Three-and-a-half-months after setting off from Vancouver, ultra marathon runner and water protection activist Brad Firth - also known as Caribou Legs - has reached Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
Upon arriving in the country’s capital, the Gwich’in activist completed a 4,400-kilometre effort to raise awareness and reinstate protections for some 2.5 million Canadian waterways that lost their coverage in 2012, a result of the federal government’s amendments to the Navigation Protection Act.
“We’re just trying to raise our voice and get some attention, maybe get people to look and go ‘Yeah, let’s try to get back to protecting the water and get some kind of water strategy there,’” he said.
On Monday morning, Firth completed his mission with a water ceremony on Victoria Island, where he was joined by a multitude of regional supporters including members of the Algonquin Territory, the Assembly of First Nations, Six Nations, Idle No More Ontario and Council of Canadians. Following that, he finished his trek with a relatively quick 1.5 km jog to the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill.
“I am proud to be running with Caribou Legs and to welcome him to Ottawa,” said Paul Dewar, the NDP candidate for the Ottawa Centre riding who joined Firth on his last leg. “His determination is inspirational. I share his commitment to watershed conservation and to improving welfare, including access to water in Indigenous communities across Canada. I am running with him to show my support and to congratulate him on his incredible achievement.”
Throughout his quest, Firth promoted the Council of Canadian’s #Pledge2Protect petition, addressed to the federal party leaders. The document calls for parties and their MPs to protect the country’s waterways if elected. So far, the petition has garnered 14,727 signatures.
“We need people like him who are willing to go the distance to raise awareness of the vulnerability of our lakes and rivers,” said Maude Barlow, national chairperson for the Council of Canadians. “The Navigable Waters Protection Act was Canada’s oldest piece of legislation, ensuring that our waters were for everyone since 1882. Now, our waterways are being prioritized for industry. No matter which government gets elected this October, I urge MPs to not only reinstate but strengthen our environmental legislation. We can do better.”
While jogging around the country, Firth took time to meet with residents and learn about issues with lakes and rivers from British Columbia to Ontario.
“People in Chilliwack and Hope B.C., they have their own water activism going on there. They have a Nestle (water bottling) plant right there, they’re constantly fighting,” he said. “That kind of sparked my eye and I cheered them on.”
Firth noted he was disappointed to miss the opportunity to speak with residents of Shoal Lake during the Winnipeg Water Walk, held on Sept. 12. The march was in support of the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, a water-locked community on the border of Manitoba and Ontario that has been under a boil-water advisory for 17 years and without a bridge to the outside world for twice as long.
No stranger to environmental activism, Firth has previously completed two ultra marathons in an effort to protect the Peel watershed – bordering Yukon and the NWT – from industrial development. The first trip was a 1,200 km excursion from Inuvik to Whitehorse and the second a 3,850 km run from Vancouver to Inuvik.
From waterways to classrooms
One of Firth’s favourite visits during his latest marathon took place just outside of Ottawa, where he took an afternoon off to run with the Bishop Smith Catholic High School cross-country team in Pembroke.
“I showed them (cross-country) is about having fun by getting muddy, getting foot soakers and the last one in buys healthy drinks!” he said. “It was my first awesome large group of athletic students that I ran with down here. It was a great opportunity sharing my strengths, experiences and hopes with them. I explained that if (they) stick with running throughout their lives, it would take them to great heights!”
In an earlier interview with the Journal, Firth noted he will be giving his legs a rest while taking a break from his water activism, however, he looks forward to bringing some running programs to youth in the far North.
“Ray Zahab is the Wayne Gretzky of ultrarunning,” Firth said. “We’ve talked about doing some projects together and I’m looking forward to the chats and coming up with ideas involved in running and things like that in the Arctic.”
“I truly believe that everyone is capable of the extraordinary in their lives – running has been a great teacher for me, and I am so very proud of Caribou Legs and his awesome journey!” Zahab wrote in an email to the Journal. “We have spoken briefly about Inuvik, and I am hoping to meet up with him again very soon to nail down some firm details. He’s a great guy!”