Editor's Note: Get yourself a beverage and put your feet up for a Canada Day read! There are a number of interesting "trivial pursuit" sections (10, to be exact!), so scroll down to see which captures your interest. ... and HAPPY CANADA DAY!
by Reuben Middel, Outreach Assistant
This July 1st, as we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, we thought we’d reflect on ways in which water is an integral part of our national and cultural identity. After all, Canada wouldn’t be the land we all know and love without water! Water: A Part of our Heritage.
1. Canada’s national animal is an amazing watershed engineer!
The beaver (Castor canadensis) became the official national animal of Canada in 1975, but the relationship goes back much further. Found across the country, this rodent played a key role in Canadian history, and its resourcefulness and hard-working nature have been embraced as quintessential Canadian traits. The beaver was a staple of the fur trade, enticing explorers further and further upstream in pursuit of its rich, soft pelt.
By the mid 1800's the beaver was almost extinct, but thanks to conservation efforts, populations have begun to thrive again. To Indigenous people like the local Blackfoot, the beaver is a respected symbol of wisdom and medicine.
Ecologically, beavers play an important role on the landscape as “watershed engineers” by damming rivers and slowing the flow of water, felling trees and allowing for new growth, which can be a source of food for other animals. Though it seems but a humble, unassuming rodent, the beaver is an essential part of our ecosystem.
2. Canada has some of the largest stores of freshwater in the world.
O Canada, our home and native... water! With almost 800 000 km2 of freshwater within its borders, Canada holds over 20% of the world’s freshwater (but only about 7% is renewable - the rest is locked up in glaciers and groundwater).
What’s more, Canada is home to one quarter of the world’s wetlands. Wetlands are incredibly diverse ecosystems, home to aquatic and terrestrial insects and animals. Like sponges on the landscape, wetlands help reduce flooding and drought by storing and slowly releasing water - very important and appreciated here on southern Alberta’s semi-arid prairie!
3. We stretch from sea to sea to shining sea.
Canada is a large country with the longest coastline in the world (243,042 km or 151019.3 miles), touching three oceans. On land, five ocean drainage basins flow into Hudson Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans. We all live in a watershed within one of these ocean drainage basins.
The Oldman watershed is part of the South Saskatchewan watershed, which eventually flows into the Hudson Bay. Even though we live, work, and play in southwestern Alberta, we are hydrologically connected to fellow Canadians downstream.
4. Before we had highways, we had rivers
Over 150 years ago, even before any explorers made it to Canada, many of the Eastern Woodland native tribes used hand-crafted canoes as transportation. Their ingenuity allowed for them to move quickly through streams, rivers, and lakes. Because they were made from birch bark it allowed for easy portaging through the woodlands and past harsh rivers.
When the Europeans came over, they were able to copy the design of these canoes and began using them to transport furs and other good across the country. The canoe allowed for elegance and speed through the Trans Canada Waterways. In 1670, the Hudson’s Bay Company charter granted HBC exclusive trading rights along all rivers draining into the Hudson’s Bay (this includes the Oldman River!).
Centuries later, before the establishment of good roads in western Canada, steamboat became the fastest and preferred means of travel between cities, most of which were built along major rivers.
Prior to the agriculture boom, Lethbridge was a coal mining town. Coal companies, such as Galt and The North Western Coal and Navigation Company, originally used steamboats like the Baroness, Alberta, and Minnow to ship coal along the Oldman River from Lethbridge to Medicine Hat. Because they could only be used seasonally, steamboats were impractical for transporting coal (for which demand was highest in the winter), so a railway was built between the two cities by 1885.
5. Indoor lakes are real, and Canada has the largest one.
When people think of lakes, they tend to think of beautiful mountain backdrops, water skiing, canoeing, and all those fun outdoor activities. You may have been to the world’s largest indoor lake without even realizing it, most likely due to all the waterslides, wave pools, and hot tubs. Our northern neighbor Edmonton holds the record for the largest indoor lake in the West Edmonton Mall.
6. Our national winter sport is played on water.
According to the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) there are 3,250 indoor ice hockey rinks in Canada. It takes approximately 50,000 L of water to create a proper sized hockey rink. This means in Canada we use 162,500,000 L of water for indoor hockey rinks alone. This would be like letting your kitchen sink run for 37 years. That’s a lot of water!
7. We don’t all live in igloos, but yes we do get a little bit of snow.
About 36 percent of our annual precipitation is snowfall; particularly farther north and on the prairies. Because so much of our precipitation is snow, it means our streams and rivers don’t immediately flood, but as the sun warms the snow it slowly melts. In the spring, this snow runs from the mountains through our cities and eventually drains into our lakes and oceans.
Our Oldman River watershed is fed primarily from snowpack up in the headwaters. Anything found upstream in the snow pack will travel down the creeks into the rivers, through our cities, and into Hudson Bay. We may get a lot of snow, but it gives us clean, cold water!
8. Canada is home to at least 13 different monsters in its homely lakes.
One of our more common monster pets in Canada is the great Ogopogo in the Okanagan Lakes. Since the 19th Century, sightings of Mr. Ogopogo have been reported describing him as green with three humps and a horse-like bearded head. Interestingly enough, the name "Ogopogo" came from an English song in 1924.
Here in Canada, we love our monsters and take care of them as our own. Other lakes reputed to have monsters include Thetis Lake (BC), Cold Lake (AB), Reindeer Lake (SK), Lake Manitoba (MB), Lake Winnipegosis (MB), Lake Simcoe (ON), Muskrat Lake (ON), Lake Superior (ON), Lake Ontario (ON), Lake Temiskaming (ON, QC), Lake Memphrémagog (QC), Lake Champlain (QC), and Lake Utopia (NB).
9. Water inspires us.
Many Canadian artists have been influenced by our majestic landscapes and waterways. For example,
- “Down by the River” by Neil Young and Crazy Horse
- “Long River” by Gordon Lightfoot
- “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot
- “The Northwest Passage” by Stan Rogers
- “Blood, Sweat, and Water” by Corb Lund
- “Hell or High Water” by Blake Reid
- “Orca” by Wintersleep
- “River” by Joni Mitchell
- “Log-Driver’s Waltz” by Wade Hemsworth
- “Lost Creek” by Richard Burke (near bottom of the page)
- "Standing in the River" by Dave McCann and the Firehearts
- “River Run” by James Keelaghan
Do you have a favourite water-themed song or art piece by a Canadian band or artist? Let us know on Twitter @OldmanWatershed!
10. Our water is “Glacier Fresh.”
For better or for worse, Canadians have been stereotyped as loving their beer, and Canadian beer is renowned throughout the world (or maybe we just think it is!). Brewed with the freshest of glacier- and ice-cold mountain stream water, Canadian beer stands out among the rest.
Speaking of which, the Oldman Watershed Council hosts a monthly event called “Green Drinks” July 4th at the Owl Acoustic Lounge in Lethbridge. If you love beer (and your watershed!), join us for a pint and some great conversation!
Canada is a vast, diverse country connected by water - geographically, culturally, economically, and politically it’s a part of our heritage. The same water that carried Indigenous people and explorers across our land more than 150 years ago still flows through our rivers and into our lakes and oceans today. This Canada Day, as we celebrate the land we live in, let’s remember to respect our heritage and prolong our future by protecting our water systems.
Canada 150 video by Canadian Heritage Rivers System.