When Is Niagara, Ontario Going To Do What Our American Neighbours Have Done – Honour Those Who Have Worked to Restore the Niagara River to Environmental Health with a Global ‘Ramsar’ Designation
A Commentary by Jocelyn Baker, a Niagara, Ontario resident and Canadian Co-chair, Niagara River Ramsar Designation Binational Steering Committee, with a Foreword by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted October 3rd, 2020 on Niagara At Large
A Foreword by Doug Draper –
A year ago this October 3rd, our U.S. neighbours assembled near the mist of the Horseshoe and American Falls in Niagara Falls, New York to celebrate the designation of their side of the Niagara River corridor as a “Wetland of International Importance’ under a ‘Ramsar Convention’ signed in 1971 by 170 member nations around the world, including Canada.
Since the signing of the Ramsar designation almost 50 years ago, more than 2,300 sites around the globe, known for their natural beauty and rich biodiversity, have been designated as wetlands of international importance.
On October 3rd of last year, a large assembly of New Yorkers, including citizens, municipal leaders, state and federal leaders, and leaders of academic institutions on the American side of the border, came together to celebrate a Ramsar designation for their side of the Niagara River corridor.
They were hoping then, and they are still hoping now that they could have, at the same time, celebrated such a designation for the Niagara, Ontario side of this great river – something dedicated volunteers in Niagara, Ontario, including Jocelyn Baker, whose commentary you can read immediately below – have been working to achieve since 2013.
How disappointing that is and, frankly, how embarrassing and shameful it is for Canada, that we could not have joined our American neighbours a year ago, in celebrating a binational designation for both sides of this great Niagara River.
As a journalist who was a full-time environment reporter for the St. Catharines Standard for two decades going back to 1979 and the Love Canal disaster that triggered calls for a clean-up of chemical poisons reaching the Niagara River, I was proud to watch citizens and government bodies on the Canadian side, including politicians like Ontario Environment Minister Jim Bradley in the 1980s (now Niagara’s Regional Chair) play a lead role in saving this vital river from ecological collapse.
Now here we have our American neighbours celebrating all of this heroic work, and we apparently have too many backward politicians and others in Niagara, Ontario who so far has choked on approving a global designation that should be a point of pride.
This September, we had the Niagara Parks Commission, a body created in the late 1800s to protect and preserve the natural features of the Niagara River corridor, literally spike any move to play a lead role in nominating our side of the river for this designation.
Later this September, a majority of Niagara’ Regional Council decided to pass the question of supporting a Ramsar designation off to un-elected lawyers for their ruling – despite words from the Region’s Chair, earlier in the month, that here was a chance for our elected representatives in Niagara, Ontario to be progressive, rather than regressive.
Again, how embarrassing for Niagara, Ontario and Canada that we still can’t, in this simple way, bring ourselves to honour this great river and all those who worked to return it from the brink of environmental collapse.
Shame on us! What a Disgrace!
I will have more to say on Niagara At Large about those in Niagara, Ontario who have been working to block a Ramsar designation for the Niagara River in the days and weeks ahead, Stay tuned.
Now here is a Commentary by Jocelyn Baker, a Niagara, Ontario resident and Canadian Co-chair, Niagara River Ramsar Designation Binational Steering Committee –
By Jocelyn Baker, October 3rd, 2020
In the late 1970s, while my friends and I were drinking water from a supply in Niagara Ontario that was then tainted with industrial contaminants, my peers across the Niagara River were attending 99th Street Elementary school in Niagara Falls New York.
You may recall this school, built upon a hazardous chemical waste site known to the world at that time and for all time in the annals of environmental disasters as “Love Canal.”
By the 1970s, there were more than 700 chemical plants, steel mills, and oil refineries – a vast majority of them on the American side – discharging over 950 million litres of wastewater into the Niagara River Corridor each and every single day.
Thankfully (and with much gratitude) the relentless advocacy of legendary citizens, including Lois Gibbs in Niagara Falls, New York and Margherita Howe in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, saw the signing of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1987.
With the goal of focusing efforts between Canada and the U.S. to clean-up the Great Lakes including the Niagara River, we now find ourselves, more than three decades later, with the opportunity to acknowledge the tireless work of these heroes.
A Ramsar Site, formally known as a Wetland of International Importance, is named after Ramsar Iran where a global water-based (wet land) agreement was signed in 1971.
The Niagara River meets the Ramsar designation’s high standard of environmental excellence.
A Ramsar designation is purely symbolic, with no strings attached. For the Niagara River, it will commemorate and ensure the efforts of those who fought for environmental justice will not be forgotten.
We have before us an opportunity to change the legacy of the Niagara River from one of the most environmentally degraded place in North America to a place recognized for its ecological significance and global contribution to biodiversity.
A year ago this October 3rd, our neighbours on the United States side of the border successfully designated their portion of the Niagara River as a Ramsar site.
With the Canadian side stalled on celebrating a designation of the Niagara River here, the ball is currently in the Regional Municipality of Niagara’s court.
It is going to take strong non-partisan leadership in our Niagara Region, underpinned by humility, as well as amplified community support if we are going to see this through.
For recent news commentary in Niagara At Large on the board of the Niagara Parks Commission in Niagara, Ontario saying NO to a Ramsar designation for the Niagara River, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2020/09/16/ontarios-niagara-parks-commission-says-no-to-global-wetland-designation-for-canadian-side-of-niagara-river/
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