The history of Earth Day and its impact on Greater Fort Erie

Most residents of Greater Fort Erie have heard the term “Earth Day” and at some point may have even participated in annual litter pick-ups. But the history of how Earth Day came to be is most likely a lesser-known fact.

And why is it such a big deal?

The Industrial Revolution was an exciting time of transition from hand production to mechanized factory systems and chemical manufacturing. These advancements increased average incomes, raised standards of living, and consequently led to a population explosion.

Decades later, the dark side of this rapid development is rearing its ugly head.

In 1962, a book called ‘Silent Spring’ by Rachel Carson was published and it changed the trajectory of the environmental movement. The book brought to light the true cost of unregulated industrialization and directly linked pollution and public health.

This spurred a growth of environmental awareness but there still wasn’t any official government oversight or regulatory bodies.

In following years, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson came up with the idea of an earth day as a way to force environmental protections on the national agenda. He recruited leaders to organize protests across the country, and hoping for large student involvement, he chose the date April 22 because it landed on a weekday between spring break and final exams.

Thus, on April 22, 1970, an unprecedented 20 million Americans from all walks of life rallied in different cities across the United States to stand in solidarity demanding environmental protections.

Meanwhile in Canada, a dramatic mock funeral was held on the Detroit River on the Windsor border as a way to symbolize the ecological death of the Lake Erie watershed.

These demonstrations were wildly successful and soon prompted the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Environmental Education Act, the Canada Water Act, and the Department of the Environment.

It wasn’t until 1990 that Earth Day was officially celebrated in Canada. This was the year it became an international event with over 200 million participants across the world, and the Earth Day Canada organization was brought to life.

Throughout the decades, Earth Day has seen many global changes and has been used as an opportunity to bring awareness to issues such as pollution, sustainability, and climate change. By 2020, over a billion people worldwide participated in Earth Day activities and online events in celebration of its 50th anniversary.

The importance of Earth Day and the resulting environmental protections should be appreciated right here in Fort Erie as we are fortunate enough to live along the shoreline of the most biologically diverse of all the Great Lakes.

Lake Erie is home to 107 fish species. The north shore is a migration stopover for important species of birds, waterfowl, and butterflies. And our wetlands are home to the endangered Fowler’s toad, as well as many species of at-risk turtles.

Lake Erie is also the town’s main source of drinking water, as only 20 per cent of residents have personal water supplies like wells.

Defending these assets should be a priority for all residents.

The legacy of that first Earth Day persists to this day with growing awareness and continued actions towards a protected planet. There have been improvements in waste management systems, free tree giveaways, and a new town bylaw for tree preservation.

The influence of Earth Day can even be seen in Niagara Region’s annual illegal dumping statistics. In 2020, 72 illegal dumping sites were reported in Fort Erie, down to 67 in 2021, and just 34 in 2022.

For those hoping to participate in Earth Day this year, Little Red Coffee (46 Queen St.) is hosting their annual cleanup on Saturday, April 20, 2024, starting at 11 a.m.

The cleanup will begin at the Goderich Street Parkette where garbage bags and gloves will be distributed. The path of cleanup will be along Queen Street on the way back to the coffee shop. For more information, contact hi@littleredcoffee.ca.

South Coast Cookhouse (423 Derby Rd.) is also hosting their annual cleanup event on Saturday. Participants should meet at South Coast at 10 a.m. where they can get garbage bags and gloves and fan out to tidy up the community before meeting back at the restaurant for complimentary pizza and wings.

More information is available on the South Coast Cookhouse Facebook page.

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