The Great Lakes Guardians’ Council, established under the Great Lakes Protection Act, helps improve collaboration and coordination among the Great Lakes partners. The Council provides a forum to:

  • identify priorities for actions
  • identify potential funding measures and partnerships for projects
  • share information
  • give the Minister an opportunity to hear feedback from Council meeting participants on matters relating to the Great Lakes Protection Act, including:
    • establishing targets
    • the criteria the Minister may use to select and prioritize the geographic areas for which proposals for initiatives will be developed
    • the development of proposals for initiatives
    • the development and implementation of initiatives
    • the development and implementation of inter-jurisdictional agreements in respect of the protection or restoration of the ecological health of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin.

The Act also allows the Council to meet for the purpose of focusing on one of the Great Lakes watersheds in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin, or on a particular geographic area of the Basin.

Inaugural meeting members

The Council is made up of Great Lakes Ministers, municipal representatives and First Nations and Métis representatives. Other members include representatives of the farming community, conservation authorities, industry, environmental groups, the recreation and tourism sectors, and the science community.

Table - Great Lakes Guardians' Council inaugural members
NameTitle and affiliation
Keith BrooksClean Economy Program Director
Environmental Defence
Dave ButtenhamCEO
Ontario Agri Business Association
Chief Linda DebassigeM’Chigeeng First Nation
Union of Ontario Indians
Matt DeMilleManager of fish and wildlife services
Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters
James DuncanRegional Vice-President-Ontario
Nature Conservancy of  Canada
Regional Grand Chief Paul EshkakoganLake Huron Region and Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation
Union of Ontario Indians
Paul EvansDeputy Minister
Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change
Mark GloutneyDirector, Eastern Operations
Ducks Unlimited Canada
Deputy Grand Chief Glen HareAnishinabek Nation
Union of Ontario Indians
Elizabeth HendriksVice-President, Freshwater
World Wildlife Fund
Bonnie FoxManager, Policy and Planning
Conservation Ontario
Chief Isadore DayOntario Regional Chief
Chiefs of Ontario
Bruce KellyEnvironmental Program Manager
Farm and Food Care
Dr. Gail KrantzbergCentre for Engineering and Public Policy
McMaster University
Chief Stacey LaFormeMississaugas of the New Credit First Nation
Minister Jeff LealOntario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
Laurie LeBlancDeputy Minister
Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing
Jeff LyashCEO and President
Ontario Power Generation
Josephine MandaminChief Commissioner
Anishinabek Women’s Water Commission
Union of Ontario Indians
Regional Grand Chief James MarsdenSoutheast Region and Alderville First Nation
Union of Ontario Indians
Mark MattsonPresident
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper
Don McCabePresident
Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Theresa McClenaghanExecutive Director
Canadian Environmental Law Association
Regional Grand Chief Joe MiskokomonSouthwest Region
Union of Ontario Indians
Minister Glen MurrayOntario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change
Regional Grand Chief Pierre PelletierNorthern Superior Region
Union of Ontario Indians
Craig ReidSenior Advisor, Policy Services and Government Relations
Association of Municipalities of Ontario
Nancy Rowe-HenryTraditional Practitioner
Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation
Caroline SchultzExecutive Director
Ontario Nature
Deb StarkDeputy Minister
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
Hillary ThatcherAssistant Deputy Minister
Aboriginal Relations and Ministry Partnerships Division
Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs
Mitch TwolanChair
Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Cities Initiative
Nicole VadoriSenior Manager, Corporate Environmental Affairs
Chief Leslee White-EyeChippewas of the Thames First Nation
Union of Ontario Indians
Joe VaccaroCEO
Ontario Home Builders’ Association
Steen HumeAssistant Deputy Minister
Energy Supply Policy Division
Ontario Ministry of Energy
Eleanor McMahonParliamentary Assistant
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Kathryn McGarryParliamentary Assistant
Ontario Ministry of Transportation

Inaugural meeting summary notes for March 22, 2016

The Great Lakes Guardians’ Council inaugural meeting generated a number of ideas and opportunities to move forward.

These ideas included a science and knowledge portal to bring together Great Lakes information and data. Other ideas included a greater connection to the lakes through opportunities that gather diverse groups and communities to share, educate, celebrate and take action on the Lakes.

Values and relationships

Council participants recognized the fundamental ecological connectedness of all things to our waters. Some participants highlighted the sacredness of water to the Indigenous cultures. Water rights, alongside the concept of water as a natural resource for industries and others were also addressed. Ethics, values and traditional knowledge related to water (such as Indigenous women’s responsibilities to water, and recognition that water flows through all of us) were raised. The idea of establishing a foundation of shared values was proposed as a potential approach for the Council, rather than focusing first on choosing among many priorities for action.

Water was spoken about as essential for life.

There was recognition of Indigenous perspectives on what is needed to protect and restore the water. The gifts, tools and skills that each person at the Council meeting brings to the table were acknowledged. Great Lakes restoration was described as a cross-cultural effort.

The question was raised as to how all these skills and gifts can be used to protect the Great Lakes for grandchildren to inherit. The Council was encouraged to think broadly about policies and actions.

Western science-based aspects of Great Lakes protection, and cultural and spiritual perspectives on the value of the waters, were acknowledged. Council participants were eager to establish common positions and aspirations in order to take practical action toward achievable goals.


During introductions, many participants highlighted some of the roles that they, their organization or their community play on Great Lakes, including:

  • promoting healthy soils and agricultural stewardship
  • partnering on projects in priority watersheds
  • funding or delivering community action and research
  • engaging communities on the importance of nature
  • working on or advocating around key Great Lakes issues
  • seeking sustainable approaches to new development
  • building new relationships and fostering youth engagement
  • conserving natural areas
  • protecting watersheds
  • raising awareness of issues
  • advancing drinking water safety

Many participants also talked about the roles that the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, and their watersheds, play in their personal lives and in the industries or communities they represent.

The importance of First Nations being at decision-making tables was raised.

The Council discussed how this new group can best help the province protect and restore the Great Lakes, in light of the many existing Great Lakes committees, agreements and work groups, the mandates of different groups and agencies, and the roles played by other governments.

Discussion included how often the Council should meet and where, and how the Council can best make a difference. A sharing of perspectives and building of relationships and trust within the Council was noted as an important first step.


Many Great Lakes issues were raised, including:

  • invasive species, and impacts on fisheries
  • the wild rice issue in the Trent Severn Waterway
  • a need for science, monitoring and data
  • traditional knowledge
  • climate change impacts
  • pollution (e.g. pharmaceuticals, microbeads, spills)
  • nearshore protection
  • understanding and measuring threats to the Lakes
  • aerial spraying
  • need for youth engagement
  • wetlands and their beneficial impacts
  • sustainable growth of communities
  • drinking water safety
  • resource development impacts and the effects of energy facilities and energy transportation
  • algae, especially on Lake Erie, and measurement of phosphorus levels and impacts
  • stress on Lake Ontario, reflecting where Ontario’s population is most concentrated
  • issues in Lake Huron and Lake Superior (e.g., blackwater dumping by boaters in Lake Huron’s North Channel, and concerns regarding removal of a dam on Black Sturgeon River in the Lake Superior watershed)


The new tools under the Great Lakes Protection Act were identified as opportunities for grassroots action. Opportunities to align with other work underway (e.g., on biodiversity conservation) were flagged.

The importance of treaties, building mutual understanding and learning from First Nations’ traditional knowledge were all raised. The value of engaging western science alongside traditional knowledge was also raised. The importance of supporting related work on environmental monitoring, capacity building and training was noted. The value of funding long-term environmental science and monitoring was mentioned.

Transparent discussions between First Nations leadership and Government of Ontario leadership were identified as an important opportunity. Partnerships between First Nations and industry to jointly improve the watershed were also raised as an opportunity (potentially similar to the existing Anishinaabek-Ontario resource management councils).

Rapid population growth, especially in the Lake Ontario region, was noted as an opportunity to pursue new technologies and approaches to sustainable growth. Work by the agricultural sector and others on reducing nutrients to help restore Lake Erie was mentioned. Others raised the idea of stronger polluter-pays measures to deter pollution.

Council discussed the importance of public knowledge and understanding. For example, invasive mussels are not always visible to the public, while Lake Erie algae blooms are easier for the public to see and rally for action. Increasing “brand awareness” of the Great Lakes was raised as an opportunity, and “rainforest-friendly” product labelling that is helping to protect Brazil’s rainforests was mentioned. The Great Lakes could benefit from similar national awareness of, and pride in, the iconic Great Lakes.

Positive developments such as the new Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area were also noted.

The idea of the Council getting to know one another better was raised as an opportunity to learn from everyone at the table, including the wisdom of First Nations water walkers, the agricultural community and others (e.g., municipalities, industry, conservation groups). A gathering by the water, for Council participants to share stories and learn from one another’s perspectives, was proposed.

Opportunities related to Great Lakes science, monitoring data and knowledge were emphasized, including the creation of a new Great Lakes portal or website. Themes of this discussion included:

  • gathering data and knowledge from different kinds of sources (e.g., watershed science, traditional knowledge, cultural expression)
  • breaking down knowledge silos
  • sharing data and ensuring it is open and discoverable
  • filling gaps in tributary monitoring and modelling to connect actions in the watersheds to impacts in the Great Lakes’ nearshore
  • understanding threats to the Great Lakes
  • harmonizing approaches to measurement, data collection and data management across jurisdictions (e.g., with the U.S.)

The Portal was discussed as an opportunity to make scientific monitoring and research data, as well as other forms of knowledge and expression connected to the Great Lakes, more accessible. This portal would also be an important educational tool for schools and a channel for engaging youth, and creating the next generation of Great Lakes Guardians. The creation of working groups to advance this or other projects was proposed.

Gathering summary notes for August 21 – 23, 2016

Manitoulin Island Hotel and Conference Centre

The Gathering took place in Aundeck-Omni-Kaning (AOK) “where the crows live.” The Gathering started Sunday evening at sunset on the hotel’s deck. The group woke early Monday morning for a Sunrise Ceremony by the water’s edge. This was followed by a day of dialogue – key themes are captured below.

Later Monday afternoon, Gathering participants either hiked the Cup and Saucer trail or strolled along the Little Current waterfront and then joined for dinner and informal discussion. Prior to departure on Tuesday morning, the group again welcomed the day with a Sunrise Ceremony.

Elder Josephine Mandamin opened the Gathering and led the discussion along with Minister Murray and Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee. She reminded the group of the importance of listening to each other’s languages. This set the tone for meaningful sharing of thoughts and exchange of ideas, including participants’ personal perspectives on what has drawn them to the Great Lakes.

Grand Council Chief Madahbee welcomed participants and shared history and importance of the area where participants had gathered. The minister reminded the group that the Great Lakes are already among the fastest warming lakes on the planet and that we face a cultural crisis in not building toward their health. He noted that we need to come back to Indigenous values and respect for Turtle Island (North America). This was a theme that echoed throughout the day. The idea of an Indigenous co-chair for the Great Lakes Guardians’ Council was also raised.

Both Chief Madahbee and the minister spoke about Josephine Mandamin’s important contributions.

Key themes

Personal connections to the Great Lakes

In a participant round table, others shared thoughts on what connects them to the Great Lakes, what they are concerned about, and what work they do to contribute to Great Lakes protection. Themes from these remarks included personal and emotional connections, Indigenous practices and values, the need to take less from the Lakes, and the need for leadership and wisdom.

After lunch, a presentation was given on recent polling undertaken on behalf of the International Joint Commission. It suggested that while Great Lakes literacy was low among the general population, a relatively high proportion of those polled want to see the lakes available for recreational water use.

Improving access to the Great Lakes

This prompted a lively discussion of the importance of various forms of access to the lakes – both literally and figuratively. A number of participants stressed the connection between access and education. This includes building an understanding that we need water to live – for example, in terms of drinking water, agricultural sustainability and spirituality. It was asked whether the Council could develop ideas around an access strategy.

At the closing of the afternoon’s dialogue this theme was underlined along with the importance of the Treaties with Chief Madahbee’s presentation of the Anishinabek Treaty kit (an aid for teachers) to the minister.

Access to data and information as a means of building understanding for better Great Lakes decision making was also raised. To begin to look at this issue a data and knowledge integration working group has been established under the Council umbrella.

Women and governance

There was a wide-ranging discussion of the Council in relation to improved Great Lakes governance. It included the roles and responsibilities of women in caring for water. The idea of a future gathering to focus on women’s roles in water care-taking was raised.

The potential role of the Council in reconciliation across peoples and in our relationships with the natural ecosystem was discussed. As one participant asked: “How can we make the lakes sacred to many, many more people?”

In addition to these overarching themes, many pressing Great Lakes issues were discussed, including drinking water, climate change, microplastics, pesticides (e.g., aerial spraying), excess nutrients, nuclear wastes, pipelines, invasive species and water diversions (e.g., Waukesha).

Second meeting summary notes for October 4, 2016

Call to order

Minister Murray (the minister) introduced Grand Council Chief Madahbee as co-chair of the Great Lakes Guardians’ Council.

Opening remarks provided by Chief Madahbee:

  • Represents 40 of the 63 territories in the Great Lakes Basin
  • Water is sacred, and the source of all life
  • Women protect the water
  • It is a vital element
  • How do we do things together? Keep it simple and have a dialogue
  • Requests people’s best ideas

Ministers' remarks

Minister Kathryn McGarry (Natural Resources and Forestry):

  • Invasive species – the new Invasive Species Act will come into effect November 2016.
  • Wetlands conservation – Ontario’s proposed 15-year Wetland Conservation Strategy. includes two new wetland targets to stop the net loss of wetlands. The proposed strategy is currently open for comment on the Environmental Registry until November 16, 2016. There are 93 Great Lakes projects being undertaken by MNRF, focused on research and monitoring, habitat, outreach, technology transfer, protecting natural heritage.
  • MNRF works with the IJC on Great Lakes water levels, and impacts to changes.

The minister notes the Great Lakes Guardians Community Fund:

  • Round 5 of the fund is now open for applications (Projects that protect and restore the Great Lakes).
  • Application deadline is December 1, 2016.

Minister Eleanor McMahon (Tourism Culture and Sport):

  • Spoke to enhanced Great Lakes partnerships as a result of the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail (1600 km) and Greenbelt cycling route (500 km).
  • The new Supporting Trails Act (passed in June 2016) increases awareness and encourages use of trails, and aims to protect trails for future generations.
  • Ontario’s cycling strategy promotes cycling for the future.
  • MTCS looks forward to working with partners to implement Ontario’s Great Lakes Strategy, including opportunities in the cruising industry and featuring the Great Lakes as an iconic location.

Council discussion:

  • The Waterfront Trail and how it has expanded accessibility including partnership with Metrolinx.
  • Economic benefits of the cycling industry in Ontario and Québec.
  • Question posed to the Council: How can we work with MTCS? What opportunities exist?

Gathering report back

The minister:

  • spoke to the experience that took place in August on Manitoulin Island

Chief Madahbee speaks to gathering:

  • The sunrise ceremonies and greater appreciation for the land.
  • Lots of sharing of ideas, led by elders.
  • Water as a worldview and how it is crucial to livelihood.
  • Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) can bring a lot of discussion.
  • Balance the needs of the larger community with the impacts to the smaller.
  • Balance the need for progress while protecting the environment.
  • We have an important relationship with trees.
  • Understand impacts – everything has impact and we can learn from each other.
  • We rely on women for guidance on water.
  • We can’t accomplish everything. We must focus on what is doable, manageable.

Council discussion:

  • How to create a focus for the Council. Proposed we create a set of principles to share.
  • Identify themes for the Council (data and the portal, nation to nation building, agriculture and food security).
  • Identify resources to protect the lakes.
  • How are we going to find something we can achieve together?
  • We need a dialogue for discussion. We need to broaden our understanding.
  • The challenge is to find out what it is we need to do. We need an agreed upon set of principles, for example “water is sacred.”

Progress on Lake Erie

Council discussion:

  • Economic costs of algal blooms on Lake Erie ($4.5-5 billion). We should consider the costs of not doing all that we can.
  • We have not addressed the 65% of First Nation who have advisories (drinking water).
  • 40% target for phosphorus load reductions to address algal blooms. Target is good, but we are not treating water as sacred .
  • We need cross-jurisdictional coordination.
  • Soil sustainability and creating soil resilient farms, and the need to use data to provoke action.
  • Acknowledge the difference between U.S and Ontario phosphorus loading – Ontario contribution is significantly less. “Their end point will be higher than our start point.”
  • Question to Council: What can your organization do to accelerate actions of the Lake Erie Action Plan?

Great Lakes outreach and education

The minister speaks to the portal:

  • An important tool between ministries, and to align First Nation Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) with science
  • Reassembling information from one source and sharing with others.
  • We recognize the contributions to agriculture and other sources leaking.
  • Work with partners to make improvements, and take responsibility.

Council discussion:

Overview of the design charrette process, to help produce a concept plan for Ontario’s Great Lakes Portal:

  • Aggregating sources of data.
  • Portal as celebrating the Great Lakes.
  • Role of data and information working group to support and help guide the charrette.
  • Need to create tangible blocks to move forward.
  • How will we tell stories? How will we identify the needs of the users? Part of the charrette process.
  • e360 as a website example, portal as a means of linking to other valuable sources of information
  • Question to Council: How would you like to be involved in the design charrette process? (i.e., participate at charrette, post-engagement updates, feedback on draft concept plan).

Next steps/action items

  • Circulate key contacts and support staff, send out a contact list, including other ministries and other key contacts.
  • Make next meeting in December – report back on charrette.
  • Circulate presentation decks (Lake Erie).
  • Arrange conference call with working group.
  • Create a work plan from the gathering, capturing outcomes.
  • Create a set of principles for the Council, addressing the issue of governance.

Third meeting summary notes from May 15, 2017

Council Co-chairs Grand Council Chief Madahbee and Minister Glen Murray opened the meeting welcoming participants to discuss protecting water, coordinating our work and supporting each other’s Great Lakes protection efforts.

Lake Erie actions

  • An update was provided on the Canada-Ontario Draft Action Plan for Lake Erie to reduce phosphorus loadings.
  • Conservation Ontario highlighted commitments to reduce Lake Erie phosphorus reductions and the need for development of watershed plans.
  • Association of Municipalities of Ontario spoke to infrastructure investments cities are making to support Lake Erie phosphorus reductions.
  • Environmental Defence discussed educational efforts to inform the public and work with stakeholders on phosphorus reductions.
  • Freshwater Future suggested alignment in phosphorus reduction approach with a standard set of recommendations.
  • Ducks Unlimited discussed work being done to quantify how wetlands have helped with phosphorus removal.
  • Ontario Federation of Agriculture spoke to nutrient stewardship initiatives being taken.
  • Ontario Agri-Business Association discussed its Certified Crop Advisor Program (amongst other initiatives), which provides support for farmers on best farming practices.
  • Farm and Food Care Ontario outlined the actions being taken by the Ontario Greenhouse Growers to support phosphorus reductions.

General discussions included: costs to correcting farming point and non-point source challenges, awareness and improvements in farming leadership, and many other programs and incentives to support farmers; and integrated management to protect fish and habitat.

U.S. Great Lakes funding and programs

  • Council of the Great Lakes Region stressed the importance of working together with our U.S. counterparts to invest in and protect the Great Lakes, indicating Canada must continue to take initiative.
  • Council of the Great Lakes Region also requested the Council work together to emphasize that the Great Lakes are a national (rather than regional) concern.

General discussions included: the importance of investing more money into the environment to create jobs, understanding the U.S. federal budget cuts to the Great Lakes and impacts on core capacity, and the need to highlight Canada and Ontario’s Great Lakes spending.

Respecting and enjoying the Great Lakes

  • Lake Ontario Waterkeeper presented a new initiative stemming from a Council collaboration called the Great Lakes Coast Initiative, to foster binational cooperation in the water sector.
  • Co-chair Chief Madahbee spoke to the Mother Earth Water Walk, and tremendous work of Elder Josephine Mandamin.
  • The minister suggested a Council collaboration to start a youth network across the Great Lakes.

General discussions included: the importance of involving youth on Great Lakes issues; other initiatives such as the Waterfront Regeneration Trust which focus on connecting people with the lakes; existing First Nations youth programs that help youth gain knowledge and involvement; and the importance of the Blue Flag Beach Program.

Improving Great Lakes knowledge and engagement

  • The ministry presented an update on the Great Lakes Virtual Space (GLVS), a project stemming from the inaugural Council meeting and subsequent engagement sessions. Steps are underway to advance the project.
  • The minister spoke to the “Carrots Reward” program (organized by Ministry of Health and other partners) as an example of connecting and engaging people. It is a phone app that rewards healthy activity.
  • Pierre Debassige, youth from M’Chigeeng First Nation, spoke about the GLVS as an interesting project. Important to understand where the youth are these days and use social media to attract them (e.g. on Facebook and Snapchat).

General discussions included: the Council stressed the importance of youth engagement as the project progresses, use of social media to keep youth interested, how to establish content and make connections, importance of highlighting on-the-ground activities, and linking to local content.

Managing a changing Great Lakes ecosystem

  • Minister McGarry of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry spoke in depth about the ministry’s actions to support Great Lakes protection.
  • A video was shown highlighting the ministry’s Great Lakes Fisheries program.

Next steps/action items

  • Setting the next Council meeting date in the fall (TBD).
  • Consideration for planning a youth summit.
  • Council to provide feedback on the Canada-Ontario Draft Action Plan for Lake Erie through discussions and participation.
  • Offering support for Elder Josephine Mandamin and the Mother Earth Water Walk.

Fourth meeting summary notes from March 29, 2018

Great Lakes Guardians’ Council Co-Chairs Grand Council Chief Madahbee and Minister Chris Ballard (Minister) opened the meeting welcoming participants to discuss:

  • protecting water
  • coordinating our work
  • supporting each other’s Great Lakes protection efforts

Acknowledgement that the meeting was being held on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit and thanks to Councillor Cathie Jamieson for leading the opening and smudging ceremony.

Minister provided an overview of the Ontario Budget as it related to Great Lakes

  • $52 million over 3 years, in Great Lakes.
  • Science monitoring and research, including microplastics and nutrients.
  • Implement the Canada-Ontario Lake Erie Action Plan.
  • Work on Lake Ontario.

Grand Council Chief Madahbee reviewed Guardians’ Council achievements and actions

  • The agenda includes an update on the Great Lakes Guide (virtual space) and that Swim Drink Fish Canada is leading the project.
  • We have had a Traditional Ecological Knowledge Gathering last March.
  • Canada Ontario Lake Erie Action Plan has been released – developing a workplan to implement actions.
  • Acknowledged the tremendous journey and work of elder Josephine Mandamin and the Water Walkers this year and the support by many.

General discussions included:

  • need for resources and efforts to address the effects of climate change, funding to support actions, and more opportunity for partnership

Grand Council Chief reflected on his time as Co-Chair of the Guardians’ Council and issues of importance

  • Importance of water for life.
  • Consultation requires patience: differing world views, establish scientific baselines in everything we do.
  • Involving affected Indigenous communities, technicians and Elders and using plain language, transparency is a key element of consultation.
  • Treaties are about our relationship to guide how we live in this country.
  • Important value in forums like the Guardians’ Council.

Great Lakes Women’s Water Walk

  • Thanks to Josephine Mandamin and the Women’s Water Walkers for their tremendous journey last year and the ongoing work to protect our water. Josephine spoke about the importance of the Walk, but it’s time for her to have others keep it going. She has been called upon to take on other things.
  • Autumn Peltier (an Anishinaabe Youth) addressed the Council and read her speech given to U.N. on March 22, 2018 World Water Day.
  • Autumn will take on a greater role / responsibilities attached to Mother Earth Water Walkers.

General discussions included:

  • acknowledgement of the incredible effort by these women to literally walk the lakes to help draw awareness, is inspirational
  • the importance of recognizing the role of parents and family in supporting our youth to understand what these elders are teaching us and to care about the future

Swim Drink Fish Canada presented the Great Lakes Guide (virtual space project)

  • Swim Drink Fish Canada (SDF) updated Council and gave a storyboard presentation on the overview of the guide (to be launched spring 2018) and its planned implementation.
  • Established a Founders Committee with participation from some of the Council participants.
  • Reflection on the advice given to them in the development – from the Council, the Charrette, the Indigenous communities and that they continue to listen as they roll out each of the phases of the guide.

General discussions included:

  • Suggestion for SDF to reach out to First Nations Lands Departments. Many have Great Lakes capacity and can provide advice on place names and dialect.
  • Opportunities like outfitting/canoeing as some Indigenous communities own businesses that help people get on the land and water.
  • Reach out to conservation authorities through Conservation Ontario to include conservation areas and lands.
  • Suggestion about ensuring the guide can include links about ways to connect to the water.
  • Use stories to create more stories and encourage Great Lakes experiences.
  • Opportunities to highlight and include the work of others such as Waterfront Trails and Environmental Defence and the Blue Flag Beach Program.

Emerging opportunities – youth engagement in council business

  • Presentation by the ministry of ideas and discussion of opportunities for youth engagement at future Council meetings and/or in areas of Council participant interest.
  • Consideration needs to be given to target audience, existing youth councils, education and curriculum design, leadership opportunities.
  • Request for volunteers to be on a Youth Council work group.

General discussion included:

  • have youth guide what is to be planned - build on their ideas, prior knowledge and what they envision
  • build experiences that lead youth from many nations to want to protect the lakes
  • Look for ways to create a common desire to protect them and collaborate and build strong bonds and partnerships with one another
  • youth want their stories to be heard and recognized
  • the Council stressed the importance of youth engagement as the project progresses, use of social media to keep youth interested in the importance of on-the-ground and water activities as well as potential links to the Great Lakes Guide

Emerging issues and opportunities

  • Presentation by the ministry on emerging issues in Western Basin of Lake Ontario including a special report on the science and data on plastic pollution being found in water, sediment and fish.
  • Request for the establishment of and canvass for volunteers for a plastic pollution work group.

General discussion included:

  • support for the establishment of a work group on emerging issues narrow scope to ensure actions are assigned and completed before the scope gets too big
  • need to include engineering solutions on our thinking
  • only a small portion of plastic is recycled
  • need to reconsider diversion targets recognizing we have a growing population
  • consideration should be given to linking plastic pollution to a larger discussion on contaminants entering the lakes
  • suggestion for a dedicated item on the agenda related to emerging issues and for creating a process for Council participants to raise Council-worthy items

Next steps/action items

  • Setting up next Council meeting in October (TBD).
  • Establish a Guardians’ Council participant work group focused on Youth, request for volunteers.
  • Establish a Guardians’ Council participant work group focused on the emerging issue of plastic pollution, request for volunteers.
  • Continued Council participant participation and support implementing the Canada-Ontario Lake Erie Action Plan.

Fifth meeting summary notes from April 23, 2019

Council co-chairs Grand Council Chief Glen Hare and Minister Rod Phillips opened the meeting welcoming participants to discuss:

  • protecting water
  • coordinating our work
  • supporting each other’s Great Lakes protection efforts

Honouring the legacy of Josephine Mandamin

  • A tribute was held honouring the legacy of Josephine Mandamin. Autumn Peltier helped bring forward a special message and acknowledgment of carrying on Josephine’s work with the goal of protecting water.
  • The Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation provided a ceremony and song to mark this moment through gathering, celebrating, educating and sharing stories of Josephine and water protection.

Update on the Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan

  • The minister updated Council participants with a short overview of the key drivers in the Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan.
  • Recognition that the Great Lakes are home to 20% of world’s freshwater, critical source of drinking water, is important to power generation (hydro, nuclear), manufacturing, farmland, and tourism.
  • There was discussion on the many important water bodies in Ontario like Lake Simcoe, connecting channels, and other inland lakes and waterways in the basin.
  • Critically important is the issue of real-time monitoring of wastewater overflows and work is needed on transparency.
  • Stormwater is a large issue and very real concern in many communities right now.
  • There was acknowledgement that the City of Toronto has recently signalled that they are accelerating wastewater and stormwater improvement plans by 10 years.
  • The Environment Plan identifies important issues needing attention such as plastic pollution and actions to deal with excess road salt as it is affecting our rivers, highlighting the need for greater awareness and partnership.
  • There was discussion on the negotiation with the Government of Canada on a new Canada-Ontario Agreement (COA).
  • In binational discussions, it is important to recognize the cross-border pollution and the impact on Lake Erie.
  • Lake Ontario was identified by a participant as the most important water body in all of Canada with 9 million people using it and more planned growth on the way, which will increase stormwater and wastewater issues.

Stormwater and wastewater

  • Discussion included a focus on stormwater events that’s keeping people away from the shoreline and beaches with a need for increasing transparency and making information public in real time. The City of Kingston is an example of a municipality that is doing real-time monitoring/reporting. Following a big storm-driven pollution event, the city’s transparency led to the cleanup the new urban swimming pier at Breakwater Park and eventual economic development opportunities.
  • A common theme was sewage issues that are related to population growth, treatment capacity, overflows and bypasses in the natural environment, which can lead to issues such as blue-green algae and Cladophora in the nearshore. In general, it was suggested that municipalities are supportive of stormwater and wastewater improvements recognizing that cities need to keep water and wastewater rates affordable.
  • Other specific issues identified at the Council meeting included sludge spreading, pharmaceuticals, nuclear waste disposal, and aerial spraying.
  • Natural infrastructure and building green solutions alongside grey is important. As an indicator, fish populations are very important. Natural infrastructure and wetlands provide water quality and biodiversity benefits.
  • Regulatory (approvals) process is a challenge for external organizations looking to protect habitat and species.

Discussion also included a focus on seeing greater transparency of the funding that’s allocated for Great Lakes. Additional resources and partnership opportunities would help with implementing actions. As well, it was mentioned that science data is not always coming together -- university, provincial, federal and industry data -- need to better integrate and use power of data science and Artificial Intelligence. We should also rethink the way we do science work planning and respond to issues and not in isolation or behind closed doors. Consider supporting innovation better in the areas of technology and process solutions and ability to bundle and leverage money that’s out there.

Climate change adaptation

  • A presentation on climate change adaptation suggested higher insurance claims and that individuals will need to take-action on their own such as protecting basements. As an example, City of Toronto subsidizes backwater valves, sump pumps and mandates downspout disconnection.
  • Flood water leads to water quality impacts so more needs to be done to deal with the few large storm events.
  • New development should be looking at new technologies and building processes.
  • Low impact development (LID) guidance may be held back by government red tape – requiring unnecessary redundancies.
  • We should not forget existing and older developed areas and houses at risk and consider requiring new flood control expectations and actions at point of resale to help reduce negative stormwater impacts.

Plastic pollution

  • An overview was provided of the Great Lakes Plastics Forum.
  • Key themes from the forum included economic as well as environmental aspects of the problem. Consideration for a “standardised stream” for recycling, not made-in-one-jurisdiction rules.
  • Construction industry looking to identify improvement areas. There are many partners working together on this challenge.

Road salt

  • A presentation on data showing increasing chloride/salt levels in freshwater identified road salt as one of the most pressing water quality issues in Ontario due to being: inexpensive and easy to use; few comparable alternatives; often applied in excess, liability concerns, public perception; dissolves readily, far too costly to remove.
  • Work is being planned with partners to help raise awareness and educate.

Connecting communities

  • Council was updated on the “Great Lakes Guide”, the new web-based platform, launched with support from the Ontario government and delivered by Swim Drink Fish Canada, to connect people with the Great Lakes and inland water.
  • The Guide is designed to encourage users (Ontarians and visitors) to learn about, explore and take-action to protect the Great Lakes.
  • Discussion from participants touched on renewal of Ontario’s Great Lakes Strategy and new COA needing to keep focused on how important Indigenous stories and names of places are to be recognized in these strategies.
  • The young and future generations need to see that inclusion as they are who will make the difference in communities.
  • Request was also made to ensure Lake Nipigon is in Great Lakes maps – as it is a major source of clean water for the lower Great Lakes. Important to recognize that the emergence of Métis people came out of the lakes and rivers and fur trade and fishing remains important.
  • Water was identified as being important beyond drinking water and swimming.
  • Important to celebrate the great things about the Great Lakes and acknowledge the economic importance, including waterfront trails in Ontario’s Great Lakes Strategy and a new COA. However, increased recreation and tourism is leading to localized problems of litter and waste that communities need to be monitoring and controlling better.
  • Need to connect people through outdoor based activities so they will care more.

Sixth meeting summary notes from April 22, 2021

Council Co-Chairs previous Minister Jeff Yurek and Grand Council Chief Glen Hare opened the meeting by welcoming participants.

  • Elder Gordon Waindubence from Anishinabek Nation lead an opening ceremony and spoke to the Ngo Dwe Waangizid Anishinaabe (One Anishinaabe Family) teaching, which mentions the need to take care of Mother Earth.
  • It was noted that April 22, 2021, was Great Lakes Day for Anishinabek Nation and Earth Day.

Remarks from Grand Council Chief Glen Hare

  • Grand Council Chief Hare outlined several issues for the Great Lakes including proper waste disposal, litter, nutrient runoff at shorelines, road salt, nuclear waste and untreated sewage entering the lakes from various sources.
  • Spoke about successes in local Great Lakes restoration projects such as coastal wetland monitoring and the restoration of Beneficial Use Impairments in Areas of Concern; and examples of projects led by First Nations to improve and restore the waters within the Great Lakes basin, for example, Henvey Inlet, Magnetawan, Red Rock, and Wikwemikong.
  • Spoke about the need to collectively restore the Great Lakes including through making difficult decisions, and the power to protect our people, the water and the environment.

Remarks from previous Minister Yurek

  • The minister emphasized the importance of working together to protect the Great Lakes to achieve positive outcomes for the environment today and tomorrow.
  • Projects funded through Ontario’s Great Lakes Local Action Fund are helping to improve the environment by funding smaller groups to take action on the shoreline. Examples of projects and initiatives underway were provided, including those that will address invasive species, Lake Erie nutrient loadings and engaging First Nations youth stewardship.
  • Provided updates including that Ontario and Canada will soon be signing the ninth Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes water quality, which has new commitments regarding erosion, stormwater/wastewater, and excess road salt; and renewing Ontario’s Great Lakes Strategy.
  • Discussions at Guardians’ Council support efforts to revitalize the lakes together.

Address by Chief Water Commissioner Autumn Peltier

  • The Chief Water Commissioner acknowledged that the meeting date was Earth Day and the need to protect Mother Earth.
  • Spoke of how the memory of her Great-Aunt Josephine Mandamin inspires her to continue to advocate for the Great Lakes.
  • Emphasized that clean water is everyone’s issue as all life depends on water and the importance of considering future generations when making decisions.
  • Spoke of the need to address single-use plastic pollution, clean drinking water and Earth Day.

Update from Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald

  • Ontario Regional Chief Archibald spoke about the need to work together in a cross-cultural effort to protect the waters that give us life and look at the bigger picture and think of the Great Lakes as a system.
  • Acknowledged the late Josephine Mandamin and how her legacy continues with Autumn Peltier and the Great Lakes Guardians’ Council.
  • Spoke about several challenges to the Great Lakes – invasive species, climate change, pollution and habitat destruction.
  • Noted that the Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health has commitments regarding consideration of traditional ecological knowledge in Great Lakes decision-making and emphasized that more work can be done in this area with government and Indigenous communities working closely together.

Great Lakes shorelines and mental health

Swim Drink Fish presented an update on the Great Lakes Guide, a website that showcases 1,000 destinations along the Great Lakes with descriptions and activity suggestions. The guide was created from ideas generated at past Great Lakes Guardians’ Council discussions and supported by Patrick Madahbee of Anishinabek Nation.

  • Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there has been a 28% increase in annual users of the Great Lakes Guide (compared to 2019). More people have expressed a desire to access outdoor Great Lakes spaces.
  • Swim Drink Fish is looking at ways to increase Ontarians’ freshwater literacy and help them become guardians of the Great Lakes including a partnership with the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.
  • Emphasized the importance of educating students from a young age about environmental stewardship.

Addressing water quality

The ministry presented Ontario’s wastewater surveillance initiative which uses wastewater-based epidemiology to monitor trends in the possible spread of COVID-19.

  • Wastewater can be used to detect COVID-19, including variants, and to understand how the virus is spreading within communities.
  • Sampling at local facilities such as long-term care homes, senior’s residences, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, universities and schools supports timely public health decisions.

Pollution Probe and Council of the Great Lakes Region provided an overview of their Great Lakes Plastics Cleanup project, which uses litter capture technology to remove plastics from the Great Lakes – the single-largest deployment of litter capture technologies in the world.

  • The project is being expanded in 2021 to new locations and exploring opportunities to partner across Canada and the United States on Great Lakes plastic cleanups.
  • Meeting participants expressed concerns about litter in the Great Lakes, particularly single-use plastics and litter resulting from the pandemic.
  • Efforts at the local level to address litter and plastic pollution could further be supported by upstream actions to move towards a circular economy for plastics.

Current initiatives

Parliamentary Assistant Andrea Khanjin provided an overview of Lake Simcoe and the 10-year review of Ontario’s Lake Simcoe Protection Plan that is underway. Highlights included:

  • The recent release of the 10-year report on the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan indicates improvements including the restoration of more than 15 km of shoreline, planting more than 55,000 trees and shrubs, and the creation and restoration of 120 hectares of wetlands.
  • Efforts have led to approximately 50% reduction in phosphorus loads from sewage treatment plants entering the watershed since 2009, decreased amounts of algae over time, and signs of successful reproduction of cold-water fish, but there is still much work to be done.
  • Additional work to support water quality improvements in the lake includes research and promotion of best management practices for road salt application.
  • Council participants noted other issues for Lakes Simcoe, including boat washing stations, and strengthening the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.

Emerging issues and opportunities

Council participants shared several new and ongoing challenges and opportunities for the Great Lakes. Highlights included:

  • Desire for continued collaboration between Indigenous communities and government partners.
  • Concerns about the environmental threats posed by the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline, particularly the environmental damages that would result if an oil spill were to occur.
  • Importance of testing fish for contaminants. There are currently consumption advisories for certain fish in the Great Lakes including rainbow smelt in Lake Superior.
  • Suggestion that having more garbage receptacles along Great Lakes shorelines could help to reduce the amount of litter entering the environment.
  • Importance of human rights on Great Lakes issues.
  • Synthesising global data with local data on the Great Lakes can facilitate analysis of impacts of new developments and create mitigative solutions before changes take place.
  • Impact that human activity has on waterways.


  • As the meeting ended, participants reiterated the importance of continuing to work together to protect the Great Lakes.
  • Meeting participants were encouraged to take part in the Provincial Day of Action on Litter on May 11, 2021.
  • Elder Gordon Waindubence provided some closing thoughts about the positive experiences of being in nature and our role as stewards of the environment, and a closing ceremony.