Life Downstream


“It is said that by throwing one stone into the river, you can change the nature of that river forever. If you dump 10 tons of mercury into the Wabigoon River, you not only change the nature of the river, but you also change the nature of all life downstream.”

The Wabigoon River is rich in whitewater as it flows for over 200 kilometers on its way to the English River. For kayakers, it feeds an adrenaline obsession. But where the Wabigoon once nourished the Grassy Narrows First Nations, today the walleye and pickerel do more harm than good.

Throughout the 1960s, the Dryden paper mill dumped nearly ten tons of mercury into the Wabigoon River. As a heavy metal, it sank to the sediment and ignited a detrimental chain of ingestion.

As a mother and a grandmother, Judy Da Silva has witnessed firsthand the consequences of the Wabigoon’s devastation. From Alzheimer’s to Kennedy’s Disease to the loss of a resource and a way of life, the physical and spiritual health of her people continues to suffer.

Drawn to its whitewater, a group of kayakers never thought to ask about the Wabigoon’s history. And then, one day, they did. Life Downstream offers a powerful look at the intersection of recreation and livelihood and the reminder that to truly know a river requires questions most paddlers never think to ask.

To learn more about the Wabigoon devastation and support the Grassy Narrows First Nation, visit freegrassy.net