here in the "frozen north", including Alex Baumann, Victor Davis, Mark Tewksbury. Canada also produced pioneering divers Dr. Joe MacInnis, Phil Nuytten, filmmaker and underwater explorer James Cameron. Add to that world class paddlers, rowers and sailers, and Canada stands out as a swimming nation.
I am swimming on July 26 because I live on Lake Ontario, because I am a Canadian, and because it is summer. Also, I am swimming because I love it and I am good at it. After learning to swim in the St Lawrence River, I became a competitive swimmer, spending more than 20 hours a week in the pool for many years. All that practice helped prepare me for other challenges, including becoming the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper.
When 400 people jumped into Lake Ontario in Kingston last week, we demonstrated our love for our water bodies, even in their fragile states. Because of my experience as a Waterkeeper and environmental lawyer, I know that we will lose our public spaces, our clean water, if we stop swimming. Beaches closed due to pollution will never re-open. Public waterfront spaces will be increasingly reserved for privileged groups.
I swim in Lake Ontario because it is right there. And because I want it to be right there for many, many years to come. I'll be swimming in Lake Ontario on July 26, and I encourage you to join me.
Step Two: Snap a photo of you at a beach. (If you can't make it to the beach, send over one of your favourite beach snap shots and participate virtually.)
On July 26, be part of Waterkeeper Alliance's global Swimmable Action Day. I'll be at Bluffer's Beach in the morning, doing my part to celebrate Lake Ontario.