Connecting Communities Along the Grand River | BY: Erica Woods, Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation 

Just outside the Greenbelt, and home to almost one million people, the Grand River watershed is the largest watershed in southern Ontario.  The Watershed provides drinking water for 85% of local residents. The Grand River flows through many diverse communities; from its headwaters in Dufferin County, through Elora towards Guelph, Waterloo and Brantford until it reaches Lake Erie. With the health of these communities so closely tied to the health of the river and surrounding landscape, residents have banded together to ensure the vitality of the region are protected in the long term. The local advocates are driven by a range of issues– from ensuring sustainable growth to sustainable farming – but the core message is the same: we need to protect our clean water supplies across municipal boundaries for generations to come.

We share three stories of people and communities working to make this happen.




The water engineer

Emile Compion became involved with Wellington Water Watchers to safeguard the watershed as the County grows. With a background in water resource engineering, he was able to take his technical knowledge and apply it to on the ground cases. “As a kid growing up in Elora, I have seen pollution badly damage ecosystems and it’s really painful to see carelessness do so much damage in so little time” said Emile.

With the population of Wellington set to increase from 86,000 to 140,000 by 2041, and much of that growth going to rural and suburban areas, “it’s going to be really important to maintain sustainable water use, ensure agriculture can thrive, and maintain the natural beauty of the area while the County accommodates growth,” said Emile. “We need to grow the Greenbelt to give those areas the protection they need”. 

The Smart Growth advocate

Further down river, Kate Daley, the co-founder of Smart Growth Waterloo Region, began learning about smart growth policies when she started advocating for light rail transit in Waterloo Region. As she become more involved, Kate found that many local residents were informed and engaged with smart growth issues and were committed to see Waterloo Region grow sustainably.

Thankfully, Waterloo Region has strong leadership to ensure smart growth planning, and to ensure the region’s rural and natural areas are protected. “We have a great Regional official plan, but the question becomes about long term protection. Our municipal protections are strong, but they are not permanent. Being part of an integrated plan that protects sensitive features, moraines and groundwater resources that cross boundaries is critical,” according to Kate. “We need that extra layer of Greenbelt protection to make it permanent.”

The fourth generation farmer

As the Grand River turns southeast towards Brant and Brantford, organic farmers Richard Tunstall and Ella Haley are working with several local organizations to urge the Province to protect their water. The pair first became involved in farmland protection when Highway 403 was extended through Ella's farm, which had been in her family for four generations. Now they are raising funds through community bonds to try and save one farm at a time, as thousands of acres of land is being bought up for future development.

For Richard, the motivation is to make sure agriculture is a viable way of life in Brant County. A healthy, protected watershed is a vital piece of that puzzle. Richard is confident that for farming to have a future in Brant, young farmers need access to affordable land and they need to know the resources that sustain agriculture are protected.

"Growing the Greenbelt is a way to start the ball rolling," says Richard. "It can protect the land and give us breathing room to figure out how to get young farmers on the land." 




To find our more and get involved with local efforts in your community, visit the following websites: