Text: Nathalie Landry
Editing: Monique Arsenault
Photos and Video: Nathalie Landry, Georges Brun, Mario Cyr, Brian Branch
Music: Rocket Culture
You may have seen him wandering around the banks of the Petitcodiac River, taking photographs, wearing his trademark goretex, dark shades and a baseball cap. You may have wondered what he is documenting or why anyone would be out so close to the river, especially in the winter months with freezing temperatures. Fact is, long-time Petitcodiac Riverkeeper volunteer Georges Brun is passionate about and knows quite a bit about the river. An official Riverwatcher, he is dedicated to observing and documenting the river as well as any activity taking place around it, in order to deter potential polluters and make sure the river’s health continues to improve.
A Moncton resident since birth, Brun grew up in the old Parkton area and studied at the Université de Moncton. He’s an outdoor enthusiast, has studied water management, and was one of the key players involved in putting public pressure on the Province leading to the opening of the causeway gates in 2010. He remains to this day one of river’s most adamant defenders.
“I was 4 or 5 years old the first time I saw the tidal bore. It had a big impact on me. The river is really an icon for our region. I guess you could say that I’ve always been an environmentalist. In the past, we’ve had a pretty bad relationship with managing our waterways. I remember back in the day when the sewers would empty out into various creeks of the area. I was very concerned when they first built the causeway, certain it would be bad for the river.”
Concerned with water quality, Brun was one of the founding members of the Petitcodiac Watershed Alliance in 1996. The group set up more than 40 freshwater and saltwater monitoring stations throughout the Petitcodiac and Memramcook River basins. His knowledge of water quality got him involved with Riverkeeper Daniel LeBlanc and other like-minded individuals who eventually formed the Sentinelles Petitcodiac Riverkeeper organization in 1999 to lead restoration and protection efforts for the Petitcodiac River. He remembers how alarming the situation was becoming.
“Fish stocks were on the decline. Salmons could not continue their migratory pattern up the river, and so fishermen in Salisbury started to notice that there were no more fish in their area. Each year, the river kept getting narrower, since the control structure was stopping the tide’s natural mud erosion process. At one point, I took a picture of herons in the river near the causeway gates. The river channel was so narrow and shallow at that area that they were almost stuck in the mud. It was frightening to see how low the water level had become. And the tidal bore, well it became, as you know, so minuscule that people were calling it the “total bore”.”
The Petitcodiac River’s channel had become alarmingly narrow and shallow, especially at low tide. Photo taken in 2001.
Brun started documenting all this a long time ago and his photos show the river’s evolution. He is happy to see the river regain its strength since the opening of the gates. People don’t realize what a precious ecosystem the river supports, he says.
“I see a lot of wildlife by the river: deer, foxes, beavers, turtles, all kinds of birds and many species of fish. The tides that roll in are important to our region’s climate too. We use to see a lot of fog back when I was a kid. The coldwater has a cooling effect on our region during the hot summer evenings. We’re only now starting to see more fog again, since the river is able to flow more naturally. The river is slowly eroding and clearing up its muddy banks. I also see people enjoying and appreciating the river a lot more.”
He warns that while the causeway remains in place, the control structure still impedes the river’s complete natural flow. And without the full force of the tide being able to reach the other side of the control structure’s gates, the river may continue to become narrower where the artificial lake use to be.
Other problems include pollution and ongoing urban development that does not take into account the importance of the region’s watershed.
Georges Brun documents wildlife on the Petitcodiac River and its banks, like this snowy owl, common raven and red fox seen over the winter months in 2014.
“There are always those who turn a blind eye in the name of development. When the causeway was built, the river became narrower, and we thus underestimated our limits in terms of where we should and should not build. Now that the river is regaining its natural flow and becoming wider, you would think that this would be a wake-up call and that we will realise the importance of respecting nature when deciding to build new buildings, roads and sewer lines. While volunteers like myself and people like Terry Hebert, Roger Dubois and Ernest Arsenault who care deeply about the river are busy monitoring and working on restoration projects in certain areas, we can’t be everywhere at once and we can’t always stop negative development from happening.”
He remains optimistic though. “My purpose is to alert people to what is going on. Hopefully by reporting things, we can deter potential polluters and question negative development. We also want to make sure the gates remain open in hopes that one day we can replace the control structure and roadway with a bridge and really allow our precious river to become the mighty Petitcodiac River it once was.”