Written by Annette Paiement, Artist, Producer

Growing up in Ontario, I have always had a deep connection to the Great Lakes, so when the opportunity arose to work with Environmental Defence to assist with raising awareness about threats to Lake Erie, I jumped at the chance.

With a background in arts & culture, using visual art to engage people was a natural way for me to connect with people from different communities.

For The Love of Lake Erie was born as an arts-based participatory approach to community engagement and research. My goal was to use art and play to engage people living, playing and working along the shores of Lake Erie. I hoped to gather stories, create community, and build awareness about environmental threats, specifically toxic algae blooms, pesticides used in farming, shoreline erosion, and climate change.

August 31st is the 6th annual #WeAreLakeErie Day! Get involved!

Red button that says "take action"

Although we were in a pandemic, many people were escaping to local beaches, cottages and parks with hopes of the fresh air, water and sun offering a gentle reprieve.

For the next two months, my car became my office on wheels, filled with multi-coloured paint, canvas, brushes, and the beach—a Plein air studio. Each day, I  travelled to a new destination and set up my workstation. Once ready, I would walk along the shore introducing myself and inviting people to paint with me, “For the Love of Lake Erie.”

A sampling of some of the beautiful paintings that were created while Anette was running her workshops along Lake Erie

Over the summer months, I travelled to parks and beaches in Fort Erie, Ridgeway, Welland, Port Colborne, Wainfleet, Dunnville, Port Rowan and Long Point to meet people and talk about the water.

That summer, I learned many things such as:

  • Children of all ages inherently love to make art and play with paint.
  • Sometimes people believe that if they can not “see” pollution in the water, it doesn’t exist.
  • Many people are unaware of how many homes rely on Lake Erie as the primary water source, and this precious source of fresh water is under threat. (Lake Erie provides drinking water to approximately 11 million people in Ontario).
  • Dog walkers were grateful to learn that having their pets drink water from the lake could make them unwell.
  • There are “unsafe to swim days along Lake Erie.”
  • Invasive species such as Phragmites are a recent threat to fresh water and are taking over waterways in areas around Port Rowan and Long Point. There were many stories of animal rescues, storm damage from high winds, increasingly violent storms, and the incredible expense of replacing infrastructure around lakefront homes.
  • Removing cyanobacteria (the bacteria that causes toxic algae blooms) from the water is a complex and precarious process and is becoming a more significant challenge for water treatment plants across Southern Ontario.

Red button that says "take action"

Much work is needed to raise awareness about toxic algae blooms and the other threats to Lake Erie and the Great Lakes. What I know to be true is that everyone loves the water, and everyone’s voice matters in the fight to protect Lake Erie.

The artwork created over the summer was vibrant, colourful and filled with life and hope. Some people took their paintings away; however, many left their work with me to share.

The experience has helped me grow in ways I hadn’t imagined and has renewed my commitment to advocating on behalf of the water.

This Wednesday, August 31 is #WeAreLakeErie Day! Learn how you can get involved here: environmentaldefence.ca/2022/08/19/we-are-lake-erie-2022/

Written by Annette Paiement, Artist, Producer