From right, Diana Huson, Regional Councilor for Pelham and NPCA Board member; artist Natalia Shields; chapter President Dennis Edell; NPCA Senior Manager Geoff Verkade; NPCA CAO Chandra Sharma; and NPCA employees and chapter members Eric Augustino and Megan Lalli. BRIAN GREEN

Members and guests of the Niagara Chapter of Trout Unlimited Canada, some 60 strong, gathered last week at the Patterson Campus of Niagara College, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their organization. In fact, it was a double celebration as the national organization of Trout Unlimited Canada (TUC) is marking 50 years since its formation.

Among the guests in attendance was Pelham Mayor Marvin Junkin, who praised the work being done to protect and preserve Twelve Mile Creek from its origins in and around Fonthill to the town borders with Thorold to the north and east. Pelham Ward 1 Councillor Wayne Olson, a member of the chapter, was acknowledged for his support of environmental causes, including the work being done by the organization. Diana Huson had a dual role at the event—as Regional Councillor for Pelham and as a member of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) Board of Governors, an important partner organization.

In his remarks, chapter President Dennis Edell recalled the formation of the organization: “Ten years ago on a cold day in February the Niagara Chapter was formed with only a vague thought of doing stream rehabilitation — what Trout Unlimited does so well throughout Canada. Our first order of business was to adopt the Upper Twelve Mile Creek watershed, Niagara’s most significant watershed and home to Niagara’s only population of Native Brook Trout. It’s not just about the fish – it’s about the health of the watershed. Brook Trout are the most fragile trout species. Their presence indicates a healthy watershed.”

Edell went on to point out that Brook Trout, once numerous in the upper Twelve in and near Pelham, are now reduced to a few pockets of undisturbed water in isolated stretches of the creek. It is the task of the Niagara Chapter, he said, to do whatever it can to improve the stream and protect those areas that are still pristine.

“As the saying goes, ‘Make the watershed healthy and the fish will do the rest.’”

Admitting that ten years have gone by “in a flash,” Edell enumerated some of the achievements of the chapter, including reducing the effects of online ponds, building erosion mitigating structures, and planting thousands of plants and trees in the watershed through programs like Healthy Twelve Mile Creek and Buffer in a Box. He pointed out that educational programs like Bring Back the Brookies have helped to raise public awareness of the importance of the creek, especially among young people, and established a volunteer base of residents and landowners willing to help the cause.

Of special importance to the chapter have been partnerships with like-minded organizations and businesses. Edell praised the NPCA as a vital partner, singling out Geoff Verkade, senior manager with the Authority, and Chandra Sharma, its CAO. “Chandra, with you we feel we now have a kindred sprit at the top,” Edell said.

Make the watershed healthy and the fish will do the rest

In appreciation of their partnership, the NPCA was presented with a work of art by Fonthill artist Natalia Shields, which depicted a tulip tree in the St. Johns Conservation Area.

Also acknowledged as a partner of special importance to the chapter’s success was Niagara College. In the chapter’s founding group of five, three were Niagara College employees, and in the years since many students and former students have joined the chapter and contributed. In fact, when students or graduates of the college’s Environmental Programs were asked to stand, almost half of those in attendance got to their feet. In recognition of this very special relationship, another artwork by Natalia Shields was presented to Niagara College President Seam Kennedy and Dean of Environmental Studies Al Unwin.

In their brief remarks, both Sharma and Kennedy praised the dedication of the chapter’s volunteer base and recognized the importance of the work they do to improve the natural environment of the Niagara Region both through “boots on the ground” efforts and the education and awareness they bring to the cause of protecting wild spaces like Twelve Mile Creek.

While passing rain showers prevented the scheduled musical entertainment due to electrical safety concerns, the gathering was sheltered under a large tent and enjoyed the food and drink provided by the college’s Teaching Winery and Brewery and Culinary Institute. Once the speeches were over, it became evident from the networking and lively conversation that the Niagara Chapter’s tenth anniversary had brought together a group of very engaged and committed environmental advocates. Among those who had come out to extend congratulations and acknowledge the work of the Niagara Chapter were Greg Ford of Niagara Coastal Co-operative, and Emily Simmons of Landcare Niagara. Patricia Huynh, Ontario biologist with TUC’s Guelph office, raised a toast to the chapter’s tenth and the national organization’s 50th. TUC’s retired national biologist, Jack Imhof, a man synonymous with stream restoration efforts across Canada, was in attendance along with many of the new generation of stream restoration specialists who have been members or employees of the Niagara Chapter through its ten year history.

Members of the Niagara Chapter will have little time to bask in the glow of their tenth anniversary celebration, as their annual Healing Waters Program takes place at the beginning of October. This three-day event uses fly fishing and fly tying as therapy for injured Canadian service personnel. Hosted at the Fonthill Legion, the dozen soldiers from across Ontario receive basic instruction in the art and science of casting a fly rod and then practice the craft at a local bass pond.

Legion branch President Toni McKelvie and her crew provide an evening feast, followed by a social session of fly-fishing lore and instruction in tying the delicate and beautiful flies from feathers, fur, and thread that fly-anglers use to trick their quarry. On the third day, the soldiers and a group of volunteer coaches drive to Caledon where they are hosted by the Caledon Mountain Trout Club and they get to try their newly created flies on the club’s population of Rainbow Trout. Entirely volunteer driven, the Healing Waters program has been a signature event for the Niagara Chapter over the years, interrupted for the past two by the Covid pandemic, but resuming this year.