I spent my summer in Kingston and on Wolfe Island for Waterkeeper’s Kingston and Wolfe Island Culture Festival - a seven week celebration of Great Lakes voices told through story and song.
The stories I knew I would hear were those of musicians from around Canada performing throughout the festival weeks, Canadian authors travelling in to read at the annual literary festival, and the city politicians who’ve turned their attention to the waterfront to better connect their public with their local waters.
I didn’t anticipate where the most moving stories would come from. The stories of the Kingston and Wolfe Island community members - the ‘every day’ but by no means ordinary people living and loving their water on a daily basis. Needless to say they were nothing less than inspiring.
When Lake Ontario Waterkeeper first launched from the shores of Kingston and Wolfe Island over 15 years ago the seeds of these community connections were planted. Now, our roots run deep. But, myself having been with waterkeeper for just a handful of years - I’m only now discovering these roots and diving in.
As the culture festival weeks passed on, and the more people I met, a larger story started to form before me. One of action and engagement. I met hundreds of people each connected through their understanding of the importance of their ability to access, play, and enjoy their local waters. It was a lesson taught through example. So, to everyone I met in Kingston and Wolfe Island this summer, this is what you have taught me about loving my Lake:
Home is where the heart (and the water) is:
Our deepest memories are often made when we’re young - usually shared alongside our family. When I asked Wolfe Islander’s about their most powerful memories of water I was privy to long held family traditions and generation-spanning family-favourite waterways.
Take the Mosier’s - long time Waterkeeper supporters and dedicated volunteers (and an even longer spanning Wolfe Island family). Danny cherishes his memories fishing on the St. Lawrence. His son Collin remembers travelling by boat through Lake Ontario to Main Duck Island with his friends and family. These are the two water bodies which encompass Wolfe Island - and the same two water bodies which populate their shared family history.
Over in Kingston, our summer Water Literacy Assistant Hannah McDonald - and her father Dave McDonald - of the Water Access Group Kingston - each have their own favourite memories of Lake Ontario. The memories themselves differ - but like father like daughter, the root of their connection and the affinity they each feel for their Lake are the same.
It seems obvious - but it’s worth repeating: Our memories craft the very root of who and how we are. The places they happen and the people who share them with us always hold a special place in our hearts.
It’s about exploration - and then connection:
Our waterways are all connected - and naturally provide a way to travel, and of course explore!
To discover new and hidden places in and around Kingston’s Waterfront - James Malcolm of Trailhead Kingston explores the water by paddle. His watermark story remembers his time on Lake Mazinaw - but he also loves sharing his knowledge of Lake Ontario’s hidden gems which led to the development of Waterkeeper’s Lake Ontario Explore (#LOExplore) challenge sites.
Waterkeeper Volunteer Adam De Rocco who was by our side all summer long uses his camera to capture candid shots of spur-of-the-moment adventures in and alongside the Lake.
Terri-Lynn Brennan local Wolfe Islander - but worldwide traveller knows the importance of clean water in her own backyard after living in Katmandu by the Bagmati River.
When we set out to explore the landscape around us - inevitably we’ll discover something new about ourselves. What’s that they say - it’s not about the destination. Instead, it’s the journey that sticks with you.
Water is your right - It’s also your responsibility:
Working for Lake Ontario Waterkeeper I know that clean and safe access to water is our right. Regrettably, I catch myself needing to explain this to people more than I would like. But in Kingston and Wolfe Island this is common knowledge - expected and demanded. When those rights are challenged - people stand up!
Take the Kingston Water Access Group - our first Great Lakes Guardians. Led by David McDonald alongside members Su Sheedy and Mary Farrar their team organized the Kingston Shoreline Shuffle. Part public protest and part public art installation - this event saw hundreds of people walk, paddle, and cycle the 7.7km of Kingston’s downtown shoreline to raise awareness about the need for better public access and waterfront planning in Kingston.
Four years later the City of Kingston has released a comprehensive Waterfront Master Plan doing just that. Artist Su Sheedy joined with waterkeeper to curate the Shoreline Shuffle Salute as part of the Kingston and Wolfe Island Culture Festival, celebrating the success of the original shuffle and its impressive impact on the City.
I’m excited to announce that Bowie was the first (and only) robot (yes - robot!) I met on my summer travels equally dedicated to protecting our waterways as his inventor Erin Kennedy. Erin’s watermark is Lake Ontario where she was first inspired to start Robot Missions - an organization seeking to help the planet with Robots - after she found large collections of tiny plastic debris while walking the beach.
To all of these individuals - thank you for your sharing your passion and for being an important part of our swim drink fish community.
Kingston and Wolfe Islanders know that the water that surrounds us is ours to enjoy - but also ours to protect - the first step is understanding why it’s worth protecting. Your Watermark is your reason. Thanks to the support of the Kingston and Wolfe Island community we have 230 more reasons to continue our work together.
On behalf of the entire Waterkeeper team, Thank You Kingston and Wolfe Island for an amazing summer. We couldn’t have done any of it without you (and wouldn’t have wanted to!)