The Cowichan River is the defining feature of the Cowichan Valley, a designated Heritage River since 2003 that is the environmental and cultural centrepiece for all who live here. Its name is derived from the Hul’q’umi’num’ word Quw’utsun’, meaning ‘sun warming the back,’ used by the local first peoples who have been stewards of the river for millennia. For over a decade, the Cowichan Watershed Board, in partnership with the Cowichan Tribes and other organizations, have sponsored an annual cleanup day for the lower half of the river with volunteers collecting garbage and recyclables for disposal. The Rotary Club of Duncan first participated in this event in 2019. With the cleanup being cancelled last year due to the pandemic, Duncan Rotary was eager to contribute this year, coinciding nicely with Rotary’s new area of focus on the environment.
This year’s event was held on Sunday, August 22, with around 125 volunteers from throughout the Valley assisting with the setup and cleanup operations. Twenty volunteers from Duncan Rotary, including friends, family, and a few members from the Shawnigan Lake Eco-Club, covered multiple sections of the river. Through the participation of other partners in this event, burgers (meat and meatless), buns, and condiments were provided, so Duncan Rotary did one of the things we do best and supplied barbecues and chefs to feed the hungry gatherers. Participants in the cleanup activities had their choice of sections, some that were easily accessible by foot or more challenging sections requiring swimming and/or paddling.
The day started at 9:30 with registration, followed by welcoming remarks from the Cowichan Tribes, including Acting Chief Cindy Daniels, Councillor Stuart Pagaduan, and Elder T’uwaxwiye – Philomena Williams. Their remarks highlighted the importance of the river throughout their history and culture and the appreciation that people from all walks can come together to help protect it. It was an honour to share in the stewardship of this valuable resource, if only for a day.
In total, approximately 1100kg of garbage and recyclables was collected, with garbage being carted off to the local disposal facility (free of charge thanks to the Cowichan Valley Regional District) and bottles and cans sent to the return-it depot, contributing to the roughly 15 metric tonnes of material that have been collected over the years.
We are all responsible for the environment in which we live, and participating in an event such as this, sharing the stewardship with like-minded people in the community while enjoying a walk, paddle, or swim, was an enjoyable and fulfilling way to spend a few hours.
Already looking forward to Cleanup Day 2022!