Couchiching Conservancy

What's your watermark?


The Black River was one of the most important places in the author's upbringing, her time spent there having shaped who she is today.

SUBMITTED PHOTO The Black River was one of the most important places in the author's upbringing, her time spent there having shaped who she is today.

I've been thinking a lot about water lately.

The Couchiching Conservancy had Mark Mattson from Lake Ontario Waterkeeper join us as our annual general meeting guest speaker, and he has sparked these thoughts. During his presentation, he explained the problems we as Canadians are facing when it comes to water. The number of waterways protected is decreasing, respectful and mindful actions toward our water have disappeared in some cases and it seems like people don't realize the importance of the health of our water bodies.

In comes the Watermark Project ( -- a way to collect and archive stories from people around the world and showcase how important water is to our lives. This is how the program's website describes the project and how to submit your watermark: "This project allows you to document the value of that waterbody to you and your community, it helps researchers identify waters where people swim, drink or fish, so that those uses can be protected in the future and provides evidence that ensures environmental laws can be used to safeguard your waters."

As you know, Orillia and area is fortunate to have access to many beautiful bodies of water -- Lake Couchiching, Lake Simcoe, Sparrow Lake and the rivers that flow in and out of them. They are the focus of many activities throughout the year and the blue waters provide many of us with drinking water right from our taps. I thought for sure there would be many watermarks already collected by the project in our region. At the moment, there are only four stories from the Orillia and Kawartha Lakes areas, though. It's time to share your stories. To inspire you, I thought that I would share my own watermark.

My story is from my childhood and the time I spent on the Black River. Every summer, my mom, aunt and godmother would take a whole crew of kids out to the Black River Campground outside of Washago. (Brave women!) The river played a key part in our upbringing and experiences. We named the rocks we played on, explored the bushes and moss that flourished on the granite and we were constantly in the water.

Our time revolved around the rocks and rapids. Armed with inner tubes, we'd start out at the set of rapids near our campsite. Scrambling over the rocks in our bare feet, we'd jump into our tubes and head off down the rapids -- grabbing at each other's feet, splashing and paddling down the river. Countless hours were spent doing this route over and over, through the rapids and back onto land, across the island to start again.

When we needed a different activity to challenge ourselves with, we would take turns in small groups and go out into the heart of the rapids. We'd try to hang onto the rocks and go underwater, or sit right in the middle without being swept away. I'm not much of a risk taker, but along with my peers, I was fearless in the face of the aptly named Black River. In the rushing water, it seemed like it was the strongest force of nature I would ever face. Fighting against the current, I'd shuffle my feet along the rocky bottom and claim my spot. Crouching, submerging my hands into the cool water, I'd find a crack big enough to fit my fingers into. I'd take the plunge. Trusting that my hands could hang on underwater, I would let my feet out behind me like a brook trout, swimming upstream against the current. Periodically putting my head under, the entire world disappeared -- muffled by the noise of the water around me.

This was the place where I learned about the way water moves -- about eddies, and reading the rapids. I learned about paddling and using my muscles to move in the direction I wanted. This is where I formed friendships I still have today. I am forever bonded with the Black River and the connected waterways. The health of these waters are connected to my own well-being. Memories from the many years we camped at the Black River Campground will never fade.

I've added my story to the Watermark Project. I look forward to reading yours soon.

Tanya Clark is the development co-ordinator at the Couchiching Conservancy, a non-profit land trust that cares for thousands of acres of land and connected water in the region. To learn more, visit

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