Uniting community through music: An interview with Matt Carter

Back in the 90s, Matt Carter was a major orchestrator of Fredericton’s music scene, booking and promoting all-ages shows that featured some of the country’s best underground acts of the day. Then, life and career took him in other directions.

Fast forward 15 years to 2014. Matt decided he wanted to re-engage with the music and arts community in New Brunswick’s capital city. At the same time that Matt was pondering new ways to connect local artists with the broader public, Fredericton’s free events listings weekly, Here Magazine, stopped publication. Matt decided to step up and seize the occasion. So in October 2014, he launched Grid City Magazine, a free online zine that provides listings for events, interviews with local artists, photo essays, videos, and more.

While in Fredericton, I spoke with Matt about Grid City Magazine, and what he’s learned from his efforts to help unite his hometown through music.

Matt, you have a long history in the local arts and music scene in Fredericton. Can you tell us one or two accomplishments you are especially proud of? 

MC: Well, I used to book a lot of all-ages shows, going back probably 20 years now. Together with a few friends, we welcomed some of the country’s biggest names in what was then considered underground music. Because we were hosting a lot of touring acts, the shows could land on any day of the week yet time and time again, a lot of the same faces would show up. It was a really special time to me. I had a lot of fun doing that and it was through those experiences that I really learned the importance of community. As a naive kid fresh out of high school hosting events that attracted the weirdest mix of people I’d ever been associated with, I learned a lot. I suppose the biggest lesson I learned was that I was in fact just as much an outsider as the rest of the audience appeared. It was like, “Finally. I’ve found my people.”

I’m still friends with a lot of folks I met back in those early days and I consider it a really honour to have played a role in the ongoing story of our city’s music and arts scenes. I helped write one chapter in this long and twisted story.

In October 2014, you launched a new online magazine called Grid City Magazine. Can you tell us a little about it?

MC: Grid City Magazine is my way of giving a valuable voice to the many arts related activities happening throughout the city. I used to make photocopied zines when I was younger. I’d interview bands and share their stories. I always wanted to get back into doing something like that but knew it had to exist online in some shape or form. For a while, I thought about bringing back my original zine project but with the name “Nailbomb”. I decided that may be a bit off-putting to the larger scene, not to mention it would probably get me added to some government watch list these days!

So I decided on the name Grid City Magazine because our city is very much designed on a grid with perfect intersecting streets running parallel to the St. John River.

Matt Carter wears a lot of different hats in running Grid City Magazine (Photo by Matt Carter)
Matt Carter wears a lot of different hats in running Grid City Magazine (Photo by Matt Carter)

 

What compelled you to start Grid City Magazine?

MC: I was having a conversation with a fellow artist who said something along the lines of, “Unless you’re the largest festival in the city, it’s pretty much a crap-shoot to get any media coverage for arts activities.” That was the moment when I decided I might as well try my hand at getting something going to support the community that means the most to me. Artists are where it’s at. We get bombarded with enough depressing news in the run of a week. Why not create a platform to highlight the “good” in the world? I don’t want to start controversies and pick sides on issues. I just want to let people know how much great stuff happens right here in our own backyard. I’ve heard folks refer to our province as “No-Funswick” and I really feel those attitudes come from people who haven’t taken the time to see just how beautiful our province and its people really are. To counter those attitudes, I consider my city “Friendericton”.

How do you think your work has impacted the Fredericton community?

MC: I try not to look too deeply at the impact I may have made personally. When I was younger I developed a pretty big ego and have since spent the past 10 years or more trying to shed my interpretation of myself and, instead, embrace and celebrate the community’s accomplishments as a whole. There are so many people working so hard on projects that mean a lot to them. In a city our size, we’re fortunate to know each other or exist through two degrees of separation. We all help each other for the benefit of everyone. That’s pretty special. There’s an incredible comfort in knowing that if I needed a hand with something, I know people would step up to help. I’d gladly do the same. We’ve built a scene where everyone has each other’s backs, so to speak.

From your experience, what are the benefits of a thriving local arts and music scene to a community?

MC: A thriving local arts and music scene is one filled with creative thinkers, doers and helpers. Strong arts scenes only exist through hard work, appreciation for others, and through a supportive community. Those three elements alone make an enormous contribution to any population. I think arts communities exist through cooperation and, as a result, they teach us how to work together, free of malice.

Imagine for a moment that you could wave a magic wand and instantaneously transform Fredericton into the picture-perfect arts and cultural community. What would it look like?

MC: It would look much the way it does today. Perhaps with more infrastructure to support diverse theatre and music performances. Studio space for rehearsals and creation would also be a bonus. Besides that, we’ve got an incredible crop of motivated artists willing to work together, while also doing some amazing work on their own. I really feel lucky to live here and call these people my friends.

Here’s a short video of one of Fredericton’s local artists, bluesman Keith Hallett:

 

For years, you have given your energy and creativity to the betterment of the Fredericton community. What keeps you giving back?

MC: The people here are great. I can’t think of anything more rewarding than helping great people accomplish great things they believe in.

If you had to choose one thing, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from all your work in the community?

MC: The biggest lesson I learned is to embrace individuality. Everyone has something unique they bring to the table. It could be an artistic skill, the ability to solve problems, or just the gift of looking beyond the immediate task at hand and seeing the greater picture. A strong community relies on the sum of its parts. Fredericton is unique in that familiar faces wave to each other and say hello. People don’t have to have an experience together to value each other’s company. What feels better than living in a community where everyone says hello, smiles or waves at you when you’re out and about? That’s comfort. That’s my home town and that’s a big part of what we’re working to keep alive.

Matt is a big fan of his hometown Fredericton, or as he calls it, “Friendericton”
Matt is a big fan of his hometown Fredericton, or as he calls it, “Friendericton”

 

Your commitment to making a difference is truly inspiring. What advice do you have for someone who has an amazing idea for creating a positive change in their own community, and wants to make it a reality?

MC: Start by being a positive person. Get rid of your anger, your interest in climbing social ladders and all that. As a child we’re taught a lot about how life should be and the type of path we’re supposed to follow to be “good citizens”. My experience is to try and do what’s right for you and the world you live in, the people around you. Be a good person and you’ll attract other good people. That’s the best place to start.

Matt Carter is an artist from Fredericton, New Brunswick. He is an accomplished musician, composer, music educator, photographer, and a lover of artistic pursuits.  He spends his days as Director of Development and Communications for Theatre New Brunswick, and his free time working on the Fredericton arts and culture website, Grid City Magazine.

The art of feeling good: An interview with Melissa Holland

“Do you like mosquitoes?” Dr. Frog asks me in an over-the-top French accent. “Not really, why?” I reply. “We are having a mosquito barbecue later,” Frog deadpans.

The quip is just one of many dished out by Dr. Frog, who roams the corridors of St. Justine’s Children’s Hospital in Montreal along with a second clown-doctor named Dr. Oups. Dressed in a long white coat, accessorized with cowboy hat and boots, and wearing a bright red clown nose, Dr. Frog shuffles down the hallway looking to inject a lighthearted moment of humour into the day of the next person he meets.

Dr. Frog, aka Alexis Roy, is one of 26 clown-doctors who work with The Jovia Foundation, a non-profit organization that runs therapeutic clown programs in hospitals and healthcare facilities in Montreal and Quebec City. While in Montreal, I had the chance to speak with Jovia’s co-founder, Melissa Holland, about their work to spread joy and laughter amongst patients and their families.

Can you tell us a little about The Jovia Foundation?

MH: The Jovia Foundation is a non-profit organization that runs two therapeutic clown services: Dr Clown for children in paediatric facilities and Labelle Visite for the elderly in long-term care establishments. Our therapeutic clowns are professional artists who have extensive training in the art of clown, as well as psycho-social training to be able to work in healthcare.

Our clowns work in duo and interact with a list of referred patients. They always knock on the patient’s door and ask to come in, which gives power to the patient. The notion of empowerment is one of our main objectives, giving a passive patient the opportunity to have an effect on someone else often stimulates a new energy and sense of well-being.

What compelled you to start Jovia?

MH: In the summer of 1999, while I was living in Scotland, I happened to read a job description for a clown-doctor from a company called “Hearts and Minds”. I shared it with my mother and my best friend, and each of them said, “That’s your job!” Armed with their support and enthusiasm, I went through the audition and interview process and was one of six people to be hired for a six-month pilot-project, working as a clown-doctor in paediatric hospitals in Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, and Glasgow. I loved the work so much! I’d had dreams of being a performer, a famous Hollywood actress, and yet when I studied acting I found there was something missing for me. My Catholic education had done its work, creating a strong desire within me to serve others with my talents. While studying acting, I had studied clown and loved it. It was the most fun, creative, imaginative work I had ever done. But I never dreamed that I would become a clown. I didn’t want to work in the circus, nor at birthday parties, nor at the rodeo. And so life presented a new option – clowning for sick children in hospitals. I could be silly, stupid, vulnerable, and make sick children laugh, and get paid for it. I had indeed found my vocation.

In 2000, when my visa was up in Scotland and I had to move back home, I investigated if clown-doctors existed in Canada. They did! In Vancouver, there was Doc Willikers at the BC Children’s Hospital; Hubert at the Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg; Bunky and Posy at Toronto Sickkids Hospital. But nothing in my home-town, Montreal. My Director in Scotland put me in touch with someone she knew who was interested in starting up a clown-doctor program in Windsor, Ontario. He in turn knew a clown teacher in Montreal, and he knew a clown who was doing the work as a volunteer, Olivier-Hugues Terreault. From my experience in Scotland, I knew this work was a profession, one that required training, skills, reflection, regular hours, and remuneration.

I eventually did meet Olivier, and to make a long story short, together we realized that we shared a similar vision. Within a year, we had written a business plan that won a start-up grant, clowned twice a month at a senior’s residence, secured funds from the Starlight Foundation to pay for us to work two days a week at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, and got our charitable status. One of our other co-founders, Germaine Gibara, was a prominent business woman and became the first president of our board. She was known as our “Fairy God-mother”. Our fourth co-founder, Florence Vinit, has a PhD in psychology and is our psycho-social director. Francine Côté was our first artistic director and all of our clowns come from her school of training. Slowly but surely, the team began to build.

The Jovia Foundation runs two programs: Dr Clown for children in paediatric hospitals, and Labelle Visite for the elderly in long-term care establishments (Photo by Isabelle Dubé)
The Jovia Foundation runs two programs: Dr Clown for children in paediatric hospitals, and Labelle Visite for the elderly in long-term care establishments (Photo by Isabelle Dubé)

 

What exactly does a therapeutic clown do?

MH: Firstly, it is important to understand the art of clown. The clown is a vulnerable figure who serves as a reflection of our humanity. The art-form is more about the art of being, than the art of doing. It is a quality of presence, with a simplicity and openness to all that the clown meets. Think Charlie Chaplin’s the Tramp, or Mr. Bean. The clown’s tools are his body and his emotions. Through them he is able to express anger, sadness, happiness, fear, relief, disappointment in a light way that allows the audience to laugh at him and, as a consequence, at ourselves. The clown helps us to not take ourselves too seriously and to enjoy a moment of lightness and laughter.

A therapeutic clown is a specially trained clown-artist and healthcare professional who works in collaboration with the hospital staff to improve the quality of life of patients. At Jovia, our therapeutic clowns always work in a duo, maximizing the play potential. The clowns always offer the choice to the patient to interact or not. Often, the objective of the visit is to empower the patient, by creating a game or situation where the patient is the one with the solution. For long-term patients relationships are created, senses of humour are developed, favourite games, songs and stories are played, sung and told. The imagination, laughter and joy that comes from these visits helps the patient be in the present moment, be creative and become more resilient, which goes a long way in the healing process.

Melissa Holland, aka Dr. Fifi, clowning around with a patient (Photo by Paul Bourgeault)
Melissa Holland, aka Dr. Fifi, clowning around with a patient (Photo by Paul Bourgeault)

 

From your experience, what is it about laughter and joy that’s so beneficial to patients and their families?

MH: There are many studies that have been done on the benefits of laughter and humour on healing. There are physiological benefits, such as endorphins that are released that can seriously reduce stress and pain, as well as emotional benefits of sharing a laugh with family members and hospital staff in an atmosphere that is anything but funny. These moments of laughter, in turn, help to build resilience to the suffering that is being experienced.

This was brought home to me the first year I was clowning at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. My partner (Dr. l’Air de rien) and I (Dr. Fifi) visited Camillo, a four-year-old boy on the Oncology ward of the Children’s Hospital. He had an immunosuppressed condition, and so was in isolation. We learned how to clown through the window, we developed games where he was in control: scaring us by yelling “boo !”, funny face competitions, car races that became clown races, singing Shania Twain songs. We saw him over an eight-month period and really got to know his whole family. Unfortunately, his condition gradually deteriorated. His family asked us to come see him when he was in intensive care. He was pretty weak at that point, he had an oxygen mask on, and when he saw the clowns at the window of his room, he mouthed the word “Boo!” The clowns jumped and fell to the floor as though they had really been scared,and Camillo had a big smile on his face. His father said it was his last smile before he died a few days later. When my clown partner and I went to the funeral, his father thanked us for all the joy that we had brought to Camillo and to the family. And that’s when I realized that those few moments of play, and I’m talking maybe 10 or 15 minutes a week, had a lasting effect that made their time of darkness lighter and brought them hope and comfort.

Laughter and humour can benefit the healing process and help to build resilience in patients (Photo by Daniel Héon)
Laughter and humour can benefit the healing process and help to build resilience in patients (Photo by Daniel Héon)

 

Your therapeutic clowns work with children in paediatric hospitals, as well as seniors who are no longer independent. Can you tell us a little about the similarities and differences between the younger and older patients that you serve?

MH: With the elder residents that we serve, the main difference is they are not in a hospital setting, but in an institution that has become their home. So rather than have the parody of the doctor, our clowns dress in their Sunday best as though they were visiting their grandparents. The premise is that we are all members of an extended family, the Labelle family, and the residents like to keep track of the different stories between us. They appreciate that we are well dressed, our costumes are in the style of the 30’s, 40’s, or 50’s, and so are reminiscent of their youth. Many comment on our hats or crinolines or saddle shoes. We work mostly with residents with dementia, and a similarity with children is that they are in the present moment. They are also very close to their emotions, as children and clowns are, and are able to read a situation emotionally, which is why the communication can work on a completely different level. It is no longer cognitive but affective. They are also fountains of love, and delight in being able to be affectionate, giving hugs and kisses and many have lots of advice to give us.

Another main difference is that with the elderly, we acknowledge the sexes. Men are men and women are women. We are polite and romantic, men clowns greet women with a kiss on the hand. Women clowns offer their hands to men. Our clown characters are concerned with dating and getting married, and the seniors love to give us all kinds of advice related to these matters.

Memorably, we asked one of our regulars: “Within a married couple whose job it is to make food?” He is quite hard of hearing and looked at us curiously and answered : “Both! Some like to make love before dinner, some after dinner.” His daughter who was visiting at the time, yelled “Food, daddy. Make food, not make love. Make food!” “Oh! That’s the woman’s job!” We all laughed. The daughter prompted him about his spaghetti sauce, and he proudly told us the ingredients. His daughter couldn’t believe it, he had trouble remembering his wife’s name, but he could recite the ingredients of his spaghetti sauce.

Labelle Visite serves seniors who are no longer independent and living in residence or long-term care facilities (Photo by Patrick Palmer)
Labelle Visite serves seniors who are no longer independent and living in residence or long-term care facilities (Photo by Patrick Palmer)

 

And what about the people who work as therapeutic clowns – what do they take away from the experience? How does it change or impact them?

MH: It’s hard for me to say specifically, as I think it affects all of them differently. What I am struck by most is their commitment to the work. Our company is thirteen years old. Four out of the original seven members are still part of the company. And two of those that have left are doing the work elsewhere. As a non-profit, we are very vulnerable to the state of the economy, relying on donations to cover the cost of our services. The last two years in particular have been very hard financially and the clowns are having to look elsewhere for steadier work, and they are doing so reluctantly. We don’t want them to go, but the market is not easy at the moment. So I am very touched by their desire to do this work. I think for many of them it is rewarding and meaningful and has brought them a lot of richness and understanding about compassion. At one point, I was training a new clown and after two hours of clowning with adults from all walks of life and in all conditions she said, “It’s not hard is it? You just have to love them.”

If you had to choose one thing, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your work with Jovia?

MH: I’d say the biggest thing I’ve learned so far is how resilient the human spirit is. It amazes me how open and available people who are sick can be. There is a strength in being weak, Jean Vanier talks about that. You have no guard, nothing to hide, it’s like you come back to yourself in a certain sense and there is a desire to be in contact with the other. I have been amazed by the openness and generosity of people who are facing very dark times of suffering. They let us into their circle and inevitably we leave changed. Once, there was a woman we met in the emergency room, behind a curtain, lying on a stretcher, her face and arms covered with bruises. When we poked our clown noses around the corner she smiled widely and said, “Oh I am SO happy that you have come”. We had never met this woman before, and she went on to say that what we were doing was so important, that our parents must be very proud of us. She talked about how they used to sing and dance in the ghetto and later in the camps, when the guards weren’t looking, to keep their spirits up. It was then that we noticed the tattooed number on her arm, under the bruise. Dr. Fifi said, “You have a beautiful spirit”. The woman said, “For this I thank God and forgiveness.” It is moments like these where I feel like I am a witness to great beauty and goodness.

Melissa Holland in character as Dr. Fifi (Photo by Isabelle Dubé)
Melissa Holland in character as Dr. Fifi (Photo by Isabelle Dubé)

 

Your commitment to making a difference is truly inspiring. What advice do you have for someone who has an amazing idea for creating a positive change in their own community, and wants to make it a reality?

MH: Work hard and ask for help! Look for the right resources, write a business plan, tell everyone you know what you are trying to do. If the idea is ripe and it meets a need, then people, help, and resources will appear to make the idea happen.

Finally, how can people get involved with or help support Jovia?

MH: Our biggest need right now is funding. We have talented, dedicated therapeutic clowns who have little to no work at the moment because of a lack of funding. Due to the economy, we cannot do as many patient visits as we would like. Where we used to visit children twice a week, now we visit them only once a week. Some of our elderly see us only once a month instead of once a week. Our approach is relationship-based, and weekly visits are necessary to strengthen that relationship and have a greater and longer-lasting impact. If you are interested in donating please go to our website.

Melissa Holland is co-founder of The Jovia Foundation. She also works regularly in hospitals as a therapeutic clown, as Dr. Fifi and Chérie Labelle. Visit Jovia’s website for more information, or to help support the organization.

The Riverkeeper: An interview with Meredith Brown

I first meet Meredith Brown at her third-floor office off a busy street in the west end of Ottawa. After some small talk she hands me a business card. Glancing down at the card, I quickly find what I am looking for. There, below her name, stands a lone word set in blue italics… Riverkeeper. The unusual job title is the reason I am here.

Meredith is “The Riverkeeper” for the Ottawa River, which flows just a few blocks north of her office. Aided by a dedicated team of staff and volunteers, her job is to protect the health of the Ottawa River and its tributaries. It’s a formidable task given the sheer size of the river system.

The Algonquin people, who lived along its banks, called the river “Kitchissippi”, meaning “Great River”. The name certainly rings true. From its headwaters in the Laurentian Mountains of central Quebec, the river runs over 1200 kilometres before draining into the St. Lawrence River at Montreal. Its watershed is the size of Bangladesh (more than 140,000 square kilometres), and includes over 200 municipalities in Ontario and Quebec.

Here in Ottawa, I had the chance to speak with Meredith about her role as Riverkeeper, and what she’s learned from her work protecting the great river.

Can you tell us about Ottawa Riverkeeper and how it got started?

MB: Ottawa Riverkeeper is a grassroots organization dedicated to protecting our rights to swim, drink and fish the Ottawa River and its tributaries. We bring together volunteers, communities, businesses and all levels of government to find solutions to the problems that threaten the health of our river and its watershed.

The charity was started by a group of concerned citizens who recognized the enormity of the threats facing the Ottawa River and realized that there was no person, no group and no government agency dedicated to protecting and restoring river health. They held several public meetings and about 10 individuals did the important early work to start a charitable organization. One of the individuals, George Brown, a lawyer, persuaded the group to join the International Waterkeeper Alliance, led by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. After two years (around 2001) the dedicated volunteers became a federally registered charity and a licensed member of Waterkeeper Alliance. The next important step was to find a leader for the organization, a person who would become “The Riverkeeper”.

When I was hired I was a one-person team, so I got to work building a community of volunteers and supporters with a passion for freshwater protection. Fast-forward 12 years and I now have a team of eight staff and hundreds of volunteers who help us.

Meredith, you are known as “The Riverkeeper” for the Ottawa River. That must serve as great conversation fodder at cocktail parties. What exactly does a Riverkeeper do?

MB: It is a bit of a daunting job title, but I am honoured to be the Riverkeeper for the Ottawa River. As the Riverkeeper I wear many hats; watchdog, guardian, educator, policy analyst, researcher, investigator, scientist, ombudsperson. It is my job to understand what is threatening the health of the river and who is ultimately responsible or accountable for fixing the problems. Easier said than done.

As the Riverkeeper I represent the people who live in the watershed so a big part of my job is to listen to people and figure out what is most important to them, what they value about the Ottawa River. For example, most people want a river where they can swim without getting sick, they want public access to the river so they can launch their canoe, have a picnic or fish from the shore.

A big part of my job is reactionary, like responding to pollution hotline calls. A very important part of my job is strategic, figuring out what the biggest problems are and how we can solve them. Solving problems almost always involves many people and often many governments, and often involves two provinces. So a big part of what I do as a Riverkeeper is bring people together to find solutions.

Meredith paddling the Ottawa River near Mattawa in northeastern Ontario (Photo by Ottawa Riverkeeper)
Meredith paddling the Ottawa River near Mattawa in northeastern Ontario (Photo by Ottawa Riverkeeper)

 

Let’s hear about one of your success stories. Can you share a recent example of one of your initiatives or projects that made a positive impact? 

MB: I’ve worked a lot on the issue of sewage pollution. When I first became the Riverkeeper I was approached by the father of a competitive slalom kayaker who was concerned that his son was training on a course in Ottawa and he often found himself paddling through raw sewage. I investigated and learned that there was a big combined sewer at the slalom course that frequently dumped untreated sewage into the Ottawa River every time it rained. It turns out that the city was dumping untreated sewage into the river hundreds of times every year! I immediately set out to stop this common practice. I was determined to make everyone in Ottawa aware of this practice and as you can imagine, people were shocked to discover that in the twenty-first century we are still dumping raw sewage into our rivers – the very river we draw our drinking water from and swim in.

I’m proud to say that just this year we had a great breakthrough. All levels of government (municipal, provincial and federal) came together to fund the Ottawa River Action Plan to reduce water pollution from combined sewer spills. Today, the City of Ottawa has reduced the amount of untreated sewage going into the river by 80% and when the final phase of their plan is constructed they will have reduced sewage spills by about 95%. This is a great success that I am proud to have been involved in. There is still a great amount of work to do to reduce pollution from municipal sewage on the Ottawa River, but as my engineering professor once told me “you can’t build Rome in a day.”

How do you think your work has impacted the Ottawa community?

MB: The Ottawa community has awakened to the beauty and importance of the river that flows through their community. Our community of volunteers and followers has grown to about 10,000 people. We have individuals and businesses proud to support us and be involved. This year our annual Riverkeeper Gala saw 350 leaders from our community come together to celebrate the magnificent Ottawa River and find ways to get involved. We definitely have a united and strong community ready to stand up to protect their river.

From your experience, what are the biggest threats to the health of the Ottawa River?

MB: Water pollution is a major threat. We have effluent from pulp mills and municipal sewage flowing into the river. Pesticides and fertilizers from agriculture are a problem. Habitat loss is a problem, particularly in the urban regions – loss of wetlands, headwater streams, forest cover. The Ottawa River is one of Canada’s most highly regulated rivers – there are over 50 major dams in the watershed. The dams change the natural flow regime of the river and create concrete barriers for migrating species, all resulting in a loss of biological diversity. The American Eel is now endangered in the Ottawa River where it once made up about 50% of the fish biomass in the river. This amazing fish gets chopped up by the turbines at hydro-electric dams when it is making its way down river to spawn in the Atlantic Ocean.

What do you think it will take to sustain a clean, healthy river system for generations to come?

MB: I think it will take leadership and collaborative action. We must work together across sectors and across political boundaries if we want to sustain and restore a healthy river system. Ottawa Riverkeeper is leading the way and we are very proud of our recent Ottawa River Summit that brought together key watershed players to address this very question you asked.

Testing water quality on the Ottawa River near Temiscaming in western Quebec (Photo by Mike Beedell)
Testing water quality on the Ottawa River near Temiscaming in western Quebec (Photo by Mike Beedell)

 

If you had to choose one thing, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your work as Riverkeeper?

MB: I think the biggest lesson is that many people want to help but are not sure what to do. With solid and positive leadership, I’m convinced we can do just about anything.

How can people get involved with or help support Ottawa Riverkeeper?

MB: People can get involved at so many levels! There are actions you can take yourself that will be helpful – simple actions like taking care not to use personal care products that contain microbeads or triclosan. Be informed – follow us (social media, newsletter) to learn more about issues impacting river health and how you can make a difference. Volunteer your time, we have many different ways volunteers help us from water quality testing, to translation to mapping to event planning. Of course supporting us with a financial contribution is very helpful. We are a registered charity and finding money to pay the dedicated staff, who are our biggest asset, is difficult. If you like having someone looking out for your river, investigating pollution and teaching youth (our future leaders) then please donate.

Meredith, your commitment to making a difference is truly inspiring. What advice do you have for someone who has an amazing idea for creating a positive change in their own community, and wants to make it a reality?

MB: Never lose sight of your goal and find a compelling way to articulate your vision. Gather a team of people who can help you make it happen. You need champions and people of influence on your team.

As the Ottawa Riverkeeper, Meredith Brown is a strong independent voice for the Ottawa River and advocate for improved water protection in Canada. She was recently named a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Visit the Ottawa Riverkeeper website for more information, or to help support and get involved with the organization.