The Water Brothers discuss Canada’s freshwater treasures

Tyler and Alex Mifflin are the creators and stars of TVO’s The Water Brothers – an eco-adventure documentary series that tells the most important water stories of our time. I caught up with them to ask their watershed story, and learned some interesting new things about their favourite watershed – Eastern Georgian Bay.

The Water Brothers
Alex (left) and Tyler (right) pose with WWF-Canada Panda mascot at a Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup event in May 2015 at Toronto’s Tommy Thompson Park. © Rebecca Spring / WWF-Canada

What is your watershed, or a watershed that has played an important role in your life?
Alex: We live in Toronto (Lake Ontario and Niagara watershed), and we have a family cottage on an island in Georgian Bay near Pointe Au Baril (Eastern Georgian Bay watershed). The cottage, and the lakes and rivers that surround it, is what brings our family together.
Tyler: Even before we had this cottage, we had an old family cottage on Trout Lake and did a lot of canoe tripping on the French River. What’s so great about this watershed is our history with it. It’s not just our lives that have been connected to this watershed, but past generations too.
We’ve been so fortunate growing up, having this access to freshwater.
At what point did you realize how lucky you were to have this experience?
Alex: We have so much water in Canada – over 60% of the world’s lakes (1 million). Only when you go somewhere that is missing abundant freshwater and clean drinking water, do you realize that we are so special.
It was when we were investigating access to clean water and sanitation issues in Kenya and Tanzania that we realized the true disparity. We not only saw how lucky Canada is, but also how much responsibility we have to take care of a resource that is so scarce in so many other places.
WWF-Canada has launched a new website that helps Canadians find out more about their particular watershed. What are your main concerns about the Eastern Georgian Bay watershed?
Alex: Falling water levels is a big issue on Georgian Bay. There are a lot of reasons why levels are falling, including climate change, but we are happy to see levels bounce back this year.
There are also issues with pollution – from farm runoff, garbage dumps and mining development. And finally, invasive species. The round goby and zebra mussel have the most visible impact. When I swim under my dock, I’m seeing more invasive species than native species at this point, and that makes me worried for what additional invasive species, like Asian carp, might do to the ecosystem.
Manitoulin Island across the waters of Georgian Bay, Lake Huron, Ontario, Canada. © Frank PARHIZGAR / WWF-Canada
Manitoulin Island across the waters of Georgian Bay, Lake Huron, Ontario, Canada. © Frank PARHIZGAR / WWF-Canada

So what inspired you to become The Water Brothers?
Tyler: It was probably the difference between our two original watersheds. We spent our summers swimming in Georgian Bay, and when we came back to Toronto, we were told we couldn’t swim.
Later, I went to UBC to study film and Alex went to Dalhousie to study international development and environmental studies. We were both on the ocean and became exposed to water issues we never experienced in Ontario.
Ok, final question – what is Canada’s most iconic watershed?
Alex: Maybe I’m biased, but I’m going to pick ours – Eastern Georgian Bay. Here are five reasons why:

  1. Manitoulin Island is the largest freshwater island in the world
  2. Not only is Georgian Bay well known, but so are the headwaters of the watershed – places like Muskoka and Algonquin Park.
  3. The watershed played a prominent role for the Group of Seven. The windswept pines of Georgian Bay is an iconic image.
  4. Lake Huron was the first Great Lake to be discovered by Europeans.
  5. It has a unique appearance. You can tell you’re on Georgian Bay in one glance.

Want to know more? Check out this Google Hangout hosted by WWF-Canada President and CEO David Miller.  Watch Alex and Tyler chat water health with James Snider, Vice President, Freshwater and Sarah Weston of CURA H2O.