June 15, 2011

Campaign to designate Credit as a Heritage River

As published in The Erin Advocate

Is the Credit just another river? Is it a simply a drainway to the lake, an obstacle for road builders and an inconvenience for housing developers? Like most rivers, it is quite scenic, and creates a valuable environment for fish and wildlife, but does it deserve special credit as a "Canadian Heritage River"?

Naturally, a river can be special to the people who live with it, just as we may feel a bond with our home town. But now there is a campaign, supported by Credit Valley Conservation (CVC), to have it recognized nationally, and to raise community awareness of why it deserves the honour.

"We need to build support from a wide range of stakeholders and participants within the Credit River community," said Dave Beaton, CVC's Supervisor of Community Outreach. "We are in the process of forming a community based advisory team."

Before most people could offer their input, they would have to know what a heritage river is and why it could be important. To educate the public and get feedback, the campaign has its own website (www.creditourriver.ca) and a Facebook page. People are urged to blog their stories about why the river is important to them, and groups wanting a presentation on the campaign can contact Beaton at 905-670-1615, ext 426.

The site points out that the Credit has served as a major environmental, economic, social and cultural link for communities, including the First Nations who settled here:
"The Credit River has an incredibly rich and an acclaimed history – one that has played a vital part in Ontario’s early settlement. The Credit River belongs to all of us – all 99 km that flow from its headwaters to where it drains into Lake Ontario. It is, in short, an outstanding example of a dramatic and diverse waterway that is as varied and spectacular as the terrain it passes through."

There are people living close to the Credit River who are only vaguely aware that it even exists. The heritage we have received is in danger of being degraded or lost due to the impact of dams, diversions, pollution and development, so there is still plenty of work to do. Any effort to give the Credit a higher profile is certainly worthwhile.

The Canadian Heritage Rivers System (CHRS) is national river conservation program, promoting Canada’s river heritage, ensuring that leading rivers are managed in a sustainable manner and honouring them as places of pride.

In April, a workshop for interested parties, including community groups and municipalities, gave the campaign a boost. A report on the event, called Giving Our River Its Credit: Toward A Heritage River Designation for the Credit River, is available online.

"We can ill afford to take the Credit for granted," said biologist Steve Hounsell, keynote speaker at the workshop. "We live in the midst of an ecological jewel with the Credit as its centrepiece – we need to protect it. The residents of the watershed need to be connected to the river with a sense of pride."

The website of the national program (www.chrs.ca) says, "Canada is a nation with a rich river heritage. Rivers are the threads that weave together the natural and human elements of Canada." It has extensive information and photos of the 41 rivers already designated, including the Fraser in BC, the North Saskatchewan in Alberta and the Upper Restigouche in New Brunswick. There are 11 in Ontario including the Detroit, French, Rideau, Thames, Humber and the Grand, with part of its headwaters in Erin.

The CHRS has no legal authority. It is driven by partnerships and community involvement, and supervised by board members appointed by federal, provincial and territorial governments.

A designation does not result in any new restrictions on development. And while there are no guaranteed benefits, the designation could help when applying for funding in areas like tourism and wildlife habitat improvement.

A management plan or heritage strategy, to ensure that the river's values will be maintained, must be in place before the designation can be given. A master plan for the entire watershed is something the CVC was already intending to undertake. The CVC board has allocated $100,000 this year to support the designation and master plan.

The designation process is rigorous and could take three to five years. A river must be proven to possess the requisite natural values, historical importance and recreational potential. Strong public support must also be demonstrated.

The villages of Erin and Hillsburgh owe their founding and early prosperity to the Credit and its ability to power the lumber and grist mills of the 1800s. Today many people here are passionate about their river, and feel fortunate that it has remained in good condition. We are only 12,000 in a watershed that is home to 750,000, but I think that this campaign will find valuable support here.