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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Film screening celebrates Detroit River revival

Photo submitted: Panellists Bob Brown, John Hartig, and Andy Paling (shown from left) speak to the crowd at a special screening of “Clear Water: Detroit’s River Revival” at St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic High School on Tuesday, March 26.

by Kyle Reid

A large crowd celebrated the ecological revival of the Detroit River at a film-screening held at St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic High School in LaSalle on Tuesday, March 26. Nearly 175 environmentally-conscious individuals showed up for a special screening of the documentary film, “Clear Water: Detroit’s River Revival.”

The film, which was inspired by John Hartig’s novel “Burning Rivers: Revival of Four Urban-industrial Rivers that Caught on Fire,” documented and celebrated the decades of effort put in to clean up the notoriously polluted Detroit River.

In fact, the Rouge River, which flows into the Detroit River, was so polluted, it infamously caught fire in 1969. That horrific fire inspired efforts to revive the river, which is presented in the film as one of the most remarkable ecological recovery stories in North America.

And that remarkable story is thanks to decades of environmental efforts from groups within Canada and the United States. Major stewardship efforts include tree planting, upgrades to wastewater treatment facilities to prevent further pollution, and the creation of new fish and wildlife habitat.

On Tuesday, a group of panellists, including Bob Brown, the film’s producer, John Hartig, and Andy Paling, a St. Thomas of Villanova teacher, who is involved with a river environmental stewardship group, answered audience questions following the film screening.

Claire Sanders, the Essex Region Conservation Authority’s Remedial Action Plan Coordinator, said despite the recent revival of the area, many still remember the horrific condition of the river. However, many are still surprised to learn about it, given the much cleaner state of the river today, she said.

In fact, in a second film screening, students at St. Thomas of Villanova were also shown the film on Friday, Sanders said. Their reaction to the state of the river, compared to those who knew about the pollution, was telling.

“It was interesting, the two different audiences [from Tuesday to Friday],” Sanders said. “You had sort of this older crowd on Tuesday who remember some of these issues with the river and might remember the river burning. To share it again on Friday with these students to say ‘look how far we’ve come’…it’s up to them to continue this great stewardship.”  


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