Great Lakes Water Walk: #BecauseOfWater

Nibi, Gizaagi’igo, Gimiigwechiwenimigo, Gizhawenimigo

Water, we love you, we thank you, we respect you

Nibi Nagamowin (The Water Song)

We make our way through J.C. Saddington park to the waterfront where beautiful Lake Ontario stretches before our eyes. Bathed in early morning light, its waters glisten and melt into the coral sky.

Lake Ontario in the morning

Lake Ontario bathed in morning light, one of the reasons we joined Great Lakes Water Walk

These waters that feed our bodies and souls are the reason we are here so early on a Sunday morning, on what will turn out to be the hottest day of the year. Because of Water, we are part of the Nibi Mosewin Onji Nayaano-nibiimaang Gichigamiin Great Lakes Water Walk, an Indigenous-led event calling on people of all creeds and ancestries to honour, respect and protect water.

#BecauseofWater sign Great Lakes Water Walk  Water is Life sign Great Lakes Water Walk

Great Lakes Water Walk

We walk #BecauseOfWater

Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island have always believed that Water or Nibi is alive. It has its own spirit, it has memory. Once upon a time the rest of us knew it too. But somewhere along the way we forgot. We gave in to our economic system that demanded everything should have a price. So we imprisoned water into plastic and attached a price tag. We disrespect this precious gift, pollute our oceans with garbage, and turn our rivers and lakes into toxic sludge. Forgetting that if our waters are sick, then so are we. We are almost 70 per cent water after all.

mural in Marie Curtis Park

It’s time we re-imagined our relationship with Water

Fortunately, that memory of the sacred spirit of Water still lives inside us. In all those modern day  rituals that involve water. In crowds that flock to lakes, rivers and oceanside to splash, swim, paddle or simply sit by the edge and listen.

Great Lakes Water Walk

Hundreds of people joined the walk to show respect for and commit to protect Water

It is those memories that brought together hundreds of people to walk with Grandmother Josephine and other elders in honour of the Great Lakes. Water Walks were started by Anishinaabe Elder from Manitoulin Island Josephine Mandamin who in 2003 began her trek around Lake Superior to raise awareness around the need to respect and protect this magnificent body of water. Since then, she has walked around all five Great Lakes and along St. Lawrence River. Her colossal endeavour has also inspired water walks all through Turtle Island. For Toronto, however, this event was first of a kind inviting people to honour the beautiful Lake Ontario and multiple streams and rivers  — the lifelines of our city.

mouth of credit river in the morning    mouth of Etobicoke Creek

mouth of Mimico Creek    Lake Ontario

Lake Ontario and multiple streams and rivers, Toronto’s lifelines

The Great Lakes Water Walk started in two groups in the opposite ends of Greater Toronto Area, collecting water in copper buckets from Credit and Humber in the West, Rouge and Don River in the east, eventually coming together at the foot of Toronto and culminating in a water blessing ceremony and a celebration.

Great Lakes Water Walk

  Great Lakes Water Walk  Great Lakes Water Walk

Great Lakes Water Walk

Two groups of water walkers come together for a water blessing ceremony and celebration

We joined the western group, small at first but steadily growing as we made our way along the 20 kilometre route. Just like a small stream burgeons, eventually turning into a mighty river.

Great Lakes Water Walk   Great Lakes Water Walk

Great Lakes Water Walk   Great Lakes Water Walk

Our group of walkers kept growing like a stream burgeoning into a river 

We walked through parks and residential areas, across bridges and along the waterfront. Lake Ontario never too far away, shimmering, dancing, whispering of other waters near and far.

Lake Ontario

Lake Ontario, always closeby, whispering of other waters near and far

It whispered of the sweet, crystal clear water in my grandparents’ well. That first refreshing sip I can almost taste. My reflection shimmering in a bucket. Water splashing down my legs as I carry the bucket into the house. Of a lively brook that hugged my grandparents’ orchard. I loved wading through it, my feet numb with cold, picking leaves of mint that grew along the edge, rubbing them between my fingers to release the smell. Of a restless mountain river that ran through the city of my childhood. Of all the powerful, relentless streams around the world that carve rocks and cut through stone.

River Prut in Chernivtsi Ukraine

River Prut, the river of my childhood

Of the awe-inspiring expanse of Great Lakes and enticing waters of their smaller cousins across Ontario. The waters that I have so often explored in a canoe. The waters that have soothed me, wrapped me in their morning mist, and tested my resolve and stamina on more than one occasion. Of the joyful singing of a waterfall in the spring and of crushing waves of the Atlantic. Of the water’s playfulness and its power to soothe and heal.

misty morning on Carlyle Lake in Killarney   early morning paddle at Point Grondine

view of Lake Superior from Sleeping Giant    playing in Lake Michigan

Water nourishes our bodies and souls, heals and inspires us,  brings peace and joy

As we near the end of the walk, I remember the Wave Sound sculpture by Anishinaabe artist Rebecca Belmore. We came across it in Gros Morne park, one of the four installed across Canada. These huge cones urge visitors to pause and listen: to the ocean washing the shores of Gros Morne, to the mountain lake in the Rockies, to mighty Lake Superior in Pukaskwa and magnificent waters of Georgian Bay. The Water speaks to us. It’s time we stopped and listened. Time we re-imagined our relationship with Water and showed her respect she deserves.

Wave Sound sculpture in Gros Morne

Sound Wave sculpture in Gros Morne: Water speaks to us — time we listened 

To learn more about the Great Lakes Water Walk and what actions you can take to honour and protect water, visit http://greatlakeswaterwalk.ca/

 

A Trip to Scarborough Bluffs

It is a beautiful November afternoon. We are on our way to Scarborough Bluffs, one of Toronto’s famous natural attractions that I have heard so much about but never got time to visit. As we drive through the east end, my friend and I listen to Queen and talk about our cell phone obsessed culture and Toronto’s diverse neighbourhoods. My son falls asleep in the back seat.  It is a long drive. Sometimes it feels we are in a different city altogether.

We finally turn onto Brimley Road South. It winds its way downhill through the fall-coloured parkland, half of the trees already spot bare branches. We round another turn, and the blue waters of Lake Ontario come into view. I can hear my friend gasp next to me. I must admit that even though I knew the lake was coming at the bottom of the road, this inundation of open space and water is startling.

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Embracing Microadventures: Exploring Jack Darling Park and Rattray Marsh Conservation Area

Every year as the fall rolls in, we find it more and more difficult to get out of the city. School, work, homework, extra-curricular activities, Halloween costumes, piles of tests for my husband to grade, somehow these activities take up more and more space and all of a sudden we can’t go camping every other weekend anymore. But it is not necessarily a bad thing because it frees up a lot of time for local explorations. Lately, I realized that quite often when I think about nature and adventures I cast my eyes far beyond the horizon to places up north or parks south of the border. Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle and The Last Child in the Woods, calls this phenomenon ‘place blindness,’ a tendency to overlook the beauty of nature close to home. Don’t get me wrong, I still need my quiet and solitude that can only be found in remote places. However, by embracing microadventures, I discovered that lots of beautiful natural spaces can be found close by, even in a big urban area like Toronto.

View of Lake Ontario at Jack Darling Park in Mississauga

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Nature in the City: Adventures Close to Home

If I could go camping every weekend, I would. Things tend to get in the way though. Swimming and art classes for our younger kid, university assignments for the older one, grocery shopping and laundry, not to mention piles of tests to grade and report cards to write for my husband. So January went by without a single opportunity to get out of the city. We did go for walks around the neighbourhood but without any snow and temperatures well below freezing, it wasn’t as much fun as an outing in the woods would be. Last week, it finally snowed in Toronto so we spent the weekend rediscovering nature next door.

Colonel Samuel Smith Park

The park is located in Toronto’s west end right by Lake Ontario. Beautiful views of the lake and nice walking trails attract lots of visitors. In the winter, the park has a popular skating loop and a pretty big tobogganing hill. People bring their skis to do some cross-country skiing along the water. We also watched guys  kite skiing on the frozen marina. It looked like a lot of fun, although I am not sure if I would put it on my bucket list.

Lake Ontario in the winter

kite skiing    kite skiing

Since we didn’t bring any equipment for skating, skiing or tobogganing, we had to find some other ways to entertain ourselves. Our son got excited about ice-covered boulders by the lake and spent a good hour exploring them in search of a perfect icicle. Even as it started getting dark, he was refusing to leave with the words: “I am sorry, mum, but I am having too much fun.”

snow angel

winter-9

kid playing in the snow

kid licking an icicle   kids playing the winter

kid in the winter     kid under a lantern at night

Centennial Park

Centennial Park is famous for its tobogganing hills so on Sunday morning we grabbed our sled and headed over there. There is a trail running not far from our building all the way to the park. It’s great for cycling in the summer and takes about 15 minutes to get to the park. Walking through the snow with frequent stops to break ice on the nearby creek and watch a group of extremely cute ducks required way more time but it was all part of the fun. After all, it’s all about the journey as they say.

winter

ducks in the winter

frozen stream

The destination was just as exciting though. The hill was ringing with laughter and screams from children and adults alike. After about an hour of sledding experiments (forward, backward, sideways), we headed home treading through the snow and breaking more ice along the way.

tobogganing hill

sledding

tobogganing  tobogganing

falling off a toboggan

Waterloo Park

Ok, Waterloo Park isn’t exactly near our home but it is close to Waterloo University where our older son is currently a student. So on a Sunday a couple of weeks ago, as we drove him back to Waterloo after a weekend at home, we decided to explore the nearby park. There is a small lake right in the middle with a pretty boardwalk and gazebos along the shore, a few walking trails and a small river (you guessed it, more ice to break). The park also has a small zoo and some historic buildings, like the first school house and an old mill. The best thing was finding some snow since Toronto was pretty much snowless at the time.

kids by a frozen river

frozen river   walking in the woods in the winter

first school house in waterloo park

old mill in waterloo park   barn in waterloo park

white peacock in waterloo park     red cardinal

frozen lake

It was all great fun but now I am looking forward to the Family Day weekend when we can finally spend some time in the woods. Only a few more days to go!