I spoke to a friend of mine, who is a nature therapist guide and trainer in Montreal, about hosting the travelling exhibition from the Kelowna Museums Society titled Waterways: Past, Present and Future. She explained how a foundational practice in her training was to draw a map of the local watershed. Water feeds everything in the forest and beyond. Water is everything. While on her guided walks, my friend makes tea out of plants she finds and local, potable water. The land and water very directly nourishing her and tending to her needs.

When you first see Waterways, you notice its large screens and its salmon motif made of laser-cut wood. It is eye-catching and modern. The panels containing the screens are arranged in a semi-circle, encasing you while you watch and listen to interviews, interspersed with beautiful nature footage and sounds. Waterways is here thanks to the financial support from Heritage Canada.

The exhibition, now at its first travelling location outside Kelowna where it was made, is the culmination of many years of work. “Waterways is a collaborative undertaking between the University of British Columbia Okanagan, Elders and Knowledge Keepers of the syilx Okanagan community, Kelowna Museums Society, Okanagan Basin Water Board, and the Okanagan Collaborative Conservation Program.” Knowing that we, and everything else, are connected to water, the story of waterways is also the story of us.

Water comes down from the mountains, picking up what it finds in the creek and riverbeds. It gathers at points into lakes. It makes its way, eventually, to the ocean. During waters journey, it changes form into clouds, ice, snow, rain. Sometimes it ends up where it started. Sometimes it evaporates along the way, condenses into clouds and comes down somewhere different. The water from here is the water from there.

While the watersheds of the Okanagan and of the Shuswap are different (the Columbia River Basin and the Fraser River Basin, respectively), it’s not as if they take care of theirs and we take care of ours. We all have a responsibility to all water.

However, the uniqueness of our watersheds give rise to specific considerations that allow us to take care of their particular needs. For example, Shuswap Lake replenishes at a much faster rate than Okanagan Lake. This abundance of fresh, clean water in Shuswap Lake is a marvelous thing, but it can also lead to complacency. Large quantities of effluent run into the lake and rivers in this area, and because it is swept downstream relatively quickly, we may come to believe it isn’t a problem. It certainly is a problem downstream and it is a problem here, too. Waste ending up in the water is not good, no matter how short a time it spends there. We can see evidence of this in the devastation of the salmon population and the vast decline of riparian zones.

To bring our attention to the beauty of the Shuswap watershed, there are several works of art by Linda Franklin displayed in the gallery as well. Franklin uses bold colour, together with delicate line work, to bring out the simultaneous power and serenity of water.

Come see “Waterways: Past, Present and Future” along with its “Waterways of the Shuswap” in the Montebello Gallery until September 17, 2022. What tea would you make on a nature therapy walk in the Shuswap?