I recently became an intern for Ecology Ottawa, working with their Renewable City campaign. As a student at the University of Ottawa studying Environmental Science I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Ecology Ottawa to facilitate local change in Ottawa and encourage others to do the same. While Ecology Ottawa might seem like a natural progression for a student in my program, my motivation for joining their cause runs much deeper than that.
I grew up about an hour’s drive outside Ottawa in a small town called Fitzroy Harbour, which is approximately fifteen minutes away from the more well-known town of Arnprior. Fitzroy Harbour is located right beside Fitzroy Harbour Provincial Park; it’s a beautiful camping destination that I had the privilege of living right next to during my formative years. I have had so many amazing experiences that seem surreal when looking back upon them from my apartment in the middle of the bustling city of Ottawa.
I am an avid hiker and kayaker. I was able to enjoy and explore all along the Ottawa and Carp Rivers, experiencing the serenity of the forest and the abundance and variety of wildlife. Not only have I been lucky to see so many different kinds of wildlife growing up, but I even had a raccoon that arrived at my doorstep every evening for 4 summers and would sit beside me eating peanuts from my hand at the edge of my porch.
I remember when I had just moved to the area when I was about 6 years old; my dad and I were in the park with some people who were camping. My father distinctly remembers the other boys boasting of how long they were staying there for, with a couple of them proudly saying that they were there for 3 or 5 days; their jaws dropped when I told them that I lived there. Even in the last couple weeks, I spoke with a couple downtown who were overjoyed to have seen a Blue Heron along their path by Britannia Beach. I cannot remember a day when I hadn’t seen a Blue Heron (aka Billy Blue) wading along the shore of the Ottawa River looking for fish and frogs. Moments like these make me truly aware of how lucky I have been to be able to have such experiences and education. This, in turn, makes me appreciate how important it is to maintain the environment for others.
My first experience with environmental and ecological activism came in that small town just upstream of Ottawa when the municipal government decided that they were going to construct a boat bypass in our community in order for people to launch their boats into the Ottawa River. This was being done despite the fact that there was already one fifteen minutes up the road. The boat launch would have destroyed a large section of the Morris Island Conservation Area and stretch out far into the river. If successful, this project would have irreparably damaged the vegetation and endangered the various species of wildlife that call the area home. The boat launch also would have negatively effected the people in the community as well: it was to be constructed right in the heart of our community where children played road hockey, biked, and enjoyed all that made it a wonderful place to live.
The project was estimated to see over 500 boats a season drive in and out of the community, which would cause an astronomical amount of pollution and danger to the environment, turning our peaceful neighborhood upside down. Our community banded together and created a committee to oppose this plan, creating signs, posters, and scheduling town meetings in order for us to organize to increase awareness and funds to stop this boat launch. I remember when construction crews showed up to the site to find hundreds of people, camera crews, and almost a dozen massive farming tractors blocking their path. Though it took many meetings and countless hours rallying support, it was the hard work of the community that made the difference and was able to stop the project from happening in our community. My community and I came together to protect the environment that we had come to cherish. To this day, I look back on this experience as irrefutable evidence that local, grassroots environmental campaigns are successful when people are willing to take action.
The memory of the success of our protest, coupled with my love for the environment that I’ve grown up in all my life, were the reasons that I wanted to join Ecology Ottawa. I am proud to now be working with Ecology Ottawa in order to inspire people to get together in their communities and make positive changes in Ottawa both for the environment and the people. To many it might seem a daunting task but it is an attainable goal that we can reach when we all work together to protect what we love. Come work with us as we kick in to high-gear this summer by volunteering and working towards making Ottawa the green capital of Canada.