Western’s campus is surrounded by natural beauty and through it flows one of the most biodiverse rivers in Canada.
This month, the community will have a chance to celebrate the Deshkan Ziibiing (Antler/Thames River) with Riverfest 2022, Western’s first-ever river festival hosted by the Office of Sustainability. The series of events encourage people to reconnect with the river, one of 10 “big moves” outlined in Western’s Open Space Strategy.
“We hope to reconnect people with the river and build that connection people can experience when they are out in nature,” said Jessica Cordes, sustainability engagement coordinator.
Inspired by a local River Talks event in 2018 co-organized by English and writing studies professor Tom Cull, Cordes along with sustainability engagement coordinators and new graduates Hira Jawaid, MES’22, and Madison Poultney, MES’22, teamed up with 16 campus and community partners to bring Riverfest 2022 to life.
“Helping people understand how their physical and mental health benefits greatly from spending time outdoors will hopefully act as an inspiration to learning more about the ways in which we can contribute to preserving these spaces, along with the diverse range of species that inhabit them as their home,” said Poultney.
Riverfest kicked off Tuesday, Sept. 6 with a ribbon tying ceremony, where campus community members wrote on a ribbon describing what comes to mind when they think of the river on campus, and tie it onto a large trellis, which will be displayed at the Riverfest art exhibition. EnviroSynBio, a student-based synthetic biology research team, will host a water-related trivia contest and a waste sorting activity with prizes to be won.
Opening Thursday, Sept. 15, the Riverfest art exhibition in the Cohen Commons at the John Labatt Visual Art Centre will feature the works of visual arts professor Soheila K. Esfahani’s Introduction to Sculpture and Installation class that are inspired by the prompt “Wish on Water,” as well as the “River Through Your Eye” installation. The exhibition runs through Sept. 29.
“Wishing on water is kind of the cultural practice that can connect you to a place, but at the same time it’s done in various locations around the world,” Esfahani said. “If you look at traditions in the Western world, wishing wells have always existed; today, we go to a shopping mall and when we see a reflecting pool, we toss a coin in and make a wish.”
Artlab Gallery director Liza Eurich notes the importance of understanding the historical and cultural significance of the river for other communities.
“People refer to it as the Thames River and are not necessarily aware of the history of the river, its significance to Indigenous communities and the other names of the river such as Antler River and Deshkan Ziibiing,” said Eurich. “We sometimes just take for granted the presence of water in our life and how easily accessible it is for us, but there are so many communities that don’t have that.”
On Tuesday, Sept. 20, in collaboration with the Indigenous Students’ Association and the Indigenous Student Centre, honorary degree recipient Carol Hopkins, LLD’19, executive director of the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation, and Elder Irene Peters will lead a water walk inviting the community to pray for the water.
Other festival highlights include a plant-based cooking demonstration hosted by Food Resources and Education for Student Health (FRESH), yoga along the river, wellness walks, student-led water activities at WaterAid Western at the Farmers Market and a campus cleanup with a focus on cleaning areas around the river led by the Advanced Pulmonary Imaging Laboratory (APILab), professor Tom Cull and the Society of Graduate Students.
Jawaid noted the festival is a way to introduce both incoming and current members of Western to the river, trails and other natural features on campus.
“We hope to engage students and encourage their support for sustainability initiatives throughout the academic year,” Jawaid said.
The campus community is invited to share their perspectives on the Deshkan Ziibiing by submitting photos of the river to email@example.com to be included in the River Through Your Eye exhibit.
For a complete listing and registration details, visit Riverfest 2022.