London celebrations

Western University launches festival to celebrate the city’s river

Western University pays homage to the river that runs through it with a one-of-a-kind festival celebrating the Deshkan Ziibling, the Aboriginal name for the Thames River.

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Western University pays homage to the river that runs through it with a one-of-a-kind festival celebrating the Deshkan Ziibling, the Aboriginal name for the Thames River.

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Western’s first-ever Riverfest is designed to encourage people to celebrate the water system and recognize its importance, says Jessica Cordes, Western’s sustainability engagement coordinator. The series of events is one of 10 major “moves” outlined in Western’s open spaces strategy, she said.

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Running through September 27, the festival was inspired by a community event in 2018, titled River Talks, as “a way to focus on the river that brings us all together.”

“What we wanted to do was draw attention to the river that runs through campus and make people think about how this river connects all of us on campus to each other and to the river, as well as to the community at large,” Cordes said.

The Thames, also known to Indigenous communities as the River Antler, is considered one of the most biodiverse rivers in Canada due to the number of species that inhabit it, she said.

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  1. Springbank Dam in London on Friday May 18, 2018. (Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press)

    River activists make 11 a.m. bid to revive Springbank Dam

  2. A storm on September 22 that dumped nearly 70 millimeters of rain on London - a record amount for that day - caused flooding in city parks and around 60 million liters of raw sewage was released into the River Thames at the city's sewage treatment plants which were overwhelmed by sewage and runoff from the storm.  Picture taken Thursday September 23, 2021. (MIKE HENSEN, The London Free Press)

    Record rainfall pushed 60 million liters of raw sewage into the River Thames

“It’s important for us to realize he’s alive,” she said. “And it’s beautiful and awesome, but there’s no drinking water and there are boil water advisories for the First Nations who live along the river,” Cordes said.

A total of 16 campus and community partners have come together to produce the festival which features water-related events including a Q&A contest, wellness walks and riverside yoga , plant-based cooking demonstrations, as well as a river cleanup.

“We really wanted to focus on bringing people outside,” Cordes said. “That includes getting out there and taking note of the species we find, species at risk that might be there, like spiny softshell turtles, monarch butterflies, and different types of birds and insects.”

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Additionally, a water walk with the Indigenous Initiatives Office is also scheduled for September 20.

The art exhibition Riverfest opens at the Cohen Commons at the John Labatt Visual Art Center with works from Sohelia K. Esfahani’s introduction to sculpture and installation class and runs through September 29.

The works are inspired by the cultural practice of “wish on water” practiced in various places around the world, Esfahani said.

“If you look at the traditions of the western world, wishing wells have always existed; today we go to a mall and when we see a mirror of water we throw a coin and make a wish,” she said.

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For a full list of events, visit:


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