FORMOSA – Jack Serre is a man with a mission – to have the five Saugeen Rivers declared a Heritage River.
The avid fly fisherman divides much of his time between Durham and Walkerton – except when he’s fishing on the Saugeen. On July 21, he attended a meeting of the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority board of directors in Formosa, seeking a letter of support for the endeavour.
Serre told the board members he has already formed partnerships with a number of groups including Trout Unlimited and Fly Fishers International, and has a letter of support from Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MP Alex Ruff.
The process of applying to the federal government for heritage status for a river is a lengthy one – three to five years. A number of Ontario rivers already have this status, including the Grand, Credit and Humber.
Serre told the directors his goal is to “change the dialogue” about the Saugeen River, from the Walkerton water tragedy to something positive that draws people to the area, to enjoy the benefits of a world-class river.
The first step would be to form a committee. Once heritage river status is achieved, Serre said he’d be pleased to work under the guidance of the SVCA and spoke of the possibility of an organization such as River Guardians to assist property owners and users of the river, in protecting it.
“I’m looking forward to putting this together … to make it happen,” he said.
Dave Myette, who represents Saugeen Shores on the SVCA board and is president of the Lake Huron Fishing Club, commented, “I applaud your initiative.” He said the club has a “40-year vested interest” in the river and has put literally millions of fish back into it. He spoke of measures like removal of the Truax Dam in Walkerton that have improved fish habitat.
“We have resources,” said Myette. “Keep us informed.”
He spoke of a possible collaboration, and told Serre how to get in touch with him.
The SVCA’s Elise MacLeod presented a report later in the meeting giving details of heritage status for a river. She stated Ontario has 40 heritage rivers at present.
“It’s a great opportunity to pull the community together,” she said, with no negatives.
The report recommended the letter of support in principle.
Two members of the authority board of directors requested additional information. Christine Robinson (West Grey) wanted to know the guidelines for designation, and the impact on property owners.
Mark Davis (Arran-Elderslie) said he simply didn’t have enough information to make a decision at this point, and “the term heritage scares me somewhat.”
Serre spoke of such things as having additional “eyes and ears” on the water, and assistance in testing and improving fish habitat.
Jennifer Stephens, SVCA general manager, noted that her research – including contact with the Upper Thames Conservation Authority – indicates users of the river “wouldn’t be impacted at all.” There appears to be little red tape connected with heritage designation.
Don Murray (Huron-Kinloss) asked if a public meeting would be held, and was told by Serre, “Absolutely. It’s important land owners get a feel for this.”
Murray went on to say he wouldn’t support a letter without members of the community and land owners being consulted.
Davis suggested deferring the matter of the letter of support until the next meeting, to give the opportunity for more information to be provided.
Stephens said staff would work with Serre. She also suggested getting “some form of feedback” including from municipal councils.
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times