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Looking back on World Rivers Day

Burnaby was the first to commit to proclaiming a B.C. Rivers Day
Mark Angelo
For the love of water: Mark Angelo, founder of B.C. Rivers Day and World Rivers Day, at Deer Lake Brook, near the Burnaby Village Museum. This year’s event is set for Sunday, Sept. 22 at the museum. There will be fun activities for the whole family, including crafts, music and demonstrations.

When Mark Angelo organized the first-ever B.C. Rivers Day 37 years ago, he never imagined what would unfold in the decades to follow.

The inaugural event was a cleanup of the Thompson River. Angelo and a host of volunteers put together a “huge flotilla of rafts” and spent the day drifting from Spences Bridge to Lytton, cleaning up debris.

Four tons of garbage was collected as well as five cars and trucks that had been resting on the bank.

“It was just a wonderful, very successful outing that was just one of those things, you felt really good you were part of it,” said Angelo, the former head of the fish and wildlife program at BCIT. “We planned a few more events the next year and a few more after that.”

In 1993, Angelo started approaching local governments about proclaiming a B.C. Rivers Day. The City of Burnaby was the first to make the commitment.

“Council was very enthusiastic and endorsed it unanimously,” he told the NOW. “It just started to build and build, and we got to a point where we had 100 events taking place around British Columbia and up to 75,000 participants.”

In 2005, Angelo took it one step further and made it a global event. World Rivers Day was launched in conjunction with a United Nations initiative called the Water for Life Decade, which ran from 2005 to 2015.

“I thought, ‘Wow, the idea of World Rivers Day would be wonderful. They could use our experience and success with B.C. Rivers Day as a template,’” Angelo said. “It has since grown in leaps and bounds.”

How much has it grown, exactly? More than 70 countries will be participating in World Rivers Day (Sunday, Sept. 24), with “thousands of events and millions of people.”

Events are happening in England, India, the U.S. and Australia, to name a few.

“It’s, without question, one of the biggest environmental celebrations on the planet. To think the roots of that great international celebration comes right back here to British Columbia ... (it’s) something we should all be proud of.”

World Rivers Day will be celebrated at the Burnaby Village Museum, 6501 Deer Lake Ave. For Angelo, Sept. 24 is all about creating awareness about the value of local waterways.

“Rivers are the arteries of our planet. When you come right down to it, water is life. We all depend on fresh water. In addition, our rivers have immense natural values, cultural values, recreational values and economic values,” he said.

In Burnaby, Angelo noted most of the streams that existed 125 years ago are still there (about 70 per cent).

“It’s an interesting comparison to Vancouver, where 125 years ago, (Vancouver) had more than 50 salmon-bearing streams within the borders of the city. Most of those were lost; they were paved over ... and buried underground.”

Looking back, Angelo said he never expected B.C. Rivers Day to flourish like it has.

“I think it highlights the fact that rivers are close to the heart of many, many people around the world. To see an event like this to grow to the extent it has, to see it provide so much profile, and such a great focus on rivers, is just wonderful.”


When: Sunday, Sept. 24, from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Where: Burnaby Village Museum, 6501 Deer Lake Ave.

What: Fun activities celebrating our rivers and waterways. Groups that will be in attendance include the Stanley Park Ecological Society, Stoney Creek environmental committee, Burnaby Public Library and more.

Cost: Admission is free, except for carousel rides, which cost $1.25 each.

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