By Julia Pepler
There’s no denying that our team is a passionate group of water nerds. Over the years we have collected a roster of books that help us connect to water, whether we are landlocked and dreaming of open water or craving a good read that motivates us in our mission of swimmable, drinkable, fishable water for all. Writing and art provide a powerful connection that teleports us to the water and ignites a passion for protecting our precious resource. The books below helped us connect to Canada’s beautiful water bodies and appreciate just how precious they are, we hope they do the same for you.
1. Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King
In this novel, Thomas King ambitiously tells the story of the world’s creation based on various indigenous oral and written legends. King creates quirky characters and a sophisticated narrative that layer wit, adventure, and vivid landscapes. The novel negotiates ancient indigenous traditions with the modern world, as well as themes of racial injustice, oppression, and violence. Thanks to King’s lively storytelling you are sure to connect with the history of our land and waters in a new way.
“‘Wait, wait,’ says Coyote. ‘When's my turn?’
– excerpt from Green Grass, Running Water, Thomas King
2. Water Without Borders? edited by Emma S. Norman, Alice Cohen, and Karen Bakker
Can you imagine the possibility of water without borders in North America? This environmental-science book focuses on a variety of issues surrounding water in Canada and the United States and how the two countries can “rise to the challenge” of co-managing our shared water and create policies that align with science, human health, and ecosystem health concerns. This read will give you a deeper understanding of how shared water has been negotiated in the past, and how editors Norman, Cohen, and Bakker envision a transformation over the next 100 years towards proactive and cooperative governance of our most precious resource.
“A border is a boundary. Sometimes these boundaries are subtle, like the lines on a page that tell a child where or where not to place a crayon. At other times, they are walls made of wood and concrete that, when placed in front of us, can hide us from those on the other side. These borders are false. While it is said that nature abhors a vacuum, it is even truer that nature forbids borders.”
– excerpt from Water Without Borders? Canada, the United States, and Shared Waters, Merrell-Ann S. Phare
3. The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant
This biography takes place on Haida Gwaii, a large island west of mainland British Columbia and home to the Haida Nation for over 13,000 years. It follows the legend of Kiidk'yaas, a 200-year-old gold-needled Sitka spruce that grew on the banks of the Yakoun River, and the environmentalist who chopped it down. The book outlines the fascinating history of B.C. logging in the 1900s, the mystery of the tree’s felling, and adventure through B.C. wilderness and waters. We should warn you, once you start this book it’s hard to put down.
“The beaches here serve as a random archive of human endeavour where a mahogany door from a fishing boat, the remains of a World War II airplane, and a piece from a fallen satellite are all equally plausible finds. Each artifact carries with it a story, though the context rarely allows for a happy ending; in most cases, it is only the scavenger who benefits.”
– excerpt from The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed, John Vaillant
Image: Golden Spruce, Rene Pike, BC Forest Service
4. Boiling Point by Maude Barlow
In Boiling Point, Maude Barlow brings expertise on Canada’s water history, our false sense of water security, and how outdated policies and laws need to change. Barlow, a Canadian activist and author, has been heavily involved and passionate about sharing her knowledge of the world’s water crisis for over 20 years. She has seen first-hand how toxic waters, dried up water bodies, and mass pollution has affected people around the world. Through her writing and advocacy, Barlow encourages us to wake up, see the reality of the world as it is, and act now.
“Despite our shared mythology of limitless water, Canada is not immune to this, the world’s most pressing problem. We face serious issues of water contamination, eutrophication, over-extraction, glacial melt and climate change. Extractive energy and mining projects endanger our waterways. Corporations are eyeing Canada’s water, setting up bottled water operations and bidding to run water services on a for-profit basis.”
– excerpt from Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis, Maude Barlow
5. undercurrent by Rita Wong
This compilation of poems by author and activist, Rita Wong, connects stories of oceans, the Fraser River headwaters, and “the fluids of the womb” to one powerful message from Lee Maracle, “The water belongs to itself.” Wong’s well-crafted words allow us to experience our toxic relationship with water through art and storytelling.
“the great pacific garbage patch is not just a mass of floating plastic junk the size of ontario, jostling about with jellyfish and starving squids in the ocean, but a dead albatross mirrors us back to ourselves. it is a manmade network, toxic magic in the making, branching into your bathroom with its plastic shampoo bottles & toothbrushes, into local plastic factories, into the fast food restaurants that sing the convenient song & inconvenient truth of disposable forks & styrofoam containers, into the plastic beverage bottles belched out by nestle, coca-cola, pepsi, visible tip of the corporate iceberg.”
– excerpt from undercurrent, Rita Wong
6. Water by Edward Burtynsky
Over 5 years, Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky brought took hundreds of photographs around the world and compiled them into this stunning large-scale book. This series focuses on “where water comes from, how we use it, distribute and waste it.” We see images from Ontario’s Georgian Bay, Alberta’s Oil Sands, and B.C.’s Mount Edziza Provincial Park from Burtynsky’s unique eye and perspective. Through his lens, Burtynsky reveals some of the most fascinating ways we interact with and manipulate water. The images and stories are mesmerizing—something that must be seen to be understood.
“I wanted to understand water: what it is, and what it leaves behind when it is gone. I wanted to understand our use and misuse of it. I wanted to trace the evidence of global thirst and threatened sources.”
– excerpt from “Water”, Edward Burtynsky for The Walrus
Image: Georgian Bay #2, Edward Burtynsky
7. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Robin Wall Kimmerer ties together her experiences as a botanist, ecologist, mother, and woman of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation in a series of short essays that expresses the importance of combining together indigenous and scientific knowledge. Dr. Kimmerer presents this book as a way to “heal our relationship with the world” by weaving together three strands of “indigenous ways of knowing, scientific knowledge, and the story of an Anishinabekwe scientist trying to bring them together in service to what matters most.”
“Among our Potawatomi people, women are the Keepers of Water. We carry the sacred water to ceremonies and act on its behalf. ‘Women have a natural bond with water, because we are both life bearers,’ my sister said. ‘We carry our babies in internal ponds and they come forth into the world on a wave of water. It is our responsibility to safeguard the water for all our relations.’”
– excerpt from Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer