BRUCE COUNTY – Rhonda Shannon, co-ordinator of the Grey Bruce Children’s Water Festival, made a presentation to Bruce County council May 6 on the 20th anniversary festival being held virtually this year from June 7 to 18.
The festival began after the Walkerton water tragedy in 2000.
“This is the third largest watershed in southern Ontario,” Shannon said.
Throughout Bruce and Grey, drinking water comes from both underground sources and surface water intakes in Lake Huron.
The water festival committee’s objectives remain to develop a new-found respect for water and stewardship of the environment; begin the process of behavioural change toward water and the environment; and initiate change within homes, schools and the community.
“We are proud to have educated over 50,000 new water stewards throughout Grey and Bruce since 2000,” Shannon said.
Typically, the festival reaches all Grade 4 students in the two counties – approximately 1,500 students and 250 teachers and parents attend annually.
The festival is a fun way to fulfill the mission statement: “To cultivate in every child and adult who participates in the festival, an understanding of and appreciation for the water they use and the environment in which they live.”
Participants take part in over 40 curriculum-based interactive activities, thanks to community partners and over 300 high school volunteers.
Last year’s festival had to be cancelled because of COVID-19; there’s no chance of that happening this year. The festival will be virtual, with children having the opportunity to participate in a variety of activities whether they’re at home or in the classroom.
Grade 5 students are invited to participate as well as those in Grade 4.
Shannon said that while organizers will miss seeing the children at the community centre in Chesley, they’ll know they’re having a great time while learning to be good stewards of our precious water resources.
Participants in this year’s virtual water festival will watch videos, use activity books and learn by doing. She gave the example of an ice cream cone helping children learn about aquifers.
Activities are based on three themes: water protection, water science and technology, and water conservation and attitude.
Each class will be given an “action plan challenge” that incorporates what they’ve learned into a format for inspiring change in others. Action plans could be in the form of a video, poster, advertisement or school announcement.
She thanked county council for their ongoing support and sponsorship, and said an anticipated 4,000 children will be participating this year. Cost of putting on the festival is $40,000. Bruce County has been a gold sponsor.
Next year, Shannon hopes to see Grade 4 students and high school volunteers back at the festival. Chesley is the perfect location for it, she said. She noted how gratifying it is to see children participate in the festival, and later return as high school student volunteers.
“They’ll be the leaders in the water field,” she said.
County Coun. Steve Hammell, mayor of Arran-Elderslie, said, “We’re pleased to host the water festival; it’s very well run.” And he promised to be at the 2022 event in person, as a volunteer.
County Coun. Robert Buckle, mayor of South Bruce, said, “I’m glad to see something like this for children – thank you very much.”
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times