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Author Tanis Rideout offers thought-provoking library visit

The Macintosh Library was pleased to host Tanis Rideout, a Toronto poet and author whose first work of poetry focused on super-heroines, on Monday, Feb. 22. Her first novel Above all Things, based on George Mallory’s attempt to climb Mount Everest, has been widely acclaimed and praised by author Joseph Boyden as “simply breathtaking.”

While we were delighted to have an author of such calibre in our midst, the main purpose of the visit was to draw attention to our collective connection to what Rideout noted as our “birthright,” our free and safe access to bodies of water for recreation, fishing and enjoyment.

As Poet Laureate of Lake Ontario, Rideout was invited to UCC by science teachers Lisa Bonney and Premek Hamr to focus on a project called Waterkeeper.  As noted in the organization’s promotional pamphlet, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper “is working to win back Lake Ontario, to restore our watershed’s natural assets and to ensure that every community has equal access to natural justice.”

Rideout’s easy and friendly presence with the boys ensured an accessible presentation which acknowledged her stature as a writer. She began by reading from her poetry collection Arguments with the Lake, while also giving the limelight to the larger purpose of her activism and that of a group of artists (including Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip and songstress Sarah Harmer) on environmental justice.

In describing an initiative to gather stories of personal connections with water, called “Watermarks,” Rideout explained to the group that the exercise of recording meaningful testimony is of value in two ways. First, it shifts our collective focus to what we value in nature, and to what we take for granted or habitually characterize in ways that do not serve us. Second, our collective reflections on what we value in the natural landscape can carry weight in a court of law when contesting threats to the environment.

Rideout asked the group, “Do you swim in Lake Ontario?” Most answered no, because the lake is polluted. The author explained that this was not always the case, and that there is an app that the boys can use on their phone called Swim Guide, to find hidden and beautiful swimmable bodies of water to enjoy in Ontario, and to learn how to protect your health as a recreational water user.

The boys were shown some examples of watermarks (from celebrated Canadian author Joseph Boyden, former NHL player Kevin Lowe and Rideout herself) and guided through a discussion as the presentation concluded. Many of the students had ready contributions to make regarding their enjoyment of lakes and their respect for the dangers and power of water in nature.

Boys will create their own watermarks as an environmental systems project, and were encouraged by teacher Heather Crawford to consider the links to other areas of knowledge and ways of knowing as a basis for their work in Theory Of Knowledge.

A display supporting the Waterkeeper initiative and themes connected to Tanis Rideout’s work is currently on at the Macintosh Library.

Mari Roughneen