What’s your Watermark?

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As long as I can remember I have been coming to Turtle Lake, Saskatchewan. My mom’s family has owned land on the lake since the early 30s, and we are lucky to share a lakefront property on one of the sandy bays with my Mom’s siblings. Summers in my youth were spent fishing in a tin can boat, wading in the clean cool water with my siblings and cousins, and taking swimming lessons at public beaches. 


Significant memories on this body of water include boating on tubes with neighbourhood friends, seeing a tornado touch down on the water during a summer storm, and getting to see my great-grandma enjoy the cabin she spent her younger days at with her seven grandkids. If you have ever been to Turtle Lake you have surely heard of the “Turtle Lake Monster” for all the t-shirts and ice cream sundaes that refer to it in the local gas station. It is rumoured that in the lake there is a large “monster” that will eat people, and it has even had “confirmed” sightings multiple times throughout my youth. Locals chalk the story up to large sturgeon that have left the river system and grown to be massive over time in our lake. This explanation does not help when I’m swimming in the deep, as I can’t shake the idea of the “monster” lurking in the water beneath. 


As an adult, I still enjoy coming to Turtle Lake to fish off the dock, spend time with friends and enjoy the lake’s serenity. It’s enjoyable to watch the neighbours I used to play hide and seek with bringing their family to enjoy the lake, and to catch up with their current lives all across Canada. Throughout the years though, the lake has experienced significant amounts of pollution from extensive boating activities and increased private development which drives more visitors. Every summer my family and I advocate to the municipality and the board that manage the lake for stricter regulations on boating and wastewater dumping. We strive to ensure that our lake will stay healthy for the next generations. Turtle Lake holds so many fond memories for me. I know that I will continue to go and one day bring my family to enjoy this lovely waterbody.


This is my watermark. What is yours?


A “watermark” is a true story about you and your connection to a natural body of water. It can be a positive, negative or neutral time spent on or around a waterbody. No matter the story you have to share or the connection to water you hold, by contributing a watermark you actively participate in documenting Canada’s water heritage. A watermark is personal and powerful.


When you share your watermark, you are contributing to the Watermark Project. The Watermark Project is an initiative led by Swim Drink Fish Canada, started by Lake Ontario Waterkeeper. The Watermark Project strives to collect one story – a watermark – from every Canadian or global citizen who wishes to participate. By having people think about water and connect to their water bodies, we hope individuals will be more empowered to advocate for waterbody protection. When you submit a watermark, your water story is stored in a digital archive which allows all the collected watermarks to be permanent, open-access and a part of the ever-growing waterbody record. Overall the goal is Canadian waters (and global waters) that are swimmable, drinkable and fishable for all.


You may be thinking that your water story isn’t that notable, or that you can’t think of any defining water moments to share, but I encourage you to reflect. Think about any moment you have felt at home at a body of water, a body of water that is in a childhood memory, or a waterbody you and your family return to every year for vacation. Are there any water bodies you visited recently that you and your family loved, or maybe you noticed pollution at? Any memory or experience that surrounds water, good or bad, is a watermark that we want to hear. Sharing your watermark:

  • Aids in the process of protecting your and other Canadian water bodies.
  • Documents the value of your waterbody in a national database.
  • Allows scientists and researchers to know where people like to swim, drink and fish.
  • Ensures that environmental laws be advocated for to safeguard Canadian water bodies.
  • Contributes to a legal record that can be used for waterbody protection.


Anybody can contribute a watermark. Feel free to submit more than one if you want! Citizens of all ages and backgrounds are welcome to engage in the project and to expand the waterbody database. Children can submit to the Watermark Project with their parents’ permission, and their last name will be removed from the public-facing site for privacy. If you wish to submit a watermark, but don’t feel comfortable having the watermark face on the public site, let us know and we can still add it to the backend archive. The submission of your watermark can be typed, filmed or recorded and sent in to us. Feel free to include pictures of your waterbody if you like! Additionally, if you attend a Swim Drink Fish event or an event where we, the North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper are present, we’d be more than happy to collect it for you. The five pieces of information to complete your watermark are: 

  1. Your full name.
  2. The name of the waterbody.
  3. Where it is generally located.
  4. When did your watermark take place. If you go to this body of water often it can be the first time you went there or the most recent!
  5. The memory, story or experience details. Some helpful questions: Why is this waterbody important to you? What took place at the waterbody? How did it make you feel? Who were you with? 


Mark Mattson, one of the founders of Swim Drink Fish Canada shares in a 2016 blog post that “We often forget how water shapes our country, our culture, our lives. We forget how privileged we are to have access to more freshwater and ocean than arguably any other nation in the world. When we forget, we become immune to the loss: the destruction and diminishment of Canada’s swimmable drinkable fishable waters. As Canadians, we need to sharpen our memory. Our water is more than a necessity for keeping us alive, it is the thread that holds us together as a country. And that thread is best seen in our stories about being on, in or around water”. 


I couldn’t have explained more gracefully than Mark just why the Watermark Project matters for all Canadians, and why you should submit yours today. To provide some further inspiration, I share three watermarks from across the Canadian prairies below. 


Battle River, AB – Danika Little Child

In the Battle River Area. Image credit: Marilynne Soveran from Flickr, unedited from original.


“My Watermark is Battle River located in Treaty Number 6 Territory in Alberta. I’m from the Nehiyawak Cree Nation. It is very relevant to our history and our way of life, it has a lot of spiritual, cultural, linguistic, and biodiversity ties in terms of how we live and where I am from. 

I am a lawyer, and I work with indigenous people in Canada and internationally. I have tried to create a specialty around the issue of water. I am working as an advocate for First Nations to strengthen their ties to sacred waters and to try to support the minimization of the estrangement from water that first nations have experienced over decades, especially in treaty areas.”


Danika Little Child’s connection to the Battle River area reminds me that all the waterbodies and landscapes we see and use are the ancestral space of First Nations people. This watermark inspires me to continue to seek out diverse perspectives on water and land issues, and to engage in dialogues with all people to gain further understanding of perspectives. 


Glenmore Reservoir, AB – Jeff Krehmer

Image credit: Jon Ross from Flickr, unedited from original. 


“This man-made reservoir provides much of the drinking water to the city of Calgary. It is also a recreational resource which I have cycled around many times from 1977-2009. My father took my brothers and me fishing there, by the docks and other areas; through the 70’s and 80’s. We have eaten Pike, Rainbow Trout and Brown Trout from there, so it is literally part of me.”


Jeff’s watermark of the Glenmore Reservoir brings up fleeting memories of fishing on lakes, rivers and ponds with my dad and how excited he was when my three siblings and I caught a fish (or minnow). This watermark affirms for me how valuable family time is, and especially so when it is spent fishing or paddling on or near water.


Lake Metigoshe, MB – Ralph Glass.

Image credit: The Watermark Project, Lake Metigoshe.


“My mother grew up near there in a place called Deloraine, Manitoba and built a cottage on the lake in the 1930’s. Starting with my generation in about 1962, my family, my two brothers and I spent every summer there for 16 years. We still go back – I was there 3 weeks ago – and we just have the greatest times when we’re out there. 

It’s interesting because about 10% of the lake is in Canada and the remainder is in the United States, so the Canada-US border is about 100 feet off our dock. And the laws have changed dramatically over the years. When I was young in the ‘70’s we could boat over the US, pick up our favourite American candy bars, and return at will, anytime. Nowadays it’s more strictly enforced, for obvious reasons, but back then we really felt like kings of the world, going to another country just for chocolate bars. Things were simpler then.”


Ralph’s watermark displays how country relations and security has changed over time, and how these changes affect people’s lives and or small habits. From this watermark I am encouraged to keep working for swimmable, drinkable and fishable waters for all nations and peoples, no matter the boundaries. 


Watermarks are your personal stories and memories, but they are stories and memories that can influence environmental research, and legislative policy. Submit yours today to be a part of The Watermark Project and Canada’s water heritage. 










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