WATCH: Gord Downie Wanted to Protect Our Water

By Aaron Brophy 10/24/17 |

Gord Downie performs at the 2014 Waterkeeper Gala — photo by George Pimental
The death of Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie on Oct. 17 not only meant the loss of one of Canada's foremost advocates for indigenous reconciliation. It also meant the loss of one of Lake Ontario's highest profile water protector.

Downie, who passed away at age 53 from brain cancer, was an avid supporter of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and its related causes.

Started in 2000 by lawyer Mark Mattson and researcher Krystyn Tully, the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper charity, "helps to create a swimmable, drinkable, fishable future by connecting and empowering people in order to stop pollution, protect human health, and restore habitat."

In action the organization provides daily information on the pollution levels of Ontario waters, runs workshops on how to effectively advocate to protect water and works to defend the public's right to clean water.

In a conversation with music industry veteran Denise Donlon in 2013, for a 13-minute "uncut Lake Ontario Waterkeeper" video,  Downie explained the organization's value.

"To me it's very basic," Downie said. "They're just good people trying to help communities trying to get to that table where their environmental, their pollution future is being decided. And you need lawyers for that, you need experts, you need water specialists, you need lawyers with a conscience who can do more than a priest."

The video also features Downie imitating fellow musician and noted environmental activist Peter Garrett from Midnight Oil, explaining that he swims in Lake Ontario every day and recalling the terror of taking swimming lessons in his youth.

Downie had worked with Waterkeeper for more than a decade and would help fundraise for the organization. A gala event he performed at in 2014 raised $500,000 to help fund clean water advocacy.

The Waterkeeper organization was deeply affected by Downie's death. Both Mattson and Tully addressed Downie in separate blog posts on its website.

"When I started in the early 1990s practicing environmental law he wanted to know all about it," wrote Mattson in a post titled "Goodbye Gord. Goodbye My Friend." "It was the 'thing' that connected us even after we both left Kingston. Gord and that connection drove me to do more of it. From 1996 to 2001 I volunteered thousands of hours to investigating pollution crimes and prosecuting polluters. Gord was my biggest fan and let me know it."

In a piece called "It's an honour to feel this sad: Gord Downie and the making of the Swim Drink Fish movement," Tully recalled going on tour with the Hip to help promote the Waterkeeper cause and how it taught them to be on-the-ground, doing work.

"Every formative moment in the history of the Swim Drink Fish movement has a piece of Gord in it," wrote Tutty. "Every program we run, every case we fight, every speech we give is influenced by his mentorship and insight. Even more than that, people and organizations across the country and around the world who advocate for swimmable, drinkable, fishable water are all touched by his vision. The movement continues to grow. That’s part of his legacy."

Watch Gord Downie speak on behalf of the Lake Ontario Waterkeepers

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