By John de Boer
My passion for rivers began in my childhood days when my family lived on a farm in Embro. A creek flowed through the property where I spent many carefree days exploring and observing wildlife. It was there that I discovered a huge, grey bird, with long legs, struggling to fly away with his foot stuck in a muskrat trap. It was a Great Blue Heron. After freeing the bird, I got a stick and snapped all the remaining traps on that farm.
Over the past 35 years I have lived in the Waterloo Region, close to the largest river in south western Ontario, the Grand River. I have come to love exploring this beautiful waterway and taking pictures of flora and fauna that surrounds it.
The Grand River and its major tributaries – the Conestogo, Eramosa, Nith, and Speed rivers – were designated Canadian Heritage Rivers in 1994. The designation recognizes human heritage values as it has been home to Indigenous peoples for more than 10,000 years. There are over 2,500 archeological sites and 687 bridges in the Grand River Watershed, covering a vast area the size of Prince Edward Island. This area is the source of potable water for over one million Canadians.
Originating in the Dundalk area, the Grand River flows south for 300 kilometers, through the industrial and farming heart land of Ontario to Port Maitland, where the water dumps into Lake Erie. So whatever we dump into the Grand will affect the water quality of the Grand River, Lake Erie but also the North Atlantic.
My vision for cleaning up the Grand River Watershed began many years ago when I started noticing more and more abandoned shopping carts in the Region of Waterloo. A lot of these carts end up in our ponds, creeks, drainage ditches and rivers.
Because I live and walk in the south end of Kitchener, I decided to observe the stores that allow customers to walk off with their shopping carts. I found many carts, from many different stores abandoned in residential neighbourhoods, in some cases a kilometer away from the store they belong to.
I met one grocery store manager on Fairway Road and showed him photos of what is happening to his carts and he told me it was a matter for their head office to deal with. Head office told me to deal with the store manager.
In the spring of 2020, after a few years of collecting photos of abandoned shopping carts I decided to patrol the banks of the Grand River to do a photo journal of all junk in the river and on the flood plains. I took hundreds of pictures. It was overwhelming and shocking to find so much pollution in our water system.
Categories of junk I have discovered along the river include cigarette filters, rubber tires, plastics of all sorts, picnic tables, propane tanks, scrap metal, dog poop bags and railway ties. In future posts I will highlight some of these categories and make suggestions about how we can deal with them.
I share this information with you because I want to do my part and give back to the river that has given me so much.