Skip to content

The 2Rivers Festival explores our actual and virtual connection to water (8 photos)

In this Grounded feature we talk to Arlene Slocombe from the Wellington Water Watchers about how they are proceeding with the ninth annual 2Rivers Festival by moving most of the events online

Every day it seems we hear about another festival or event being cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic and then there are some, such as the 2Rivers Festival that are moving ahead by going online.

“Mostly, it’s because we put a whole year of work into organizing it and the week that everything got shut down was the same week we had our booklets printed,” said Arlene Slocombe, executive director for the Wellington Water Watchers. “They were completed and we have advertisers that paid for spots in it. We knew we had to create value for those advertising dollars.”

Since its inception in 2012, organizers of the 2Rivers Festival have sought fun and creative ways to educate, advocate and celebrate Guelph’s rivers and water resources. Most of the events and activities have been social in nature so, shelter-in-place and social distancing orders have created a whole new set of challenges.

“We got thinking creatively,” said Slocombe. “People are in lockdown for months and months, perhaps they might be wanting and seeking some kind of fun information or fun things to do. We worked with each host organization and encouraged them to think outside the box and they are all very different.”

The festival runs from May 3 to June 28 with 39 of the 40 originally scheduled events proceeding with a “back-up plan”.

“The only one that fully declined right now is the Taoist Tai Chi group,” said Slocombe. “They’re the only one we don’t have a backup for, but I would say 39 out of 40 is pretty great.”

Moving the events online isn’t ideal but it has created potential for broadening the number of people the 2Rivers Festival reaches.

“We usually only promote this festival to Guelph residents because it is specifically focused on our rivers here,” said Slocombe. “Because many of the events have something that is more broadly accessible such as information on the types of animals that live in our rivers and stuff like that, we are seeing some heavy numbers of RSVPs rolling in.”

To join a virtual tour, a chat group, or take part in any of the other online options go to the 2Rivers Festival website click on the event you want to attend and register.

“People may look at the listing but to actually join an event they do have to RSVP online on our website,” said Slocombe.

The festival kicked off Sunday, May 3, with the Sacred Water Walk, an Anishinaabe ceremony that was introduced to the festival three years ago by indigenous storyteller and elder Jan Sherman.

The hour-long event featured a short film of Anishinaabe author Joanne Robertson reading from her children’s book The Water Walker that was inspired by the life of Josephine Mandamin.

“She (Mandamin) is the woman known for initiating water walks,” said Slocombe. “She passed away two years ago but left an incredible legacy.”

People were encouraged to take part in the ceremony Sunday by going to a nearby body of water to reflect and sing along with a recording of Mandamin singing, Nibi, a traditional Anishinaabe water song.

“If people are in a place where they don’t have access to a body of water then they will be invited to pour a glass of water from their tap and pour it on the ground,” said Slocombe. “That’s a really creative imagining to get the intention of the event.”

More than 75 people took part in the online ceremony Sunday morning and many more viewed it without signing in.

“We had three events on Sunday and between them all there were about 165 RSVPs,” said Slocombe. “That hasn't exactly translated to online attendance but everyone who RSVPs will get a recording.”

Many of the upcoming events such as the Medicinal Plant Walk hosted by Zhyfhs Millicent on Thursday June 11 have a virtual and actual component.

“She is going to do the walk herself and narrate as she walks a trail along the Speed River,” said Slocombe. “She is going to point out different plants, talk about their medicinal qualities and leave a marker. Each of these markers will have a number that corresponds with a plant so people can download a map and take a self-guided tour later on.”

The 2Rivers Festival has grown every year because of the passion of local water activists and collaboration between a number local social and environmental organizations.

“I want to encourage people to pay attention to these organizations like Nature Guelph and all the others that are hosting events and are already here doing great work,” said Slocombe. “There are all sorts of creative options coming up with the intention of getting people connected with our rivers either by learning some knowledge or going out directly and interacting with the water. I am really excited about it actually.”